Caring about Cuba in Difficult Times

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

Por Michael Wiggin*

HAVANA TIMES – I am a Canadian who has visited Cuba many times and have come to love Cuba and its people. I am distressed to see the conflict between Cubans, between the Cuban government and Cubans who demonstrate to protest living condition or to protest government policy.  I have found much to like about Cuba despite the poor economy and some repression of expression.  

Walking without fear at 2:00 in the morning along the poorly lit streets of Centro Havana; sharing the joy with people from the broken seats at a baseball game; hearing of the enthusiasm of many young people for The Revolution leaves me the impression that there is much good to build on – but room for improvement.

But during the two years since my last visit, as COVID-19 and the US embargo conspire to create unacceptable conditions in Cuba, I think that Cuba has reached a critical juncture in its history, a time when there are many hard decisions to be made. Accept that I am speaking from my comfort in Canada and doing my best to be constructive – not sharing the current pain in Cuba. 

It seems to me that it is time to revisit priorities, to think hard about the most important things to achieve.  Is it to achieve a pure socialist society?  Or is it to listen to Marti advocating a society “con todos por el bien de todos” (with all and for the good of all).  Marti did not specify what was the right political and economic structure for the Cuban people. He focused on the key principles or objectives that should underpin the future path for Cuba. 

Or look at the example of Che Guevara.  While advocating the importance of “conciencia” and the need for the “new man”, he also recognized the importance of management skills and asked Julio Lobo, the Sugar King, to stay in Cuba to help oversee the national sugar industry. (Lobo declined, but the recognition of his value was there.) More recently, consider the ever-pragmatic Raul Castro who stressed the importance of productivity and the need to learn “even from the capitalists”.

At this critical juncture for Cuba there is a need for new thinking under the new conditions.  It is not enough to blame it all on the embargo, there is room for internal change.  Marti lived in the USA for many years and rejected its policies that focused on materialism and that encouraged economic inequalities. He stressed the need for developing a way that was good for Cuba and Cubans. 

There is neither need nor benefit in copying the US example.  Many US residents miss many of the rights and services available to Cuban’s (when the economy allows it) yet, there are lessons on the way the economy works.  And look at the Nordic countries and even Canada where elements of socialism and capitalism have been integrated for the good of the people.

Photo: Juan Suarez

Countries with inclusive economic and political structures all face criticism and demonstrations but they listen and improve.  Marx predicted that capitalism would, through allowing or encouraging extreme inequality, collapse and make way for socialism.  However, he did not see that demonstration or criticism followed by reflection, consultation and possible change could, democratically, modify capitalism, including incorporation of socialistic policies and make improvements for the benefit of the people.  There is no pure solution but a need to consider the right blend of policies and economic behavior “for the benefit of all.”

In closing, the US should note that their covert funding with the aim of regime change, just gives a reason, historically often correct, that some criticism or opposition is caused by US support.  But, somehow, this must be controlled and not the cause of fear or rejection of the criticism of the many Cuban people who love their country but who believe that change is possible.

We all know that the US supported the Batista regime and the US mob who controlled much in Havana, and needed to be overthrown. When an oppressive, exploitative or extractive government is replaced, as in The Revolution, it still leaves its mark.  The hate and disgust for the Batista years has led to a rejection of all characteristics of that era – including potentially useful economic structures.  It is time to not taint today’s decisions with total contempt for earlier corrupt governments and society and to find the parts that worked to enhance Cuba today – without losing the many aspects that make Cuba so special.  It is time to focus more on Marti and less on Marx.

*Guest writer Michael Wiggin is from Ottawa, Canada

Photo by Juan Suarez

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

8 thoughts on “Caring about Cuba in Difficult Times

  • Michael Wiggin is clearly in favour of the communist regime, but talks as if change is possible under that regime, saying that “evolution and change is better than overthrow”. The opportunity for such evolution and change, has been open for sixty two years, with none occurring.

