Cuba: After the Sacrifices

Yusimi Rodriguez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Nov 20 — I met Andres two months ago. We would often catch the same bus and eventually started talking, or — more accurately — I listened; being in his sixties, he has a lot more to tell.

On one of our trips together, I asked him if he had taken part in the 1970 sugarcane harvest. He smiled. By sheer chance, that very afternoon he had with him the little flag he had carried during that harvest. He showed it to me saying, “I participated in that one and others.”

He’s an engineer; he taught during times when there were teacher shortages; he served on nine international missions for Cuba; he came up with production innovations that saved the country tons of money, and he has worked for over forty years.

As I listened to him, I couldn’t take my eyes off his mouth. Andres is missing all his teeth. But that was something I would never think to ask him about. As it happened, he was the one who raised the issue in another conversation.

All of them had to be pulled out because his mouth was in such bad condition. That was more than six months ago, but he still hasn’t been able to come up with the money to get his prosthesis. It costs 50 convertible pesos (about $55 USD), or slightly more than twice his monthly salary.

I told him that he could get one free through the government. His reply was: “And it could take just about the same amount of time I’ve already been waiting, with the only difference being that the quality of the material is of poor.”

“Teeth are what gives a person presence,” he said sadly. Notwithstanding, he has other pressing needs that are even more important. His apartment is falling down on top of him. For a long time he tried to get the materials assigned to him to make the repairs. Now, none of that’s necessary; people are allowed to buy the materials from the government – legally, and in local currency.

Photo: Caridad

Thinking aloud, he said, “But I would need to stop eating.” He earns almost 500 hundred pesos, and a sack of cement costs 112 pesos.

He could also try save up money to buy an apartment, which is also legal now. But calculating his income and what it might cost for a small one-room flat, the sixty-year-old man would have to save up for about fifteen or twenty years.

The day he showed me his flag from the ‘70 harvest, we both were on the same bus going home at night as well. Suddenly, he realized he had left it at a certain place during the day. It was now past 9:00 p.m., so the establishment had already closed. If he went back, nobody would have been there.

So the next morning he showed up before anyone had gotten there to open the place up, before 7:00 a.m. He had woken up at 5:00 just to be sure. Fortunately, he recovered the flag. I thought about the slogan on it: “With the shield or over the shield.”

For whatever is needed

For years I saw images of the first decades of the revolution. I had heard stories about people who participated in the massive Caturra coffee tree planting and the sugarcane harvest of ‘70, also called “The Harvest of 10 Million Tons” (though that quantity was never reached). But people spoke with pride about their efforts.

People sacrificed their careers to be where the revolution needed them. “For whatever is needed, Fidel, for whatever.” I felt nostalgic for those days I hadn’t even lived through, for the sacrifices that I couldn’t make because I hadn’t been born.

I went for to school in the countryside as required during my junior high and high school years, and for my first two years of college. They said it was part of the curriculum and added points in one’s academic record, and therefore it had weight when it came time to applying for certain university programs.

Some older students had described their experience at the farm school as a lot of fun and stimulated my curiosity. The truth is that even in those times when the work was very hard in the fields, never did I do it with the idea that I was sacrificing for the good of the country or building a better future. At best, I was trying to win one of those emulaciones (incentives) that seemed so important at that moment.

Photo: Caridad

Spared the disillusionment

Now, listening to Andres and seeing him, I realize that I’m really pretty lucky. I didn’t have time to come to believe in the slogans we shouted during elementary school; nor did I have use for making any sacrifices or dreaming of some future society.

The fall of the socialist camp and the Special Period hit when I was fourteen. That glorious future was ashes before it even materialized. I didn’t suffer any disappointments and I had no resentments for “having spent the best years of my life” laboring on a chain of mistakes and failures.

Andres, on the contrary, has a record of services rendered to the revolution that’s longer than could be summarized here. However, though he has many things to recount and he seemed eager to have done it all, when I said I wanted to interview him for an online magazine, he hesitated and then declined at the last moment.

Nor is his real name is Andres. I understand him. He has ceased to believe. He feels that the latest measures taken by the country’s authorities to improve the economy have the chances of a “finger in the dyke,” but he still carries in his genes a fidelity that he observes with respect.

However there are questions that cannot be avoided and may never be answered: What did all of those years of sacrifice go for? What really happened to Commander Camilo Cienfuegos? Where are the other versions of the history of our country? How many things didn’t happen the way we’re told?

6 thoughts on “Cuba: After the Sacrifices

  • Rob, thanks for the response. You say you agree with my analysis that “a new formula for socialism is needed,” but do not go into a discussion as to what such a “new” formula might be. This is the real question worth discussing.

    What precisely is your idea of such a new formula?

