Cubans and the Advantages of Being Poor (II)

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)

  • June 23, 2014 at 3:06 am
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    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.

  • June 21, 2014 at 11:25 pm
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    How childlike can you get Mr. Goodrich? Your response in describing me as a gullible fool exposes a pathetic inability to pursue logic. I not interested in the slightest in discussing anarchism. That belongs in the gutter press.
    I contribute to these discussions because I am supportive of Cuba and the Cuban people whom I love and “Socialismo” being non-democratic, has proven to be contrary to their best interests. I understand that it is impossible for you to know never having been there.
    The executions without trial carried out at El Morro and Santiago de Cuba by Ernesto Guevara and Raul Castro Ruz respectively were following the revolution, not during it!
    In the free country to the north of your own, political contributions are limited by law. No individual and no company can contribute more than $1,200 per annum and those contributions have to be recorded in annual tax returns. Not all countries are as gullible or foolish as the US.
    Don’t prostitute yourself by describing those with whom you disagree as “pimps”. You bring no credit upon yourself but merely indicate a lack of maturity.

  • June 20, 2014 at 3:57 am
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    Veronica is Cuba Public Enemy Number 1, whoever promote
    poverty in Cuba is an enemy of Cuba. Irresponsible writer, she should address
    her reflexions in private to her family not to the wider audience. These people can make
    so much damage, the last thing that Cuba needs.

  • June 19, 2014 at 7:46 am
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    You missed the point of my question. The Soviet economy collapsed over twenty years ago.

  • June 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm
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    In short, BITE ME!.
    You support the liberation of the Cuban people , ?
    How, by being a mouthpiece , a pimp for an imperialist U.S. foreign policy ?
    That policy has attempted the overthrow of over 60 governments and some 30 nationalist /populist movements worldwide.
    I was being sarcastic when I ,mentioned that Che slept with a copy of “Mein Kampff” since the corporate media of the USA and extreme right wingers have, in the past , as a policy stated that people like Hugo Chavez and Fidel actually sleep with a copy under their pillows and gullible fools like yourself actually believe this trash.
    I am amazed to discover that during the Cuban revolution a big bunch of people were killed without trials .
    I could tell you that in all other violent revolutions, every miscreant from the overthrown governments were given rooms at the Ritz-Carlton and then a fair trial and released but you’d likely believe that as well.
    Since you are fairly new here I need explain that I am an anarchist which means my beliefs are founded and centered upon democracy which you must necessarily oppose since you support capitalism .
    I oppose the governmental form of Cuba but will support it in the face of U.S. imperial aggression and until that aggression ceases as is the principled thing to do.
    You have to make a decision as to whether you are for democracy or for capitalism .
    You cannot be for both and were Cuba to reintroduce capitalism, all hope for a democratic society would be lost .
    A last note: given that almost all bourgeois (capitalist) democracies are largely controlled by the wealthy , it matters little if there are many parties, one party or no parties at all.
    In the USA all candidates for national office are vetted and pre-selected by the very wealthy, those without whose money no one can win a national election and in the end we are allowed to vote for only those people .
    Any of those people, once elected, serve the needs and wants of their backers before the needs of the electorate and often in complete opposition of the will of the electorate.
    So please don’t speak to me of the need for multi-party electoral systems . They are ultimately totalitarian because of how they are financed .
    The best party is NO party and an electoral system based upon one-(wo)man -one vote and a government ( until rendered unnecessary ) of individuals who truly represent the will of the electorate.
    The above is part of my anarchist belief set and I am perfectly willing to debate any facet of that belief set once you learn what anarchism is .
    It is not Marxist, it is not Leninist, it is not Stalinist ,it is not Maoist, it is not Fidelista
    It is the essence of democracy .
    Lastly, you must understand that the alternative the USA is attempting to impose upon ( admittedly undemocratic )Cuba and the world (totalitarian capitalism) is worse and is the original cause of most revolutions .
    .

  • June 18, 2014 at 11:56 am
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    It’s cowboy capitalism .
    It’s power and money at its worst.
    The few fabulously wealthy, the great many in poverty equaled only in the days of the czars.
    But then, the Soviets/Russians always lived under dictatorships so the absolute dictatorship that capitalism is , is as familiar and expected as was Stalinism.
    Given the even more totalitarian government of the Russians (compared with the USA,) the rich-poor divide in that country will increase to the point that another revolution becomes necessary. IMO.
    My futurist outlook also sees the collapse of capitalism in about 15 years so, either way the Russians don’t have that long to wait for massive social change.

  • June 18, 2014 at 8:45 am
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    Historical note: the Platt Amendment was repudiated by the Cuban government in 1933 and removed from their constitution. It is as irrelevant today as the Treaty of Paris.

  • June 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm
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    I’ll lay you ten to one that Mr. Goodrich will think that your quote of Ernesto is a falsehood!