    In the introduction to my book ‘Cuba lifting the Veil’, I observed that;

    “Cubans are denied what is perhaps the least recognized but possibly the most important right for those who live in the free world. That is simply the right to openly disagree with the opinions of others and especially with political viewpoints.”

    Mr. Wiggin is not alone in having studied the history of Cuba, of enslavement of the Taino, then African slavery, of the immigration especially financially encouraged of Spanish white Catholics, of indentured Chinese “coolies”, and those of us who have, are well aware of the successive endeavors at revolution against tyranny by Cespedes, Agramonte, Marti, Gomez and of General Weyler and his concentration camps,

    We know also of the excesses of Batista, which even caused US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to impose an embargo upon Cuba – that prior to the revolution of 1959 -with some funding provided to Fidel Castro by the CIA agent in Santiago.. But, to infer that that history in anyway justifies communist dictatorship, repression and the excesses of the current political regime is nonsense.

    How nice it would be to consider that the communist regime which has held power for sixty two years, would suddenly introduce “serious changes both politically and economically”. If Mr. Wiggin turns his attention to more recent history, he will learn of the expressed political views of President Miguel Diaz-Canel that he is there to ensure continuity of the policies of Fidel and Raul Castro, and of the policies of Marino Murillo, the economic Tsar, who directs Minister Gil.

    As I previously commented Michael Wiggin does represent the views of many Canadians who have spent limited short periods in Cuba. There will be no change under Diaz-Canel, to think otherwise is pie in the sky!

  • “some repression of expression”

    It’s total repression Michael there is no freedom of thought in politics in Cuba.
    It’s a 1 party communist tyranny based on former East German and Soviet mass repression.

    The balanced story is false also, simply intended to support the incompetent dictatorship.

  • Glad to see the reactions to the article. Discussion is always enlightening. While I acknowledge the many criticisms of Che Guevara and Raul Castro and some of the executions, I have also studied Cuban history extensively and have seen much, much worse during both the Spanish and the Batista regimes. Cuba, in my mind, is still in a process of evolution – not yet completed. I am not endorsing government but believe that at this critical juncture, evolution and change is better than overthrow. The changes needed are not “just tweaks” but serious changes both politically and economically. The question is if Diaz Canel and his government are up to it or not? Cuba’s and Cuban’s future depends on that.

  • Nick’s admiration for “balanced” views similar to his own is to be expected. No surprise there! Supposedly balanced views expressed by Mr. Wiggin including:

    “hearing of the enthusiasm of many young people for the Revolution leaves me the impression there is much good to build on”

    That causes one to question exactly from whom did he hear such views, for he does not claim to have heard them directly from young people himself?

    Maybe in response there will as is customary, be reference to education and medical services? What else?

  • This is a balanced article from a man who is clearly fond of the Cuba that he has seen, but wishes to see improvements.
    Clearly the article is way, way, way too balanced for some commentators.
    No surprises there then?

  • MIchael Wiggins accurately represents the views and opinions of many Canadian visitors to Cuba. I have met many Canadians who think similarly. In endeavoring to have a balanced view, they seek that which might be good in the communist system. Most have only experienced the package tour holidays offered in such resorts as Holquin, Varadero or Trinidad. A few more venturous ones have stayed in casa particulars and eaten in paladars, thus getting a somewhat closer relationship with Cubans and returning in later years. to visit the same families – who as owners, have average incomes and homes far superior to those of the average Cuban. They will have been told by guides, of the merits of the Cuban education and medical systems and felt a degree of reward when their gratuities have been accepted with such gratitude.

    Michael suggests that the reader ought to look at the example of Che Guevara. Does he actually know that between January 2 and June 12, 1959, Che Guevara was responsible for the execution by firing squad of 357 Cubans at La Cabana in Havana? Does he know that Che Guevara’s instruction to Cuban youth was:

    “Youth should learn to think and act as a mass. It is criminal to think as an individual.”

    How “pragmatic” was Raul Castro when executing 78 Cubans at Santiago in one day?

