HAVANA TIMES — A French friend used to tell me that listening to criticism from foreigners about her country was a healthy experience for her. The general opinions of a visitor tend to be based on the splendor of a first impression, and aren’t objective at all.
And what can I say about the impact that this First World has on a Cuban person? Every time I bump into a visiting friend who has emigrated, I prepare myself for the standard confrontation: abroad (any developed country is amazing) – Cuba (an insurmountable disaster).
So, in contrast, I also found it healthy to hear very different opinions from a self-employed Cuban woman after her recent tour of Florida’s cities.
In her opinion, it’s such an organized society that it ends up being unnatural. Healthcare isn’t a service but a business; it isn’t focussed on preventing disease but rather on creating dependence. Hyperactive children are given sedatives instead of channeling their extra energy into sports or another physical activity.
She was shocked to see dogs wearing collars with devices which give them small electric shocks if they bark, which violates their natural urges and must traumatize them.
She said that houses are built out of a material called “plasterboard”, which creates damp and so to counter this smell, people constantly burn aromatic substances which she couldn’t breathe in. All of the food tasted artificial to her, she really missed the flavor of beans and coffee…
She crossed a bridge and was struck by the fact that it was covered in mesh. She asked why and she was told that it was to stop people from trying to commit suicide.
Snitching is a lot worse there than it is here… she claimed. A neighbor can report you to the police for any work done outside of the law, even when it’s just something stupid that can’t hurt or affect anyone. In Cuba, a driver can get out of his car to argue with another driver in the middle of the street, if you do this there, the other driver could be carrying a firearm and with so many crazy people out there, who knows what could happen.
Very insulting language is used to refer to those people who don’t belong to the White race, referring especially to indigenous and Black people. Rafters (those who are heroes here in Cuba), are considered to be the lowest of the low in their society. So much so that they criticize the fact that girls here are seen as sex objects, but there they are expected to invest money in making their bodies more attractive… to work as strippers.
If you have seen someone fall down on a public street, you don’t even think about helping them, if you call an ambulance in these situations and the person who fell down thinks that your actions have caused them some kind of harm, they can even sue you!
Everything is seen through the green lens of money: if you have a small car accident, as well as medical help, firefighters and the police will also turn up, so you have to pay for all of these services including material damage that you might have caused with your car.
And the worst thing is: if you are buying a house on credit and you suddenly end up unemployed, you will lose your house along with EVERYTHING you invested up until that moment, it doesn’t matter if you only had a little while left to pay off the debt…
It seems that the only thing that gave her a positive impression about the Land of Opportunities was technological advances, such as the GPS system in cars.
But I ask myself: walking down clean streets, not seeing animals suffering in them but being respected and protected by law, doesn’t that give a lot of relief? At least this is what some relatives and friends who immigrated to the United States are most amazed by. My niece too who recently traveled to Antalya, Turkey, where the thing she liked the most was to see cats and dogs on the street, so beautiful and well-cared for by organizations, wearing collars with GPS for protection!
The self-employed lady’s opinions reminded me of my son’s friend who immigrated to Texas when he was still a teenager, and when he came back on holiday, he had changed tremendously. He spoke clearly, he had good manners, he had willingly integrated into school when here he only used to think about playing soccer and raising pigeons. He already knew how to drive and helped his dad doing some errands with his own car.
So, not everything can be so bad out there. Here, the small business owners who have young employees complain about “anthropological damage”, about the lack of morals, discipline… They don’t believe hard work can earn them gradual prosperity; they only want easy money to show off and squander.
No society is black and white. The failures in each and every system reveal the imperfections of its people. And we have to admit that a lot of what seems to be “good” in Cuba: with regard to the absence of violence, a non-dizzying pace of life, soldarity (which is becoming more and more relative), can’t be called achievements because they are founded on a lack of prospects, resources, management, business freedom… In a nutshell, on the lack of opportunities.