Cuba’s Greatest Problem

Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — A person I hold in high regard recently expressed their opinion which, at the time, I thought was a little bit too radical: “Cuba’s main problem is the Wet foot/ Dry foot Policy. Because of it, we Cubans feel like we aren’t responsible for changing for what negatively affects us in our own country. We resolve everything by jumping into the sea.”

After reading the The Ordeal of a Cuban Rafter interview written by Ivette de las Mercedes and the comments made by readers, I felt for the first time that my friend’s opinion was sadly true.

Jorge Mendoza Correa’s story shook me to the point that I found myself wondering how I could help him and other survivors of this horrible experience. I don’t believe it’s impossible to organize a collection, even amongst HT writers or readers, even though we’re just ordinary Cubans and each and every one of us only gives what we can.

However, the most serious problem we Cubans have is the misleading temptation to believe that leaving is the only way to change our lives. And it’s becoming more and more disheartening as columnists (all Cuban) attack each other in such a way that they lose sight of the real cause, like always happens with politics.

A few days ago, I saw an excellent film which summarized this with ruthless accuracy. “The Truth” is told by the actress who interprets Mary Mapes, a US TV reporter whose prestigious career fell apart after she questioned the then president George W. Bush’s military record.

“Our story was about whether Bush fulfilled his service. Nobody wants to talk about that. They want to talk about fonts and forgeries. Because that’s what people do when they don’t like a story. They point and shout, question your political beliefs, your objectivity, and hell, even your basic humanity. And they hope to god the truth gets lost in the fray. And by the time they’ve actually finished, after kicking about and shouting as loud as possible, we can’t even remember what the starting point was.”

If there has been mass emigration in Cuba since 1959 because of “economic issues”, it’s surely an irrefutable sign of our government’s misguided strategy. Come on, who else are we going to blame? If a company goes bankrupt, its director will be the first one to be interrogated; whether he/she was directly responsible or just didn’t foresee the irregularities which led to the company’s downfall because he/she was responsible for supervising the company’s business activities.

I’ve never understood why, in government terms, analysis can be permeated with relativities, ideologies and even sentiments. It’s a mathematical equation. And supposing that the government’s actions were well-intentioned, because they are human after all, that doesn’t exonerate them in an administrative and political sense because the presidency of a country involves great privileges as well as duties. You can’t enjoy some of them and shirk your duty on others.

Now we’ve finally recognized that emigration wasn’t and will never be the solution to the Cuban problem as has been proven by the undisputed fact that it hasn’t stopped.

When I read the news about the migration crisis caused by the recent waves of Cuban emigrants in Central America, when I see their photos on posters asking for help, I wonder how they’ve managed to put themselves in such an orphan state. Also, when I hear stories like that of Jorge Mendoza.

If a child is born and grows up in a house they are entitled to, if he/she leaves that house to not face up to arbitrary paternal authority, if he/she puts himself/herself in the position of a beggar asking to be let in a house that isn’t his/hers, the first ones to blame for the hardship are his/her parents who have the legal responsibility to ensure that the child has the necessary conditions for their health and development.

In the case that the neighbor takes the person in, whether out of pity or because they want to exploit their situation, does that absolve his/her parents’ negligence? I can’t imagine a judge delivering a sentence to a neighbor for having taking someone else’s child in and pardoning the child’s biological parents.

Those immediately responsible in second place for the Cuban problem are us Cubans for being prepared to leave our native island and to convert ourselves into global outcasts. How have we got to the point where we no longer feel like our country isn’t our homeland, how our house isn’t and will never be home? Traveling and emigrating are our natural rights. However, the dangers that Cubans face and the failure of many shockingly reveals, and for too long already, that this hemorrhage isn’t freedom but an illness.

I disagree with the interviewee when he says that he’d never had political problems before. How can it be that, a country’s population thinks traveling in rustic and unsafe boats in the 21st century is a viable option, fleeing like criminals, is not a political problem?

