Are We Equal in Cuba?

By Paula Henriquez

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – It’s been a while now that the issue of a so-called “egalitarian society” has been on my mind. I guess that many people may think it’s an irrelevant or, quite simply, an unknown issue, especially for our younger generations.

Truth be told, an egalitarian society is only possible in the utopian ideology of a dreamer. It’s different in reality.

Social classes have always existed and continue to exist and, as a result, the needs of these classes depends on their purchasing power. Impossible dreams become boring for some because they are excessive, while for others it’s because they are repeated to death. This has always been the case.

It’s not enough to have a good education to reach the next rung on the social ladder. The relationships you are able to form, being sharp or having mid-to-long-term vision, your eloquence and powers of conviction are much more important. Although in most cases what you need is a privileged surname..

Generally-speaking, the latter are normally the ones who climb the ladder the highest, and with the least amount of effort, of course. It’s not unusual for many people to lack the key ingredients to win over the space they are in.

So, we see them filling management roles in companies and other important positions. And, as you can imagine, this is where bad decisions or inefficient management stem from. The population pays the price.

Going back in time

I sometimes remember my childhood years, with nostalgia. I think that was the closest I ever came to that utopian dream of an economically egalitarian society.

It goes without saying that back then, my age didn’t allow me to comprehend the twists and turns of the era… nor was I interested in learning the reasons behind what was happening around me. Maybe this is why I remember it as a golden age in my life.

Then came the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the dismemberment of what we knew as the Soviet Union.

This is where the most notable class differences began. Huge gaps opened up between people’s lifestyles.

At that time, I was old enough to begin to see it. Thirty years have passed since and nothing has changed for the better. Every year, you dream that the next might be better than the present year, and so on. Maybe this is the perfect mechanism to push your mind and keep going.

The truth is that many lucky people were already at the top and they continue to enjoy the same privileges. Another few, closer in age to my generation, managed to climb up a rung or two on the social ladder. They combined some of the above ingredients that are so important to “get you to the top”. 

It’s not that I spend my days haunted by the idea of climbing the social ladder, it’s a matter of luck at the end of the day… nevertheless, I still hold onto my dreams and, every once in a while, I stop and look back to the past with nostalgia, thinking back to that utopian dream of social equality.

Read more from Paula Henriquez here.

13 thoughts on “Are We Equal in Cuba?

  • I suggest reading “Another Now – Dispatches from an Alternative Present” by Yanis Varoufakis for an alternative. If tradeable shares were banned then capitalism wouldn’t exist. Ideally every sizeable company should be a cooperative with each employee having a single share and a single vote on all major strategic decisions.
    The Harry Ramsden’s Fish and Chips are nice I have to admit. I would describe the man himself as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately the company has strayed wildly from its origin and now is a typical international restaurant chain owned by shareholders who have nothing to do with the company. But they make a lot of use of the brand name.

  • Hi dani ! I for one, do not consider that capitalism is without problems – but it is preferable to the alternative. Nick, considers that somehow chalk and cheese can be combined in a hybrid of capitalism and communism, which to me appears to be a weird form of hypothetical hyena.

    Given the alternative of capitalism or communism, I would always choose the former. Is there an alternative? If so, please describe!

    As a side comment, I recall being able to purchase a piece of fish for fourpence along with two pennies worth of chips (240 pennies to the pound). The local owner of a Fish and Chip shop, was a fellow named Harry Ramsden, who had a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, and who pre-second world war, was charging 1,000 pounds stg. for the right to sell ice-cream at his car park. Poor old Harry went shooting in Wigton. Post-war he counted Elizabeth Taylor as a visiting customer. I in my innocence, would have considered Harry to be a capitalist, but perhaps you can re-assure me that he was but a humble urban peasant.

  • Carlyle and Nick,
    When people talk about Capitalism it isn’t the the local owner of a Fish and Chip shop or even normal trade and free markets. Did you know 90% of the firms on the New York stock exchange are owned by just three companies – Vanguard, Black Rock and State Street ( We are talking here about real and absolute monopoly of power and money. Is there an alternative? Of course there is. I suggest reading Another Now – Dispatches from an Alternative Present by Yanis Varoufakis which maps out how things could be run differently and democratically and without needing a strong state.

  • Mr MacD, I certainly don’t claim to be able to solve all the world’s ills, but maybe you missed my suggestion first time around:
    ‘Ultimately perhaps some kind of devilish hybrid of the two?’
    (Capitalism and Communism)

  • I gather Nick that your response to my question is that you don’t know.