    He says that Jose Marti – who was known as the “Cuban Apostle” long prior to the 1959 revolution, when living in the US (where his grandson Cesar Romero became a film star) “rejected its policies that focused on materialism and that encouraged economic inequalities.” Yet it was Marti, who having sought refuge in the US, wrote of his:

    “profound admiration for those many basic liberties and opportunities open to the vast majority of American citizens.”

    Marti extended his views upon the type of society he sought for Cubans, when he wrote:

    “Being good is the only way to be free. With human nature however to be good, one has to be prosperous.”

    How detached is that from the thinking of Karl Marx?

    Michael innocently suggests that the current squalor so evident in many areas of Cuba is the consequence of the Batista regime of over sixty years ago, leaving its mark – perhaps like the tunnel under the entrance to Havana harbour, or the spectacular bridge over the river valley at the border of Matanzas which has featured in engineering journals world wide. Yes, Batista was a ruthless dictator in cahoots with the US, as compared with Fidel and Raul Castro each dictator in turn, and in cahoots with Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

    Cuba does not practice socialism, Cuba practices communism. Raul Castro changing the words within the constitution does not change that! As for Michael’s belief that Cuban youth has enthusiasm for the Revolution, that runs counter to my personal experience and that of my wife, who holds a not insignificant role in Cuban education. Maybe he was in contact with the students president at the University of Havana – a role held at one time by non other than Fidel Castro.

    Michael even suggests that it is covert funding by the US that is causing dissention in Cuba. US policy was clarified in fine detail in the US Cuban Democracy Act which introduced the second embargo, the first being that imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower upon Batista. Yes, the US has remained dogmatic and unimaginative when clearly the embargo failed in its described purpose. Cubans have suffered interference by the US since 1823.

    Despite my comments, I do not doubt Michael’s genuine concerns. But in suggesting that the focus ought to be more upon Marti and less upon Marx, he displays an innocence of the reality of the communist dictatorship. Meaningful change will not be introduced and the freedom sought by Marti is anathema to the regime which is determined to maintain total power and control.

  • Some adjustments won’t change what the “political emprisonment” was and is. Some adjustments won’t allow the free expression. Some adjustments, and I’ve seen that many times in Cuba, won’t last because they are conjunctural, just to calm a given situation. Don’t you know the “operation Pitirre en el Alambre”, o the “operation Maceta” or “la rectification de errores”?

  • Permit me to assume that the writer, Michael Wiggin is a white man. This is only important to make a point. As a mulatto American in Cuba many, many times, I believe that I was far more likely to be assumed to be a Cuban (until I spoke) while I was on the streets in Cuba among and around young Cubans because of how I looked. More specifically, nearly every day for me in Cuba, Cuban police and Cuban civilians assumed I was a Cuban. As a result, their true beliefs and true nature were more naturally revealed in my presence. The instant my true identity as a Yuma was known, behaviors changed. In many different ways but in nearly all circumstances, the authentic Cuban disappeared. Why do I bring this up? A white male Canadian is generally a walking billboard for Cubans to present their best (or worst) faces. Early in Michael’s post, he writes “hearing of the enthusiasm of many young people for The Revolution”. I don’t believe his information accurately reflects what many young people believe. Sure, there are probably the handful of young Cubans who still support the Revolution. Just like the young people in the US who like Trump. But to characterize either group as “many” would be a huge overstatement. Especially for young people in Cuba. I don’t know a single, not one, Cuban under 30 years old that supports the Revolution. And among these young people, most are hellbent on trying to leave Cuba as soon as possible. I do share Michael’s regrets about the current state of affairs in Cuba. Where we likely differ is that it appears that he believes that with a few economic and political adjustments, all will be well in Cuba. Wrong!! Cuban leadership is rotten to the core. There is no compromise to be had with them. I believe that Cuba’s best shot at a brighter future must start with a wholesale dismissal of current leadership. And good riddance!

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