The interviewee, who is a teacher, may have seen, even in our own media, how teachers in other countries hold strikes in order to demand their rights. In Cuba, a similar initiative can cost you your job (like it did in the case of medical doctor Jeovany Jimenez Vega), interrupt your studies in a specialist area, six years of unsuccessful legal complaints, lead you to write a blog and carry out a public hunger strike in order to recover what you lost without a pay rise.

Changes in doctor salaries, which in their own words are still not enough, were made much later.

But let us analyze the situation a bit better: a country in economic crisis, with “symbolic” salaries which pushes its citizens to commit crimes by stealing state resources, a country with an aging population and a long history of exile, will obviously have problems with its social organization, and therefore, politics. And if somebody reacts, which is natural, one person shouldn’t be blamed. Those responsible for this organization should be blamed. Reacting to a malfunction doesn’t prove that we’re to be blamed for the situation, but are victims of it. We shouldn’t feel stigmatized for wanting to protest against what directly affects us.

We don’t get to decide prices, nor salaries, nor the fact that you can’t denounce shortfalls in the government, and now we can’t even discuss it according to “laws” recently announced in the official press.

Yes, it’s definitely questionable whether the US maintains a law which turns the “imperial enemy” into the North Star encouraging the dreams of many desperate people. However, what can be said of a government who allows its citizens, like it did back in ‘94, to throw themselves into the sea in the same primitive conditions of uncertainty which makes such an attempt nothing but suicide.

It’s well known that during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, it was ordered that boats sent to collect family members were instead filled with strangers, including ex-prisoners and schizophrenics. These boats were put in danger because of this and there are testimonies from those who were part of the Mariel boatlift who tell us how they saw a whole crew sink, not only because the boats were overcrowded but because the Cuban government gave the order to depart once weather conditions started to go bad.

But what does that matter; the facts don’t matter when we can be distracted with finger pointing and the villification of those writing. And the worst thing is, even those who are supposedly concerned about the island’s future get involved in this neverending fistfight (including the eternal socialism-capitalism dichotomy), while our fellow citizens continue to die at sea. Statistics are not published and maybe not even archived. The only ones to suffer this pain and loss are Cuban families.

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40 thoughts on “Cuba’s Greatest Problem

  • Bush made his military record public before he was elected, so his enlistment in the TANG was no secret, nor was it a secret that his powerfully connected daddy helped him get the posting. Bush asked about being posted to Vietnam, but was told he didn’t yet have enough flight hours to qualify:

    “Air National Guard members could volunteer for active duty service with the Air Force in a program called Palace Alert, which deployed F-102 pilots to Europe and Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand. According to three pilots from Bush’s squadron, Bush inquired about this program but was advised by the base commander that he did not have the necessary flying experience (500 hours) at the time and that the F-102 would soon be retired.[1][4]”

    Al Gore got a plum posting in Vietnam, thanks to his daddy.

    Interestingly, during the 2004 election campaign, John Kerry promised to release his military records, but he still hasn’t released all of his records. Don’t you wonder what he’s hiding?

  • Actually, I have seen the CEO average pay is as high as 475xs what the average worker makes. Yep, that really bites. I bet there is a blog that directly addresses that problem. It’s just not this one. By the way, for dictatorships, the national treasury is their bank account. Put it another way, is there anything, if Fidel or Raul wanted to buy it, that they couldn’t buy? Who exactly can tell them no?

  • I like that “paying the Castros” flourish. As if the money went straight to their bank accounts. I assume that you are incensed w/ the fact that US CEOs earn 300xs what the actual workers make.

  • Gordon, what happened to the three hotel/golf course projects planned for Western Cuba, just north of the Guanahabibes Peninsula? I remember seeing promotional videos which had been circulated to the schools by the PCC some four and a half years ago. One of them had off shore investment by Canadians, but I think one of the Directors got jailed on the usual charge of “corruption”.

  • What Cuba requires and what the Castros need are widely different. For the Castros acquiring hard currency is essential a nd that means acquiring it from the capitalist world which they achieve through tourism.

