Good Intentions

Veronica Vega

Photo: Sergei Montalvo

HAVANA TIMES — I grew up hearing that I was extremely lucky to have been born in a system whose government promised social justice. The working class, disadvantaged throughout history, finally had an 8 hour working day, would be paid according to their profession and had the right to a free education and medical care. This was something that only existed in socialist countries, I was assured.

Having been born into the working class, I didn’t have a TV until I was 12 years old, when my stepfather was given a black and white one for his work efforts.. We weren’t the first ones to get a hold of those prized TV sets in the ‘80s either, when people could finally see the world as it is: in color.

Like all the other children I knew, I had the right to choose three toys once a year, thanks to a schedule that established six days for buying them. I used to look at the display of foreign goods in shop windows with my eyes lit up until it got to my turn, and they’d already disappeared. Only jacks, balls, spinning tops and skipping ropes made nationally remained.

I never had a school bag, or sneakers. My mother used to sew vinyl covers together to help me carry my books and notebooks, and I only wore my school shoes.

However, they promised me that I wouldnt have any less, nor any more, than what I needed because wealth, hoarded by a select few in the past, was finally in good hands that were distributing it equally. Having lived on the outskirts of the city since I was 7 years old, I felt like everyone around me had more or less the same as me.

When I was in the 8th grade, the social climate created because of the Mariel exodus (1980) shook my confidence in this sense of justice that had been instilled in me up until then. When I reached 9th grade, I discovered that I couldn’t aspire to go to the ENA (National Art School), from the municipality where I lived. Years later, I couldn’t travel as an overseas worker in the German Democratic Republic in spite of me meeting all of their requirements (age, school education, two years working experience) because of a judgement handed in by a neighbor, a member of the Communist Party.

However, the most radical change in my vision came in the ‘90s. A visit from a foreign friend opened my mind to an unknown and parallel Cuba. Hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, nightclubs, stores with objects that sparkle even more than the toys I used to look at in shop windows when I was a little girl.

Tourists, strangers to the country I could no longer call “mine”, could go places I couldn’t enter. Wealth existed but it wasn’t for everyone and it couldn’t be bought in the currency I earned my living in.

I had a friend who, infused with Communist fervor, enrolled in the Los Camilitos military school, where he became friends with the sons of high-ranking government officials. He went to their houses, to their parties; he saw how they drank whisky loaded with “ideological deviation” glass after glass, eating inaccessible and even prohibited dishes. They went for trips in their yachts, they drove their cars, and some even went to Europe on holiday.

I had some other foreign friends and I learned that it’s not only socialist countries that have free medical care and education.

On leaving one of Cuba’s tourist resorts with them, I watched the sea of bikes, of sweat-filled faces, wrinkled with fatigue and despair. It was them, “the ones below”, just like had happened in every other time in history and in all those countries where men they taught me to call “evil” ruled.

It was them, the workers, those who have no voice and no vote, disadvantaged by history, those who had finally been “redeemed”.

It was 1994 and I saw them leave on poorly made rafts, worse than Mariel. I know many who reached the Promised Land, others who disappeared and many who have suffered psychological trauma or irreversible physical consequences for having attempted to make this dangerous journey.

Today, 22 years after this sight, workers are still not able to live off their salaries, are unable to demand an increase, can’t even think about the word “strike”, and many choose instead to work in the independent sector where working days aren’t even 8 hours long anymore.

Thousands of Cubans are still trying to leave the island, to reach those countries where wealth is still being distributed badly, where they haven’t achieved the dream of social justice, where they’ll forever be “below” the rest.

Today, I remembered a speech that was repeated to death in my childhood that used to excite me, a speech which with some modifications remains valid and some still believe, and I ask myself, and I ask them, how can we have failed for over half a century if we’ve truly only ever had good intentions?

6 thoughts on “Good Intentions

  • Here is what I want Cuban people to explain: Under Batista, Cuba had an impressive military, a large police force, a wealthy class, and powerful allies including the United States; so how could brave, swaggering, resourceful, gun-bristling, Batista’s Cuba permit a ragtag handful of about thirty rebels to come ashore after training in Mexico and take over the country? I expect you will give the excuse that the peasants of Cuba helped and harbored Castro’s little band of bandits. So, then I want to know why the peasants would do such a traitorous thing? Was it because the Batista regime and its rich friends had treated them so badly? Is it possible that some of those peasants in Batista’s Cuba could have written an account of their hard life and their disappointments that would make Veronica Vega’s story seem like a fairy tale?

  • The US is not perfect. On the contrary, “in order to form a more perfect union is taught to every elementary age child. However, warts and all, what we have done well, we have done very well. Life in the US beats the hell outta’ living in Cuba.

  • Those who were lulled into the belief that the Castro’s communist system was providing services that were unique to their system were denied access to information which would contradict that belief. Other countries had ‘free’ medical services and education long prior to its introduction in Cuba – and with the purpose of stimulating freedom of thought and freedom of the individual rather than indoctrination. Scotland introduced free education by law in 1697, and the UK introduced its national health service in 1948.

    With time however as described by Veronica Vega, the truth slowly leaked out that the Propaganda Department Of the Communist Party of Cuba under the direction of Fidel Castro had been feeding them lies and distortion.

    The regime and the PCC had their own aristocracy with Fidel Castro as its egotistical power and control driven ‘Monarch’ having his complex of five houses in Siboney (Google Earth 5 ta D Havana) with swimming pool and tennis court, his two island retreat of Cayo Piedra with the 700′ long connecting bridge with pier for his yacht Aquarama II and shareholding in ETECSA the monopoly telecommunications company of Cuba.

    For the ‘mass’ there was unified poverty and an ever increasing realization that the revolution had moved them a short term dictatorship under Batista to a permanent one under the Castros. Then in 2002 Fidel Castro added a new clause to the already constrictive Constitution, that “Socialismo” is “permanent and irrevocable” removing any hope for change.

    Dictatorship whether by the right or the left is evil and Cubans like Veronica Vega have suffered it now for over fifty seven years. So many of those Cubans who have fled seeking freedom would have preferred to remain at home with their families if onlt the dictatorship had been removed and replaced by a democratic political system. Viva una Cuba libre!

  • …and people wonder why Cubans continue to flee the island. When all you have left is hope for a better future, and even that’s been taken away, you have nothing left. When you can’t change the system, you flee in the hopes of a better tomorrow someplace else.

  • Fidel Castro NEVER had good intentions for the Cuban people. He has always wanted only one thing: to remain in control. Therefore, as seen from the Castros perspective, the revolution has been a success. However, for millions of Cuban people, the revolution is an abject failure.

  • yes, I have also seen the multi tiered “social” society in your beautiful country

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