HAVANA TIMES — In front of Havana’s legendary ice-cream parlor, Coppelia, there is a bright sign with Cuban National Hero Jose Marti’s face and the sentence: “This is a time for virtue and we must join it.”
When I was a student, teachers used to tell us that the socialism sweeping through Cuba was a preparatory phase for the real objective: Communism. In this forthcoming period of our history, money would no longer exist and people would be working totally out of consciousness. Markets would be well stocked and people would go and take just what they need, nothing more and nothing less. All of this thanks to a developed conscience.
Four decades after hearing these words, money still exists and it not only rules in material exchanges but in social status too. Every new generation is a little less idealistic and more savage than the previous one. The heirs of their parents’ deception, they learn double standards from a very young age and become skilled in prospering without legal support and evading any virtue.
Self-employed business owners who hire young employees are complaining about their lack of ethics and discipline. They are shocked by continuous actions which indicate selfishness on the verge of absurdity and no objective view to make something of themselves in life.
But, wasn’t that what they were taught? While we were being lectured about the word “business” being a synonym for crime, we were incited to “divert resources” from workplaces in order to make up for our deficient wages. Instead of encouraging entrepreneurship and establishing protection laws for employees and customers, the Cuban people were driven to committing illegal acts which force them to be submissive and not ask any questions. The virtue of demanding their rights has been stripped from them.
That’s why when a foreigner tells me that Cuba was an example for the world, but that something “got lost” on the way, I vehemently deny this.
If it was ever an example, that’s because the world needs to believe in the justice that every society seeks, which humans inherently long for. And with this natural need, starlight can be confused with fireworks.
I was born in 1965, so my childhood unfolded in the middle of a buzzing political time. The adjective “revolutionary” replaced “honest”, “noble” and “virtuous”. Of course, everyone understood that word in their own right, but the road towards material wealth dictated the limits of our rights, no matter how upright they were.
We weren’t even told that we were witnesses and objects, at the same time, of a social experiment, instead we were told that the course we were taking was infallible. And while mistakes and horrors weren’t made, the government’s official discourse remained intact.
Successive crises and the impossibility of putting theory into practice have meant that the government has had to introduce some changes over time, but without recognizing how great their mistakes have been, and much less apologizing to those who were affected.
Today, reality speaks for itself. Hurricane Irma exposed the desperation of Cubans without any values a little more, who looted state-run stores which had been flooded, or casas particulares (rental homes) because vandalism, rapaciousness, delinquency have been seen for decades as much less dangerous than civic protest.
The recent and tragic airplane crash on the outskirts of Havana exposed this dormant voracity even more, showing no respect for the dead even. Curious people went to the place of the accident to look, steal, film blood-chilling images which then went viral on alternative media with the same lack of care.
After all, if anyone who protests peacefully can be a target for insults, shaming and blows, if paranoia has been drilled into our heads and the only sacred thing in Cuba is the Revolution, why are we so surprised?
I read Marti’s words on the sign in front of Coppelia and I think that it is always a time for virtue and that it’s up to every generation to join it. And even though we work for money, wages should meet citizens’ real needs and be in keeping with prices.
Now there is talk about a consumer protection law, but once again, without a pay raise? Without financial freedom? Without political rights?
Cubans need to feel like they are respected, working productively, protected by laws which include freedom of speech so they can express their ideas and compensation for damages and prejudice. It would be good to compensate the families of the victims of this great airplane accident that was covered by the media extensively. Virtue is taught, it takes root and it spreads, with the example of responsibility and respect.