Cuba: Imposed Austerity vs. Alarming Consumerism

Veronica Vega

vero1HAVANA TIMES – No one who relies on facts can deny that lies are institutionalized in Cuba from the time of our earliest infancy.  We are not taught to discern, but rather to repeat, and we are trained to cooperate in the simulation, the prearranged inspections.

Our children learn quickly that to question or denounce what is wrong only brings problems…and nothing gets solved.  This is moral misery.  And spiritual.  It’s the insect that burrows into the cement pillars of society itself.

According to Aristotle, the way it is for those above reveals how it will be below.  The population merely reproduces a code of conduct that they have assimilated.  The fact that those who demand abstinence are precisely those who fail to practice it has been true in practically all the social systems.

For that reason, it’s the individual who can and should make the difference. Avoiding personal corruption is within their objective radius of power and is their direct responsibility.

The population merely reproduces a code of conduct that they have assimilated. The fact that those who demand abstinence are precisely those who fail to practice it has been true in practically all the social systems.

I know that happiness doesn’t come from material wealth.  The high incidence of suicide in the most prosperous countries sums up this most ancient truth.

Today, even in Cuba, it’s possible to not take antidepressants and be depressed, even though in our compulsion to survive many don’t reveal it, or may even remain unaware of it.

The statistics regarding alcoholism on this island (and of suicides as well) reflect the escape valves we use to vent this unhappiness that we don’t discuss.

When I visited France in 2011 and entered the stores, not only was I stupefied by the over-abundance; but I asked myself what might be the final balance of so much wealth.  I know that everything exerts a physical, human economic and ecolological price.

I am particularly grateful to have lived with so little, because this has made me more sensitive: to excess as well as to shortage.

I am particularly grateful to have lived with so little, because this has made me more sensitive: to excess as well as to shortage.

As a child, I only had two toys, but my sisters and myself made little dolls with scraps of cloth stuffed with cotton wads.  We created little houses out of cardboard boxes, converted books into doll beds and we were happy.

One objective example that it’s possible to be happy amid the greatest poverty is, without a doubt, San Francisco de Asis.  Although he is a figure from the western world, we ourselves know little about him.  As with Jesus himself, there is more myth, fear and taboo than serious information.

San Francisco founded three orders: the Franciscans (for men), the Poor Clares (for women) and the Third Order for people with family commitments who couldn’t abandon these ties but wanted to develop spiritually.  He prescribed to them how to live a simple life and how to assure that their wealth did not bind them nor become a source of vice.

Nonetheless, the first requirement for entrance into any of those orders was sincerity.

vero2Francisco, who had voluntarily abandoned his privileged social position, knew that forced abstinence can debase a man and that the repression of desires doesn’t generate a liberation, but instead can give rise to dangerous forms of neurosis.

It’s in this sense that Cubans have shown themselves to be essentially oriented towards consumerism, and the long period of frugality has been tolerated only on the promise of future prosperity.

In a debate on “The Anthropology of the Cuban”, published in the magazine Espacio Laical , I expressed that my aspiration for Cuba was:

“To decriminalize prosperity, as Yoani Sánchz says, but also to decriminalize poverty.  Because there’s a double standard: the officially imposed austerity and as a violent reaction, an alarming policy of consumerism that affects not only (although yes, especially) the younger generations.  There’s a hypocrisy around prosperity, pitting the shame of need against the fact of possession, even if it’s illicit.  We shouldn’t have to put a mask of false happiness onto our lives.”

Finally, I would love to see a national survey done (anonymously) with the question: “Are you happy?”  Without specifying “in Cuba”, because happiness is in itself the country that all of us are looking for, free of the borders of time or politics.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

Veronica Vega has 178 posts and counting. See all posts by Veronica Vega

11 thoughts on “Cuba: Imposed Austerity vs. Alarming Consumerism

  • I don’t own a car.

  • To Griffin and to Moses. I am very aware that most Cubans don’t own a car because of the economy. I did not say I admire the lack of traffic, I said I was “struck by it.” The reason I don’t admire it is that I know it is a result of poverty. I know that people will buy cars once they get the money.

