Cuba Back in the 1980s

1987: Year 29 of the Revolution. Now we are going to build socialism!

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

HAVANA TIMES – I’m a timeless guy. My tastes or way of seeing life have nothing to do with today. Music is a good example of what I want to write about today. I was on YouTube searching Cuban music from the ‘80s recently.

I came across some songs by Vicente Rojas that took me back to my childhood days and made me remember situations and family members I’ll never see again, even if the song had nothing to do with them.

I read some of the comments people had left, one wrote: “what a time the ‘80s were, the best in Cuba.”

Human minds can be tricked easily, they tend to sugarcoat the past, making sure to polish over the bad, no matter how hard it was, to leave a diamond of the little bit of pleasant there was, and that’s when you’re overcome by a wave of nostalgia and self-deception, and we think yes, we were happy, when the exact opposite is true a lot of the time. This happens with everything, with places, jobs, relationships… everything.

It’s just an emotional trap. Nothing could be more accurate in Cuba’s case because we’ve never had good times, at least from what I remember and my own life experience.

The 1980s. It’s like I’m living them right now. My mind is as accurate as the trajectory of a missile launched by a sniper. I have a strange memory that allows me to recall events down to the very last detail, with dates and everything, a lot of the time. Let me give you an example, I can remember what I was doing in August 1997.

I remember very well what was going on back then, even if I was just a child. I remember almost nobody had a TV or fridge in 1980, at least in rural areas. In my house, which was my grandparents’ house, we had a freezer where we’d make ice for different neighbors, who would also come in the evening to watch the trending soap opera. There were plenty of homes with earthen floors and thatched roofs made out of palm fronds.

We didn’t have lots of clothes. People received a coupon that would let them buy one or two outfits, once a year. Wearing jeans, which we called pitusa around here, was a luxury reserved only for the well-to-do, merchant seamen or those who survived foreign wars and came back wearing denim jeans and a T-shirt with Bruce Lee’s face on it. And, of course, boomboxes were a status symbol, because almost nobody had one. It was a luxury.

The same with toys. Parents had to line up to get them once a year. People would sleep outside from the day before so they could get a low number, and therefore buy one of the few good ones they had. I never got anything better than a toy car or a pistol. A woman, who was a store manager, would buy her son a bike every year. I remember that only one or two bikes ever came in.

There wasn’t enough transport, you could spend over an hour waiting without getting anywhere. I’ll never forget running into my grandmother at the bus terminal in Pinar del Rio, and the great big crowd that squeezed together when the bus announced it was leaving. I fell into panic. People were pushing to get out of the door, and I thought I was going to be crushed. My grandmother protested in vain, but it was almost nightfall and that desperate mob fought to leave, with no respect for children or the elderly.

There was still no answer to the Housing situation. In 1986, Fidel Castro himself recognized the high number of dilapidated tenements in Havana with awful conditions, as part of one of the many inventions that was later called the Rectification of Errors Process. 

Services were in a wretched state. Poor assistance, delays, poor quality of products. There are archival documents taken from national TV that prove all of this.

The famous rations booklet was in force and confirmed that while it was true people weren’t starving, it wasn’t a time of abundance either.

All of this thanks to huge subsidies from the Soviet Union, to keep Cuba as a kind of store window for every other Latin American country, and the alleged generosity of the socialist system while other Communist countries were living in hardship.

Resources which, far from being used to develop national industry and infrastructure, were mostly destined to funding and promoting invasions, meddling in and destabilizing other countries, even democratic ones, with the human loss of both Cubans and foreigners as a result.

It’s true that Cubans’ quality of life back then seems like a paradise if we compare it to what happened after the European Soviet Bloc collapsed and its perks to the Cuban economy stopped. But…

it has nothing to do with levels of prosperity and happiness. We were still poor.

Not to mention the climate of Stalin-style repression that was imposed on the Cuban people. It was a lot more hardcore than nowadays. At the same time, there was a significant number of hypocrites, left-wingers, and useful idiots all over the world, who made propaganda for them, so the Regime had its hands free to crush any trace of civil freedom.

Religious leaders and worshippers, dissidents, potential emigres and homosexuals were discriminated against and punished. Families split because of an ideology. It was a dark time when hate crimes became a trend.

Young people were banned from creating any work of art that didn’t fit within the parameters of Communist morale. No tight trousers, no rock music or long hair, because all of this was “ideological diversionism”.

Young people had to struggle to become the “new man”, do their compulsory three years of military service and then fight a war in Angola, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and any other country in the world Fidel Castro thought to invade (which were many).

The grief of mothers, wives and other family members was a constant every day, without knowing whether their loved one would make it back alive, mutilated or dead. Citizens’ fear that stemmed from propaganda announcing an imminent “imperialist attack” made us dig tunnels in backyards.

But if the above isn’t enough, which is just a superficial skimming of the problems of the 1980s, a few examples will be enough to prove to you that the Cuban nightmare hasn’t ended since 1959.

In April 1980, thousands of Cubans stormed the Peruvian Embassy in Havana, leading to the largest asylum and refugee incident under diplomatic protection in History. The incident led to what was later known as the Mariel boatlift, when 120,000 Cubans left the country.

If the country was living in a paradise, how can you explain the fact that hundreds of thousands of Cubans left this Eden?

No, Cuba never had good times with Fidel Castro and his regime. Others might have, don’t get me wrong.

Read more from Pedro Morejon’s diary here.