Cuba after the Fall of the Soviet Union

Solidarity, Love and Despair

By Xiomara Reinoso Gomez

Xiomara with her children.
Xiomara with her children.

HAVANA TIMES — “The socialist bloc has collapsed! The Soviet Union has disintegrated!” These were the kinds of remarks the medical personnel at the hospital were making. I wasn’t paying any attention to them. My two-month-old child had been hospitalized for diarrhea and, at the gastroenterology ward, he had caught a bacterial infection that had landed him in intensive care.

The doctor had told me that, if they couldn’t manage to find a vein for a transfusion and administering antibiotics in less than six hours, my son would die. Nothing else mattered to me in this desperate situation.

Finally, after poking his tiny body with a needle 39 times, they managed to channel a vein. But the danger wasn’t over: we had to wait an additional six hours to see how his body reacted to the treatment. I came close to losing my head. Luckily, everything worked out.

I barely had any contact with my family. We could only communicate through a pane of glass, making gestures and telling each other the essential things by reading each other’s lips. The only thing we spoke about was the child’s condition, I didn’t know about anything happening outside the hospital.

A few days later, my baby was discharged and prescribed a basic diet for four months. For those of you who don’t remember Cuba’s “basic diet,” it is a food preparation with green plantains, cassava, garlic, onion, peppers and beef (or chicken, if you can’t find the beef). As I was heading out of the intensive care unit, one of the nurses told me I could go get the ingredients at the hospital for a week. She was going to do me this favor so I had more time to find the ingredients myself.

I thanked her (and I am grateful to her to this day), but I walked out of there thinking: “How silly! It’ll be easier for me to buy the ingredients myself and do it at home.” What’s more, I had my old Russian blender. What else could I possibly need?

When I got to my neighborhood, I went directly to the market. I’d been away from home for fifteen days and my fridge was empty and the pots idling. I went directly to the preserves kiosk, my mind set on throwing together some food quickly and….my goodness, all of the shelves, absolutely all of them, were empty!

I asked a lady there what had happened. She gave me a surprised look. She probably thought I was from Mars. “They came and took everything.”

I was petrified. The words of the Apocalypse came to mind. We were indeed facing a great catastrophe, but not the one foretold by the biblical prophecy.

I looked at the child I was holding and thought of my 12-year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but cry.

The next day, I went to the produce market and all of the stands were empty, all except one. A large crowd of people were waiting for a truck to unload a shipment of cassava, shoving each other around violently. Then I remembered the nurse who had kindly offered me help.

Where had the products in the markets gone? Was that also being brought over from the Soviet Union? That was the beginning of the Special Period…just the beginning.

There are those who say another crisis is in store for us, but I’m no longer worried about it. My kids have grown up to be adults and, after so many such crises, I’m no longer afraid of anything.

10 thoughts on “Cuba after the Fall of the Soviet Union

  • You Bob are now going to be condemned as that worst of all things:

  • John: absolutely Cubans embrace the free market. The street / left hand market / black market is totally free market and appears to me to be equivalent in size or possibly even larger than the government market. Go to Cuba and you will see for yourself.

    Your statements are confusing. Do you think that the US loosening of trade restrictions with Cuba is a bad thing?

    BTW, do you even know what a “junk bond” is? I have a good amount of them in my portfolio. And they were not sold to me by a salesman, I purposely selected them because of the yield.

  • Cubans are embracing FEC ?
    When did they set up the stock exchange in Havana and where are all the junk bond salesmen ?
    You seem to think that the Cuban people. having fought off the attempt to force FEC upon them for 54 miserable years, will now suddenly have a change of heart and now that the embargo (and with it the US war on the revolution) might end ?
    Given that in the U.S. through the wonders of the “market place, the top 1% now own about 90% of all the wealth in the U.S.” , I don’t think the well-informed people of Cuba will now embrace that sort of economic inequality.
    They’ve already been there and done that.

  • Thank you for describing what apparently was the one success in your life – hence being memorable. But, you were proven to be wrong.
    Don’t fool yourself by thinking from afar that health and education are better in Cuba than they are in the UK. I have experience of both. I am not criticizing the medical professionals of Cuba, but the conditions under which they work. Hospitals which are visibly crumbling with broken windows and missing door handles and a grave shortage of the drugs they require for their patients – and the US embargo does not affect drugs.
    In the UK it took Winston Churchill to return to power as Prime Minister in 1951, to end food rationing, the points system for food and clothing and to end the requirement for citizens to carry the Identity Cards so beloved by the Attlee Labour Government. Remember the Police could stop you in the street and demand your Identity Card even although you were going about your lawful business.
    “At the heart of our belief is the principle of freedom, under a rule of law. Freedom gives a man room to breathe, to take responsibility, to make his own decisions and to chart his own course. Remove a man’s freedom and you dwarf the individual, you devalue his conscience and you demoralise him.”
    The Castro family regime chose to remove the possibility of freedom for the people of Cuba and the consequences are as described in the quotation I have given.
    You can now thank your lucky stars that the UK did not become part of that appalling Communist Empire – the Soviet Union! They operated like all communist powers under policies of repression – Hungary 1956, Prague 1968.
    Eventually Soviet communism rotted from within and we can only pray that in due course a similar rot will free the people of Cuba!