  • Moses you aren’t really being fair to Gordon, remember his expertise after 91 research trips to Cuba is on obesity and I for one look forward to publication of his results.

  • Without Canadian tourists where would Cuba be today – Cuba needs foreign investment.

  • I agree with you. Your sample is small.

  • Of all the people I know who got into a boat not a single one was there because of the human rights, the only reason was economic. They know they hit the jackpot as soon as they land in the US, that’s all that’s driving them to make the trip.

    Granted, my sample is small.

  • I call them “sugardaddys” because I am trying to imply that the Castros are “pimping out” the Cuban people and Cuba’s scant natural resources. You are correct that there is little need to use such a term to describe such an obviously selfish business relationship. For example, one of my friends works for a foreign-owned soap factory just outside of Havana. The French company pays the Castros just about 2000 euro per month to pay my friend’s salary. He works 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. My friend is paid the equivalent of 60 euros a month in the national currency. Even street pimps don’t earn that kind of margin. Pardon me, if my choice of words to describe the Castros investment practices offended your sensibilities. Knowing the truth behind my colorful description should really piss you off!

  • And if the 25 had lived in a country with freedom of speech and other basic human rights, how many would have considered the trip regardless of the immigration policy on the other end?

  • Thanks.

    I personally know about 30 people who’ve gotten into boats and I’m somewhat acquainted with about another 60 or 70.

    Out of the 25 I knew personally I’m going to guess that not a single one of them would have ever considered the trip if wet-foot-dry-foot wasn’t waiting at the other end. (Well… maybe 2 or 3 young guys…)

  • “… That indicates equality! You are saying that one is as guilty as the other!…”

    Yes, I am. I’m saying that the US’s horrific wet-foot-dry-foot policy is just as responsible for Cubans getting into boats as the Cuban government is. Period.

    Then you (as usual) go off on yet another completely unrelated tangent and try to put words in my mouth claiming that I said, “the US holds equal responsibility with the Castro family dictatorship for the repression imposed upon the people of Cuba.”

    That’s utterly ridiculous. Why do you jump to these crazy conclusions over and over and over in so many conversations?!

    English is not my first language but your reading comprehension is, quite frankly, horrible.

  • Why do you call investors, sugar-daddies in the case of Cuba? If the deal is right for all parts involved, I don’t see the need for such derogatory term. This is not the Soviets subsidizing the Cuban economy, these are capitalist companies and they aim to make money. Cuba’s revenues are mostly from international healthcare services, Canadian and European tourists and nickel exports through Canada’s Sherritt International. The investment mainly from Spain and trade from China, Spain and Canada. Brazil is a second level partner and Argentina is not worth to mention.

  • Eden!

    “The US government is just as guilty with …..”

    That indicates equality! You are saying that one is as guilty as the other!

  • The very fact that Michel (if my memory serves me correctly he is the one whose ambition is to be President in totalitarian communist Cuba) has been tutored presumably by Machado Ventura to:

    “respect those of less social standing”

    reflects the fact that the communist administration in Cuba operates in the belief that some are much more equal than others.

    Exactly to whom in Cuba is Michel socially superior?

    Canada owes a great deal to NAFTA negotiated by the Conservative Government of Brian Mulroney but also so does the US, as Canada is its biggest customer.

  • I can agree with that.

  • You should cut and paste your comments less and try to stay on point more. Who told you that Cuba has 120 tourist-related projects? The Castros? What does that mean? Restoring public toilets at the beach or a 1000-room hotel in a cayo? You amuse Gordon.

  • Currently the government of Cuba is working on 120 new tourist related projects and over 70 have an off shore investment. I told my four Canadian children ” Money is to easy to borrow and to hard to pay back ” Outstanding student loans in the USA are now over $ 1 t. and hold the number two position after home loans.

  • Where would Canada be today if we had no trade with the USA for the past 50 years ?
    Donald Trump is a great example of freedom in the US where 95 % of the wealth is owned by 5 % of the population.
    Michel has been taught to have a balanced view and always respect those of less social standing.