  • Elizabeth,
    I am really sorry but the Cuban government, which anyway at the end of the day consists of two guys only, is responsible for the fate of Andres. I could have sympathy with your point of view if I did not see the five official sons of Fidel Castro riding the best cars and having access to BlackBerrys (and I would like to know who else other than the Cuban workers literally pay the bills when they send picture images while being abroad). Andres has lived a socially useful life. In return he has literally been kicked in the teeth. I would like to challenge the likes of Walter Lippmann and Ignacio Ramonet to explain to me what socially useful functions those playboys sons have contributed to Cuban society and why they deserve to live better than Andres. .If Fidel Castro had made himself and his sons live like Andres or yourself Elizabeth for that matter, then perhaps I would be tempted to share your opinion.
    On the housing issue, while the Cuban leaders banned the sale of houses, they ALL made sure they confiscated the best Miramar villas for themselves. For free! Their student Daniel Ortega did the same in Nicaragua confiscating the best house for himself. And I have seen poor housing in Cuba, from the slums of Guanabacoa via Central Havana to Baracoa. The saddest thing is that for all his sacrifices Andres still has not earned the right to feel free when speaking the truth.
    Also, official Cuba does harm others. In the hard currency stores Nestle has a monopoly. That company is an enemy of workers and trade unions. Official Cuba looks the other way when trade unionists are strung up in Iran because official Cuba prefers Iranian government loans.. Offical Cuba praises Mugabe, the butcher of poor black Zimbabweans, trade unionists among them.

  • Seeing how cubans were forced to live was the saddest part of my trips there. though the embargo does have an effect elizabeth is simply wrong in saying that the main cause of suffering is the embargo. the suffering of the cuban people is cause directly by the cuban govt. a society where every single creative initiave has to flow throuh “official” channels will never thrive. period.

    grady, though i agree with your analysis that a new formula for socialism is needed, i disagree with your opinion of the reasons socialism remains unpopular in these united states. i would say there are two reasons socialism is a toxic word here. the first would be that in general people of the left here in the states have an absolute inability to say anything good about our country. literally everything about our country is evil in the eyes of the majority of the left. there are obviously many things wrong with our country, and many mistakes were made in the past, but in many ways our country and society are superior to most others. until the left can admit this they will never gain any real traction. the second reason socialism is toxic here is because damn near every socialist government ever has provided their people with a jackboot to the face and a bullet to the throught.
    the american people may well desire fairness and equality but they will not be told that their country is the root of all the worlds ills and they will not accept a curtailing of liberty just to have better medical coverage

  • As sad as it is to say the truth about Socialism is that it is doomed to failure because of it’s very nature. It requires the active participation of the large majority of a Society some must produce more and accept less for the whole to live somewhat equally.
    In the end Human nature is unaccepting of such a method of sharing.
    On the Humna side of the coin Andres is the Model Man for Socialism He has given all for the Revolution and has been sadly abandoned by it in His hour of need.
    We all wish for success for the Cuban Socialist Experiment but I fear that time has passed.

  • What a heart-breaking article, not only for Andres, but for his entire generation.

    Nothing has been so damaging to the world socialist transformation that the absurd formula for socialism dished up by Engels and Marx of state ownership of everything productive. What I can’t understand is how Fidel and Raul can still buy into that absurd formula, and think of it as “real” socialism.

    We are struggling in the US to build a movement that redefines socialism as state co-ownership, with the retention of private property rights, cooperative worker ownership of significant industry and commerce, and dynamic participation of the small entrepreneurial class. It is difficult to get a hearing for socialism however due to the disaster of “real” socialism in places like Cuba and the Soviet Union.

    Perhaps it will be necessary for every state monopoly experiment in socialism to collapse, in order for the state co-ownership form to be appreciated by the socialist vanguard.

  • There is something that I am uncomfortable with about these articles that reveal the truth about the suffering of the Cuban people. The blame is usually put on the Cuban government. While I am critical of the Cuban government, it is not responsible for the shortages in Cuba. The strangling of Cuba by the US government is more to blame. I don’t think one of the answers to solving Cuba’s problems is to permit citizens to buy housing. I think Cuba was far more advanced when the buying and selling of homes was not permitted. The inequality will only get worse in Cuba if attempts are made to recreate unfair systems. A shift needs to happen in worldwide consciousness – where we no longer have the need to deprive others. I am a poor citizen of the US, but I sure do wish I were rich so that I could feed and shelter the world. The suffering is very bad in Cuba, but it is even worse in other places, and the cruelty of the countries that dominate the world is a the root of the problem. Be content with the country of Cuba because it refuses to harm others for its own benefit and it, although misguided at times, has been trying to ensure that the basic needs of its people are taken care of while living under the tremendous deprivation created by others.

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