HAVANA TIMES — I’ve always heard a phrase which, in socialist Cuba, held a lot of weight: “The power of the people, this is real power.” I don’t know very well, nor am I very interested in, who the author of this idea is, but what I do know is that it was constantly used in every aspect of our daily life.
The Cuban people thought they were the owners of everything: the street, the bodega stores, schools and buses. They felt like they were the ones who decided the country’s fate, they believed that our future was in their hands.
I don’t know when it was exactly that I stopped hearing this expression amongst the people closest to me, but the truth is that gradually many of us, especially our children and youth, began to think that their opinion didn’t count for anything and that they weren’t being listened to.
I remember some specific occasions, like when they decided to remove some products (basic items needed for everyday life) from our ration cards and put them on the free market at much higher prices; such was the case with soap and toothpaste. Of course, those of us with lower incomes were the most affected by this measure.
Other items simply vanished from the basic products basket in the middle of a time of great shortages which the country suffered. These items slowly began appearing in hard-currency stores (which belong to the State and which we Cubans don’t earn), and afterwards in the so-called “Ideal Markets”, at the prices we are already so familiar with. Needless to say, our salaries remained the same.
The retirement age was also extended: men from 60 to 65 years old and women from 55 to 60 years old. They used the excuse that many were still working after their retirement came, but we all know that it wasn’t out of love for their profession but out of necessity that they continued to work.
Similarly, over a million State employees were cut from their jobs. This was obviously something the State needed to do because there were bloated staffing levels across all of its sectors, however, was that the employees’ fault?
The majority of the Cuban population didn’t agree with any of these measures, but they were still implemented anyway.
Maybe our new generation’s unhappiness began with these changes, or maybe it was before all of this. This new generation no longer resembles my own, let alone that of the 80 year-olds that remain in power. Until that moment, the Revolution and its leaders had majority support, but that has definitely changed now.
My parents believe that this all started when the Special Period (economic crisis beginning in the early 1990s) arrived, which brought so much hunger, misery and desperation to the majority of Cuban families.
I believe it happened afterwards. I believe it happened when our economy began to improve slightly, when dollars from tourism began trickling in and trips abroad more frequent, when some people began to realize that it was better to be poor in a capitalist country than to be miserable in a socialist one. That’s when mass emigration began and until now, it hasn’t stopped.
I heard on the news that thanks to weeks of protests carried out by the Venezuelan people, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has finally announced the beginning of a process to validate signatures collected calling for a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. I realize now that the power of the people, this is real power.