  • “… The CAA would entice far fewer Cubans to leave if Cubans were free in Cuba to live their lives as they chose..”

    We’re back to sky is blue and water is wet statements, Moses. Of course fewer Cubans would leave if the government was different.

    My one and only point was if the CAA wasn’t in place and Cubans were treated the same as every other nationality on the planet then the number of Cubans getting into boats would be vastly less.

  • As usual Carlyle you’re off on another tangent entirely, desperately trying to put words in my mouth, claiming that I said stuff that NEVER came out of my mouth.

    I have never once ever said that the US is responsible for the Castro dictatorship and you’re completely out to lunch to claim otherwise.

    My ONLY point was that the wet-foot-dry-foot policy shares lots of responsibility for getting people into the Straits of Florida. That’s all.

    If that policy wasn’t in place and Cubans were treated the same as every other nationality on the planet then the number of Cubans getting into boats would be vastly less. That was my one and only point.

  • “Yourself, why there aren’t any balceros leaving the shores of the U.S.?”
    ANSWER: Because no matter how bad it gets for someone in the US, there is always hope. In Cuba, hope is dead.

  • Hahaha! You are a piece of work Gordon. First of all, debt alone is neither good or bad. It is the debtor’s ability to service the debt that makes the difference. During the Obama administration, US debt has been reduced by nearly 2/3. If the US was going to tank, it would have happened in 2009. Are you unaware of the situation on the ground in Cuba or are you just not sharp enough to understand what you read? With Venezuela on the brink of collapse and former Brazilian and Argentinian a Billie pulling back, Cuba is DESPERATE to find another sugardaddy. Without significant outside capital investment, even the recent positive changes will have little lasting impact. A small group of Cubans will do well, but the large majority of mostly black and mulatto Cubans will remain poor and possibly worse off. Your optimism is cute but not based in reality.

  • Gordon, what is Cuba’s current debt with China? As shops and businesses in Cuba (almost all of which are owned by GAESA do not give credit, there is little household debt. Cubans are expected and educated to conform with the dictates of the Castro family and its lackeys.

    The secret to a quiet life in Cuba is to conform with the dictate, stay mute and exist!

    For Cubans, that is the real world. You have sensibly confessed in the past in these pages that you have a close relationship with the 85 year old Second Vice-President Machado Ventura and that under his tutelage it is the ambition of one of your children to become President of Cuba and another to be Minister of Finance – between them replacing one Castro or another and Marino Murillo.
    So, you have an obvious personal interest in perpetuation of the current repressive dictatorship. It serves your interests to belittle the US and to promote the myth that life for Cubans is in a paradise with two brothers and those who serve then being benign fatherly figures.
    That is the difference between you and I, my hope is for the people of Cuba that they may in their future experience the freedom that for example you have as a Canadian citizen, that they may be able to utilize their talents and abilities and be released from the dictatorship which currently controls their lives (existence) from dawn to dusk.

  • To suggest that the US holds equal responsibility with the Castro family dictatorship for the repression imposed upon the people of Cuba is Eden, ridiculous.
    Removal of the embargo would change little for the people of Cuba. Dictatorship with its tools of oppression, indoctrination, the CDR and MININT would remain. Standard of living is of little concern to the Castro regime, they are intent upon more of the same in 2030 and as the fairy tales end, ‘forever and ever’.

  • Coming from you “just as guilty” is about as good as I can expect. Even if we can agree that both countries are culpable, only one suffers any measurable consequences. This policy affects Cuba. To that end, the Castros have created conditions that practically throw Cubans into the Florida Straits. The CAA would entice far fewer Cubans to leave if Cubans were free in Cuba to live their lives as they chose.

  • Some people on this site are out of touch with the real world. The USA is in a major sea of red ink of debt at all levels. I believe this will all come to a head in 2017. Cuba is in a very good position as is has little government and household debt.