  • Bill, I bet you own a car, maybe two. If you don’t, I am betting it is by choice and that when you need to travel longer distances or in inclement weather, you just visit the ATM and grab a cab. As far as “pioneer alternative methods of modern transportation”, are you joking? Are you suggesting a multi-billion dollar high speed rail system? Get real! President Raul suggested two years ago in a speech that Cubans consider returning to yoked oxen to farm because of a lack of fuel and tractor parts. TOURISTS!

  • Bill,

    The reason there are so little automobile traffic is because of the deplorable economy. With an average salary of $18 per month, who can afford gasoline at CUC 1.2 per litre? It would cost 3 months salary to fill your tank. So it is a bit cruel, not to mention clueless, to say you admire their lack of traffic. Do you also admire their thin bellies, ragged clothes and crumbling over-crowded homes?

  • When I was in Cuba briefly a year ago, I was struck by the relative lack of automobile traffic. I have been in many cities in the world where the automobile has destroyed the city and the life within it. I hope that if Cuba and Cubans become prosperous enough so that more people can afford cars, they will try to avoid this trap. By having a country not choking on cars and exhaust, they are actually ahead of the rest of us, now. Cuba could pioneer alternative methods of modern transportation. They could lead the world in this.

  • My biblical reference was completely in context and ‘sliced up’ only for brevity’s sake. Yes, I take the words of the Holy Scripture as sacred and thus by definition, true. Yet, I fully respect those who choose to believe otherwise or even not at all. By reason, I expect the same respect. You seem to fancy building boxes to put people in as a means of understanding them. As a result, it confuses you that a liberal, card-carrying Democrat such as I can love the punctured democracy that exists in the US and hate the tyranny of the Castros. I love Cuban people, one in particular, yet despise the regime that strangles them. I suspect that none of this does not fit neatly in your box.

  • Do I need to give you a lecture?

    You cite the Bible (‘sliced up’ and out of context by the way). Then your fallacious line goes like this: if it’s in the Sacred Book, then it’s true.

    Jesus… by the way he is considered by some people to be the first communist. Shall we remember another famous Bible quote? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

    And I’m not even going to address the ‘man’s nature’ again. Any discussion of a ‘human nature’ is, and has always been, an instrument of ideological domination.

    And now you accuse me of ‘living a life of a capitalist’. Well do you have proof that I own factories, land, banks, or even a single penny in the stock market…? How can I be a capitalist otherwise? You don’t even know what you’re talking about!


  • Poverty is obscene in any country. The Bible is a poor justification for the misery in the world. Don’t rationalize apathy! I am not a Fidelista, but I don’t blame Fidel for all the problems in Cuba. I believe there can be no socialism without democracy….if there is only one opinion–the leaders’–everyone else stops thinking. Then the psychological void is taken up by things which are inanimate commodities.

  • Again, while we obviously do not agree, I respectfully request that you share with me where my facts are false. If you can’t handle the truth it only confirms more concretely why you claim to be a socialist while living the life of a capitalist. Socialism equals hypocrisy.

  • I’m not even going further commenting your fallacious appeals to tradition (the Bible) and nature to make an utterly bogus point.

    Mr. Patterson, please never address me – even indirectly – again. I’ve had enough with your offenses.

  • In the Bible we learn ‘You will always have the poor with you’ (Matthew 26:11) so the notion that any man-made economic system will eliminate poverty is foolhardy. Castro’s version of Marxist-Leninism, particularly, has misled millions into believing this was achievable. When given the opportunity, Cubans are among the most conspicuous consumers I have ever met. Knock-off designer clothes, smartphones and tablets, even gold teeth are valued purchases while refrigerators and stomaches remain empty. Cubans love to “especular” or show-off these possessions, especially if owning them implies family abroad or a successful non-state business. Again, while the Castro mantra was Marxism, the impact of his policies just sent Cuban consumerism underground. Antonio Castro, Fidel’s youngest son, has a keen taste for Ferraris and fine wine. President Raul’s granddaughter arrived in New York recently and was photographed carrying a Luis Vuitton purse, and expensive shoes and luggage. No one, not even the Castros’ own could escape the allure of expensive living possessions. The failure of Cuban socialism to overcome man’s nature should be a lesson to wannabee socialists, especially the few who frequently comment here on HT. It doesn’t work.

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