Veronica Vega

A difficult purchase.  Photo: Juan Suarez
A difficult purchase. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – When the decades of the 70s and 80s in Cuba are termed the “innocent years”, I can’t help feeling a passing shadow, remembering the official “repudiation” of those who had the courage to confess that they didn’t feel satisfied with the shared poverty nor with the simulation of freedom.

Confronted with the above viewpoint, I also find it hard to believe that the balance of isolation and lack of information regarding the standard of living that existed merely ninety miles away for example, could precisely be termed candidness, much less integrity.

When I say that I’m grateful for the poverty I grew up in because it served to activate my sensitivity and my imagination, I don’t pretend to deny the fact that others (I don’t know if they number in the hundreds or in the thousands), might feel altogether differently. For that reason,

I insist that a simple lifestyle is only useful if it’s chosen or accepted with joy.

At times I find myself wondering what Cuba might have been like if the poverty had been really equitable; if the same people who preached simplicity and abnegation had been and still were living examples of what they postulated. Possibly we wouldn’t have gotten very far in terms of technology (as we haven’t, in any case), but how much confusion and grief might have been avoided. How serene our children and youth would have been, how pure and decent..!

If the voracious drive for power and thought control hadn’t been behind the effervescent and massive idealism, it would never have had to be repressed; quite simply, those who weren’t in agreement would have been allowed to leave, under the basic premise that leaving or staying was an exercise of total freedom, and that those who wanted to construct that “ideal” society constituted the majority.

Amid today’s generalized current compulsion for prosperity, following decades of sacrifice and waiting, there’s a strong dose of vengeance and rebellion, in addition to the pendulum effect that impels us towards the other extreme.

Ditches.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Ditches. Photo: Juan Suarez

I recall that I once was describing enthusiastically to my mother some furniture that I had seen in the “shopping” center. She replied indifferently, “all that and better was available when I was a young girl (before the Revolution)”. The comparison with the past, uncomfortable in itself, becomes worse in this case because it invalidates everything which was at one time believed. One of the most palpable demonstrations of the fiasco can be seen right now in the recently legalized real estate market: to guarantee the maximum quality of a home, it has to have been constructed “before 1959”.

We could content ourselves with the idea that what we lived through was a dream if the panorama around us weren’t so desolate: blocks of houses on the edge of collapsing, sidewalks and streets that haven’t been repaired for decades; growing islands of rubbish; entire neighborhoods without proper sewers or streetlights, depressing schools and hospitals, multitudes who see vulgarity and brute force as legitimate.

A dream implies that we can wake up and find the original scenery intact. And how can we justify, in addition the two faces (inside and out); the bitter hatred and the fragmented thought of Cubans that can’t be called plurality?

During the nineties, some tourists once asked me if I believed that there was spiritual misery in Cuba. Without a lot of thought, I answered “yes”. Later I realized that this reply constituted the negation of what I had believed in my early childhood and youth: that the poverty we lived in was a momentary reality in a process of justice.

Mortadella on the ration booklet. Foto: Juan Suarez.
Mortadella on the ration booklet. Foto: Juan Suarez.

Exemplary figures such as the first Franciscan monks; the Clarissas, the order founded by Santa Teresa of Avila; the Jesuits and the Dominicans; and oriental mystics or political figures such as Mahatma Gandhi have taught us that material poverty isn’t the cause of moral degradation. The driving force for corruption is always our mentality. There’s a telling phrase whose author I don’t recall: “Kingdoms perish as a result of their own internal decomposition before other kingdoms invade them.”

I believe in the natural need for economic and technological betterment, but I’m convinced that no kind of development is sustainable over time if it’s not founded on an interest in the common good and consequently on the practice of kindness.

Socialism (or at least what has been seen as such in the 20th and 21st centuries) has shown itself to be as inefficient a social project as is neoliberalism. The former hasn’t been as globally damaging in the ecological sense, except in the case of China, but both have been equally destructive in the ethical sense” – they have devastated the spiritual consciousness of people.

Nonetheless, we were born to do good, no matter how many centuries or millenniums it takes the different societies to agree on this. It’s the only possible future. Despite how much we are impressed by the viability, the velocity and the far reach of technology, we can’t challenge the unforeseeable power of nature, the will that activates the great catastrophes, before which we scatter like terrified insects.

Poverty and wealth are two sides of a single road, where the mystery continues to be the future, and uncertainty the next step.


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.

16 thoughts on “Cubans and the Advantages of Being Poor (II)

  • John,
    you are aware, are you not, that it was the current regime that annihilated anarchism in Cuba? It was once a strong streak in the Cuban labor movement. If you were an anarchist as you keep telling us, you would wish to see an end to the current regime and not constantly make excuses for the deadly enemies of anarchism and anarchists.

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