  • Mr MacD,
    Your comment is somewhat scattergun but interesting nonetheless.
    I do not suggest that you are ‘immune to the multitudes who live in misery in this world‘.
    I actually suggested that ‘on the rare occasions that you manage put your fixation with your dastardly Castros to one side, you might actually self-express some degree of concern regarding the sickening and ever-increasing fact of global inequality.’
    I do not, as you suggest, scorn charity. In fact I consider it a moral duty to pay my legal taxes wherever I reside and furthermore, to give extra toward those who fall foul of the global capitalist system which still has much in common with it’s medieval and feudal roots. Democratic pretensions are all very luvvy and nice but in most cases they do not obscure the hard-nose Capitalist reality.
    To me it’s abundantly clear that Communism, as has been practiced thus far, ain’t the answer.
    But it is even more abundantly clear that Capitalism, which has been practiced for far longer and far more widely, ain’t the answer either.
    Ultimately perhaps some kind of devilish hybrid of the two?
    But that certainly would not be arrived at from any kind of Conservative, Capitalist starting point.
    The considered Conservative, Capitalist opinion is to continue with yet more of the same old sh*t.
    Fully Understandable.
    Why on earth would anyone wish to give up their control of centuries-old capital??

  • So Nick, do away with capitalism and what have you got? Equality of poverty as illustrated in true communist dictatorships, for example North Korea? Even China and Vietnam have illustrated the need to introduce capitalism if seeking improvement in living standards for citizenry.
    As usual you try to insinuate that those of us who recognize the need for capitalism are immune to the multitudes who live in misery in this world. That really is unworthy of you. Although you no doubt would scorn charity, the largest single supporter of medical aid in Africa is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – not any of the political far-left states, and average individuals like myself support people in third world countries troubled by far-left terrorism through other charities – in my case Mali. When people flee from oppression – usually in far-left countries, they do not seek to re-locate to other far-left countries, but to capitalist ones where they have a degree of freedom not only banned but abhored by the far-left.
    Obviously there is a certain smug satisfaction to be obtained in endeavoring to illustrate that capitalism is at fault for all the sins and errors of this world. But the alternative has little if anything, to offer. Perhaps you rather than taking the easy route of criticizing, can be constructive and enunciate a valid alternative?

  • I like the riposte Mr MacD….
    It is admirably flippant. The ability to use flippancy in an appropriate fashion is a woefully under-regarded talent.
    But no fixation with Cuba’s innate problems will ever obscure the overarching reality of Capitalism circa 2020.
    I’m afraid that despite your every stalwart apologist attempt, the very ethos of the capitalist system is that the ladder of the rich is propped up by the misery of the poor.
    44% of global wealth is owned by 1% of the world’s population.
    Meanwhile, children in the third world go down underground risking their already shortened life expectancies to mine minerals necessary for the usage of those further up the global capitalist ladder.
    Whatever changes occur in Cuba, it won’t alter their bigger picture of wealth on the back of misery to which you will seemingly forever turn something of a blind eye.
    However, I do suspect that on the rare occasions that you manage put your fixation with your dastardly Castros to one side, you might actually self-express some degree of concern regarding the sickening and ever-increasing fact of global inequality.
    On the other hand you might not.
    A couple of comments ago I pointed out that inequality is on a massive comprehensive global upward curve.
    There is no adequate pro-capitalist riposte to this irrefutable and sad fact.

  • It is in Cuba NIck, and the last time I checked, Cuba was of the extreme left – Communist

  • And under a typical Capitalist regime Mr MacD?
    Is the ladder of the rich inevitably propped up by the misery of the poor??

  • The communist social ladder leans against a house built of straw for support.

  • Aaaah!! The nostalgia for the dreams of our younger selves.

    Communists promise equality of wealth and resources.
    Capitalists promise the equality of opportunity to climb to the top of the ladder of luxury and riches.
    Religionists of various different persuasion promise that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

    Paula writes a very good article. She is correct to observe that inequality has increased since the demise of the Soviet Bloc. This applies in Cuba, Russia and most other places in Europe and the Americas and arguably pretty much everywhere else in the world.

    Presumably there are many who think that ever increasing inequality is no bad thing?
    Others just wait around to see if that long promised trickle-down is ever gonna happen……..

  • Just go to the Instagram, and Facebook of the Castro families son, daughters and grandchildren and you would see then on vacation in Paris , London ,Madrid having la dolce vita and the rest of the Cubans waiting in lines For 5,6 hours to buy a bag of chicken then think how equals Cubans are.
    Did I mention that the chickens are from USA ? The embargo does not apply to food and medicine.

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