When the “Special Period” Came Knocking on My Door…

Rosa Martinez

If Cuba loses its source of cheap oil from Venezuela blackouts and shortages of cooking gas are expected.

HAVANA TIMES – Almost all of our Havana Times readers must have heard about the infamous “Special Period”, which did as much damage to Cuban’s financial situation as it did to their souls. It really was a long period of extreme crisis which began in the early 1990s, and it completely changed the mindset of the Cuban people. Many people believe we never really left behind this phase in our history.

Now that a new era of shortages is silently among us, I want to share the first time I experienced the Special Period firsthand.

I come from a poor family: my mother, a simple housewife (but a fighting woman who struggled to make money at home) and my father was a man who did a little of everything, carpentry, building work, coal seller, anything it took to put food on the table for his children.

We always had a pet at home, although my father didn’t really like them because our backyard was very small and he was in charge of cleaning it.

At that time, we had Tuntun, a stray dog who was as beautiful as he was affectionate, who I picked up hanging about a dumpster. He was really friendly, and he quickly won over my father’s grumbling with his love.

Tuntun was given special attention. My mother and I would prepare his meals as if he were a special member of the family, with all the honors. And he would enjoy his feasts every day with the rest of the family, which I imagine he enjoyed two-fold for feeling loved, protected…

One fine day, there wasn’t any food for Tuntun. To tell you the truth, there was hardly any food for us. I remember that my parents managed to get a hold of some a few small sweet potatoes, which we had to eat with an improvised garlic sauce with a bit of color.

We all had to down that thing that tasted of God knows what. My siblings ate it all the same, it cost my dad a bit, my mom didn’t even try it.

When I could manage to bring those tasteless sweet potatoes to my mouth, I could feel Tuntun’s fixed stare on me, begging for something to eat. Then, I asked my father: and the dog, what’s my dog going to eat?

My dear daughter, there isn’t any food for him. If we want him to live, we’ll have to each give him a bit of our own or let him back out onto the street to see what he can find.

To the street?? I shouted, no way, don’t you remember how sick he was when I brought him home?

Well, from then on, every one of us gave my beloved friend a bit of food before eating themselves. I, of course, was the one to share the most with him.


Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

One thought on “When the “Special Period” Came Knocking on My Door…

  • That was a lovely story of a family pulling through hard times. My parents have similar stories that differ because Canada has a different history to some extent and a very different climate.

    I am confused why you feel compromised by showing your face with that story. You do not take sides for or against the government of Cuba in this story. Those hard times in your country were caused by the fall of the Soviet Union, 1988, and the collapse of the Russian economy, beginning in 1992, 1993. It was a collapse they did not truly begin to feel recovery from for nearly a decade. Those two events were sponsored by corporate interests that lurk behind the American people. I say “lurk” because for the most part the American people are kept ignorant of the interests that guide their lives, shape their opinions and misrepresent the intentions and activities of the ruling class in the US. They brought down the Soviet Union in an economic war that started in 1918 and carries on even today. When the Russian economy collapsed under the influence of the ruling class in the US, Russia could no longer afford to buy Cuban goods. That is when and why your “special period” began.

    The US ruling class kept all their attention on guiding Russia to dissolution during the time period you refer to as Cuba’s Special Period. It was important to them to gain control of the resources in the largest country in the world, Russia. They largely ignored Cuba at that time. The hell they had unleashed in Russia was working it’s magic in Cuba. They would turn their eye toward you when you stood alone. Hundreds of thousands of Russians died during that period. Estimates range up to three million dead. The collapse of their economy lead to a collapse in the infrastructure that distributed essential good. The dead were mostly a result of that.

    The hard times my parents endured was the “great depression”. That was also caused by the ruling class. I doubt they had any intention of causing the great dressing – unlike the “Special Period” in Cuba which the ruling class in the US fully intended when you were a young girl and are now inflicting, as you well know, with focused force again. The depression that started in 1929 was caused in great part by the unbridled avarice of the ruling class. When the then newly elected president of the US, Franklin Roosevelt, initiated a plan that would raise taxes on the ruling class so that the government could put people to work and stop the starvation that was rampant, the ruling class in 1934 in the US attempted to throw a coup d’ete. Instead of sharing a portion of their wealth to keep the vast majority of their population out of severe poverty and deprivation. They wished to overthrow the US government in favour of the then German style government led by Adolf Hitler. This is not a joke. It nearly happened. It was discovered, exposed then covered up and left to be forgotten.

    Imagine how history might have played differently if there had been a fascist dictator in the US.

    We are facing the opening of the same terrible times here in Canada again. The unbridled avarice of the ruling class is, as I’ve just described, unbridled. They are fully aware of the potential consequences and feel fortified against its affects ever since they made enormous profits in the 2008 financial crisis. They were bailed out with tax dollars while over five million tax paying families in the US were thrown out of their homes. We were more fortunate in Canada. Our banks were not allowed to participate quite so wholesale in the avarice. Our government did not fully unbridle our ruling class.

    I say all this because I have been to Cuba only a few times and I have recently begun to read this paper. My impression of Cuba’s people is that the younger they are the less they appreciate their history and the more they appreciate their current living situation. To forget that past is to lose sight of how and why the current situation in Cuba exists.

    I am scared for Cuba. I don’t want to say, “there is a monster outside you door and if it gets in it will tear your country apart”. I don’t want to say this, but…

    “Cuba. There is a monster outside your door. It has hungered for revenge against your people for ever trying to guide and control your own destiny. In its mind you are an example to all the Latin American nations that resistance is possible, that self determination can be achieved. It shakes your walls and rattles your rooftops. If it sets one foot firmly inside your door it fully intends to make a new example of your country. It will show all Latin America what happens to a people who ever try to escape the chains of its service. It will tear your country apart.”

    I am sorry for getting so dramatic. Your story carries lovely details of the love of a family facing very hard times. I fear I spoil you work with my fears and warnings. Let me offer what I speculate about that monster threatening your family and people. It is very powerful yet very old. It’s time is near done. Your country has endured it’s wrath for decades and learned to live and laugh and love regardless of its rattling. So long as it does not deliver it’s worst you shall be well set to thrive after it begins to fall. That fall is a handful of years away.

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