By Osmel Almaguer
To grow up is to break through successive barriers, especially when you go through adolescence, where every change you experience hurts as if what was there before was stuck to your body. I’m sure, though, that no collapse has been as powerful as that of the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the collapse of the European socialist camp. With it was seen the end of the dream that we Cubans had prolonged thanks to the economic assistance that the USSR provided us.
Our country was like a an enormous wasteful and innocent child, who all of a sudden grew up and discovered its reality: a history of more than 500 years of colonization, natural resource shortages, economic backwardness, exploitation and mono-production, which suddenly – thanks to the allowance from the Soviets – was handed the lifestyle of a developed country. This put everything within reach. It was perfect, a fair distribution of resources that was sufficient to give us all a high standard of living.
In the 1990s everything began to disappear. Within two years, we plunged into the depth of our crisis. Almost no factory operated; benefits and services were null.
I was in fact only an adolescent and not fully conscious of the process; I just knew that one day prices began to rise and products disappeared.
There were moments when we only had eight hours of electricity a day, allowing the heat and mosquitoes to torture us. At night you couldn’t sleep, and by day you slept at work or at school, after getting there by long trips by bicycle or guagua (bus). Those buses would pass by every two or three hours and hardly ever stopped. When they finally did pull up in front of a throng of would-be passengers, all hell would break loose – people climbed in even through the windows.
As for food, those who could eat once or twice a day were fortunate. The dishes were wanting but imaginative: cabbage (raw, in soup, or as a salad), and bread and brown sugar (with or without water). There were those who tried to fool even themselves, eating fried squash leaves and pretending it was meat.
The city turned ugly, rapidly degrading – walls, streets, stores, everything decayed. People stole anything, from the signpost to the traffic sign, because construction materials for housing were almost non-existent.
Yet the population grew quickly – a contradiction – as irresponsible lovemaking became a sport. It seemed incredible that even nature was affected. At my house, though almost in the country, animals became scarce. I remember how many families included dog and cat in their meals, and the even the vegetation was darkened.
At the end of that decade, things began to improve somewhat. The measures taken by the government began to bear their first fruits. The Venezuelan Revolution has aided us a great deal, as have economic agreements with other countries around the entire world.
We still have not recovered; our standard of living is still low, especially in terms of the work one has to do to resolve daily problems.
Nevertheless, Cubans enjoy some advantages, such as free healthcare and education and guaranteed social security, though many people don’t want to recognize this.
A lot still has to be done, because the absence of a wall to protect us has allowed the penetration of silent enemies: corruption and the lack of principles. These problems, the efforts made by the Canadian government go unnoticed.
One has to be careful, because adolescence is a very difficult stage.