  • A well written story and the writer nailed it……as a canadian living in cuba i have many times asked myself what is wrong with the people of cuba.between that “one foot on dry land law” and a dysfuncial system of government what has emerged is a sad and scary picture of a people deviod of dreams and hopes with only the one driving idea and that is to abandon all hope of change in thier beautifull country and flee to america

  • The Cuban problem is an extreme expression, with its own features, of the general problem that the Third World faces: modern transportation and communication, combined with enough education investment to produce an educated middle class … and a lot of the educated, with skills and/or entreprenural spirit, want to get away from the poverty, violence, and corruption that characterizes many of these countries. (Cuba is an exception to this triad of evils, but of course has its own problems which drive people away.)

    But of course these are just the people who ought to be staying and transforming their countries. There is no reason why Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, and any other country, cannot have the living standards of the first world. We know what works

    The Cuban situation is exacerbated by the fact that the United States targets Cuba, uniquely among countries, and deliberately tries to strip away its cadre of educated personnel. In its own way, this policy contributes to the stability of the status quo in Cuba.

    You can’t ask someone to be self-sacrificing: “I’ll be a lawyer here in lovely Marin County and bravely struggle for transgender bathrooms in kindergartens, but you should stay in El Salvador and fight for trade union rights and against the drug gangs.”

    Eventually, if we don’t work out a way of really destroying civilization [Physics, you did your best … Biology, your turn], I believe the world will ‘level up’, at least to the situation that exists within many advanced countries — where there are still disparities of wealth, both among individuals and regions, but where everyone — at least during capitalism’s stable periods — has a chance of a decent life.

    We know what works, not perfectly but not too badly, we know what doesn’t — and in between we can argue about the right balance of market and state.

    Cuba is of course a unique case. The changes necessary for Cuba to make a great leap forward are actually not really so great. (Consider the situation facing reformers in, say, Mexico.) It’s just that there doesn’t appear, at the moment, any place for reformers to get traction. But I believe things are changing, and in a favorable direction.

    If the United States will just continue to back away from its failed policies of the past and treat Cuba like, say, a Latin American Singapore, we might be pleasantly surprised.

  • The Castros are only part of the problem. The US government is just as guilty with their ridiculous wet-foot-dry-foot policy.

  • Griffin — Do you have any way to substantiate your claim that Mapes and Rather intentionally lied? Do you believe they were stupid enough to risk their extremely successful careers by publishing letters they knew to be forged? Were they so loyal to the Democratic party that they would risk career suicide for a single story? Was anything they discovered false other than the physical authenticity of the letters?

  • Yes, just ask yourself why there aren’t any balceros leaving the shores of the U.S.

  • Griffin cannot deny that while many of his generation went to Vietnam Bush somehow ended up in the Texas Air National Guard.
    “Then-Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes said he had made phone calls to get Bush into the Guard, as he claimed to have done for the children of several other influential Texans.”

  • Not really. It fails to address why the “problems” exist in the first place. The answer: the Castros.

  • “Cuba’s Greatest Problem ” is the Castro dictatorship that controls all aspects of life in Cuba and denied the Cuban people hope.

  • A very good and thought provoking essay. Certainly, Fidel Castro has relied upon the exile of critics as a safety valve to take pressure off his dictatorship.

    It was an interesting choice to use the example of Mary Mapes, who together with Dan Rather, used a document they knew to be a forgery and several deceptively edited interviews in an attempt to influence a presidential election.

    We can forgive Veronica for not being familiar with the facts of the case. The ironically titled movie “Truth” is not a good source to get the facts. Mapes & Rather were drummed out of their careers as journalists for violating the most basic principles of their profession. They intentionally lied in order to promote a partisan political agenda through the media. They stopped being journalists and acted as a branch of the Democratic national campaign. In effect, Mapes & Rather were no different than the sycophantic propagandists in the Cuban media who serve the Castro dictatorship by lying to the Cuban people.

  • The opening paragraph says it all.

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