  • June 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm
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    Mr. Goodrich, as a knowledgable supporter of the left, are you denying that Stalin proposed the new man – or are you suggesting that Ernestao Guevara did not promote the concept of the new man? I was until now unaware that Che Guevara slept with a copy of Mein Kampf under his pillow, but am willing to accept your word. Adolf Hitler was after all a National Socialist who along with his then ally Stalin agreed to conquer and divide Poland. I was not aware either that Che Guevara ate babies but am aware that he personally carried out executions when in the Sierra Maestra and supervised the executions of over 350 Cubans withour trial at El Morro in Havana – have you been to El Morro? At that time Raul Castro Ruz was at Santiago de Cuba where one day he supervised the execution without trial of 78 Cubans. When later questioned about his action he responded that those executed had nothing to complain about as they had the presence of a priest.
    These are the people for whom you have such admiration and respect. I, like the representatives of some 182 countries voting at the UN, do not agree with the US embargo, I do not agree with the Monroe Doctrine, I do not agree with the Platt Amendment, I do not agree with the Helms/Burton Amendment. I do not agree with US Government policy inhibiting visits to Cuba by US citizens (the home of the free?).
    I do however support the liberation of the Cuban people from the dictatorship of ‘Socialismo” the introduction of a multi-party system, the freedom of the media and the freedom of Cubans to vote as they choose. I recognise that saying this is anathema to you, as you continuously and consistently support the policies, thoughts and actions of the Castro regime. Additionally you obviously gain succour from venting your spleen upon other contributors to this blog. May I advise the purchase of Milk of Magnesia and the daily consumption thereof – it will relieve upset stomach, acid indigestion and heartburn.

  • June 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm
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    Have you read the recent polls re how many people in the former USSR would prefer to return to those days ? It i s around half the respondents.

  • June 17, 2014 at 11:34 am
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    Che was not a Stalinist per se, but he did read Stalin and he admired the Soviet dictator. Che also read Trotsky, which underlines the Argentine’s unorthodox approach ideology.

    “In the so called mistakes of Stalin lies the difference between a revolutionary attitude and a revisionist attitude. You have to look at Stalin in the historical context in which he moves, you don’t have to look at him as some kind of brute, but in that particular historical context . . . I have come to communism because of daddy Stalin and nobody must come and tell me that I mustn’t read Stalin. I read him when it was very bad to read him. That was another time. And because I’m not very bright, and a hard-headed person, I keep on reading him. Especially in this new period, now that it is worse to read him. Then, as well as now, I still find a series of things that are very good.” – Ernesto Che Guevara

  • June 17, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    How is the Soviet economy working today?

  • June 17, 2014 at 9:46 am
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    Yeah sure, the internationalist Che Guevara was a Stalinist: i.e. one who believes in “socialism in one country” .
    How is it you forgot to mention that Che slept with a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf” under his pillow ?
    Or that he ate babies?

  • June 17, 2014 at 9:42 am
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    How does it feel to be a public liar ?
    The Cuban economy is in the shape it is in because for the past 54 years the most powerful country to ever have existed has been waging an economic war on the entire Cuban population.
    This in order to reinforce feral capitalism on a country and people who fought a revolution to get rid of it.
    To repeat the perfect analogy:
    Those like you who support the economic war on the Cuban people are in the position of neighborhood thugs who come and trash someone’s house and then run screaming to the community about how bad the house looks.
    You also have forgotten that as undemocratic as it was, the Soviet’s socialist- style economy took the country from near total destruction of its infrastructure and 50 million dead at the end of two World Wars to being the world’s #2 economy in just 25 years .
    ( long article at 21st century Socialism website on this-scroll down on right) .
    Your thinking on the efficacy of socialist-style economies somehow also misses the fact that spreading the effects of the U.S. embargo across the population in a socialist-style manner is what has allowed the Cubans to maintain their revolution when any other capitalist country would have collapsed.
    The proof of the effectiveness of the U.S. embargo is its continuance for 54 years.
    The proof of socialist-style cooperative societies worthiness is Cuba’s survival of the past 54 years of economic warfare .
    Again, you are in disagreement with your friends at State because they know that socialism works hence the need to maintain the crippling embargo to make it seem that a socialist-style economy COULD not work which is what you have to lie about to maintain.

  • June 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm
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    I believe it was Edward Gibbons who originated that observation on the decline and fall of civilizations, in his classic history of the Roman Empire.

    One of Castro’s biggest lies was that the Cuban people were heroically enduring poverty in order to build socialism. When he first seized power, he & Che claimed that in 10 years, Cuba would have a higher standard of living than the USA. How did that work out?

    Cubans endured poverty because Soviet style socialism failed to create wealth. It was all for nothing.

  • June 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm
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    Thank you for encapsulating Ernesto Guevara’s “New man”. He copied it from Josef Stalin.

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