  • Forcibly reinstalling free enterprise? Cubans are embracing it wholeheartedly. They are of the opinion that change is not proceeding fast enough!

  • As a youngster at school in the early 1950’s EnglandI took part in a debate regarding the British royal family.
    One as to remember that at that time we had a socialist government here in England. After the war in 1945 a mood of egalitarianism had swept England, the famous war leader Winston Churchill had been removed from power and the socialist under Attlee were voted in by returning troops sick of the pre war ‘establishment’ England became socialist and Italy came close to voting its self into being part of the soviet union!
    In the debate my premise was that by the end of the century, (To us youngsters in 1950 the year 2000 was a long, long way away) Britain would be fully socialist and part of the Soviet Union and be a republic without any royal family. Before the debate the vote in my favour was 30% and against me, 70%. At the end of the debate I had secured 45% for me and 55% against. This I considered a success.

    However, now in 2015 the right wing Conservatives are in power, the rich are richer, the poor are poorer and the Royal family are as strong as ever. How wrong was I.
    The point I want to make is that at the time as we grew up we watched the Cuban revolution enfold and our hearts went out to you as you rejected capitalism and Uncle Sam’s corruption. It has been a tremendous struggle for you against the might of the USA, but though the West considers you a third world country, you have greater values than those so called drug running friends of america and two of your institutions, Health and Education are better than those in England and we are supposed to be the sixth richest nation on Earth.
    Don’t be fooled now that America wants to enfold you in its capitalist arms. The cuban people will not get anything out of the deal, just wall to wall Big Mac’s and Havana as a mini Las Vegas run by gangsters.

  • You are “opposed to the embargo” but all in favor of forcibly reinstalling free enterprise capitalism and corrupt bourgeois politics tied to the capitalists as is the intention of the embargo .
    What would YOU prefer to the embargo? an outright invasion which would be the ONLY thing that could force 11 million Cubans to go back to what you want ?
    It’s been more than obvious that for more than 54 years the Cuban people have clearly expressed the desire to keep what they have.
    The old systems that caused the revolution in the first place ( what immoral, imperial types like you prefer) would have to be forcibly imposed upon them .
    It’s about time you learned this fact.

  • As you know Terry, I am opposed to the US embargo and am a critic of its political history in the Americas since the Monroe Doctrine of 1842.
    However, the embargo coupled with Helms-Burton et al, is not responsible for the rank incompetence of the Castro family regime and their imposition of power over the people of Cuba.
    You are falling into the same groove that is utilised by the regime to excuse all its faults, errors and omissions. It’s all the fault of the embargo! That is bunkum. The embargo is undoubtedly a contributor to making life even more difficult for Cubans. But it is not responsible for the lack of food production in Cuba. It is not responsible for the apparent need of the regime to spy upon its own people through the CDR. It is not responsible for the incredible number of State Police. It is not responsible for the repression, it is not responsible for preventing access to freedom for the people of Cuba! Those responsibilities Terry lie upon the shoulders of the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba!

  • “As one with an extensive family in Cuba including young children, I wonder will my nieces aged two and four have to live the rest of their lives under repression as their parents have, or will they eventually have the liberty which is the privilege that we in the free world possess.”
    Carlyle, while I sympathize with you and your Cuban family members, I think that it’s completely irresponsible of you to heap all of the blame for Cuba’s deficiencies on the Cuban government… as I believe your statement above can easily be applied to the repressive nature of the US economic embargo and all other insane US policies aimed at creating misery for every man, woman, and child in Cuba too. To order to criticize the Cuban government with any credibility, the hypocrisy of US interventionist policy must end first before meaningful conclusions can be directly applied to Cuba’s leaders. The repression inflicted by US government policy on the Cuban people is totally irresponsible.

  • There are those Xiomara, who consider you fortunate to be living in Cuba under the power and control of the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba. Some of them – several of whom live in the USA, write in these pages expressing supportive views for the regime and criticizing others who wish to see a better life for Cubans with freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of the individual to pursue their own and their family’s best interests.
    These admirers of power, control and repression endeavor to persuade that your life as a Cuban is better than their own as citizens in the USA. One of the peculiarities of their view is that even if they have visited Cuba – which not all of them have – they do not seek to immigrate there.
    The Castros have been in power for over fifty six years. The standard of living in Cuba is consequence of their administration, the annually reducing levels of production, the shortages which occur, the crumbling infrastructure with power cuts and leaking water pipes are a consequence of their incompetence. Cuba was prior to the Castro family regime an agriculturally productive country but today it is necessary to import 80% of the nations food.
    As one with an extensive family in Cuba including young children, I wonder will my nieces aged two and four have to live the rest of their lives under repression as their parents have, or will they eventually have the liberty which is the privilege that we in the free world possess.

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