Cuba and the Problem of Marginality

Janis Hernandez

Cuban society and the topic of marginality.

HAVANA TIMES —  A great many Cubans express concerns over the rise in misdemeanors, public vulgarity, vandalism and other phenomena associated with people or groups whose conduct suggests social exclusion.

The media have also been showing much interest in delving into the causes of the problem and have set a broad campaign in motion to somehow contain this ill, which seems to be growing unchecked.

A Round Table program was devoted to the issue of marginality some weeks ago. The guests were two psychologists and a journalist.

What caught my attention was how the phenomenon is attributed to causes that are almost subjective. It was said that, in our country, marginality constitutes something akin to an attitude by the individual in certain contexts. Much less was said of other factors.

The journalist was the only one who touched on the deterioration of social relations in Cuba brought about by the economic crisis of the Special Period in the ‘90s and of the repercussions of this to date. He was also the only one who emphasized that the pronounced differences in income have created great gaps between social groups.

He spoke of the low salaries, the lack of motivation (particularly among the young) to work for such inadequate remuneration and of the need for more intensive community work.

The psychologists, though expressing agreement with this, showed themselves more conservative when they spoke of the genesis of the problem. The most alarming thing, for me, was when one of them said that the Cuban State and the revolution had, from the very beginning, made social inclusion one of their chief dividends.

In my opinion, this is debatable for, while it is undeniable that the government gives everyone the same opportunities to obtain an education or better themselves, it is also true that this same government has marginalized many people.

Back in the days of the Military Units for Aid in Production (UMAP), some 25,000 young men of military age were confined in work camps for being religious, gay or dissidents. These people were dubbed parasites, slackers and antisocial scum. Though efforts were made to correct this mistake later, the episode was burnt into the country’s collective memory.

In the 1980s the government organized violent hoards to repudiate those Cubans who wanted to leave the country.

Expressions of commonness, vulgarity and aggressive urban behavior were at their height in the 80s, when the country’s leadership itself organized and encouraged large groups of people to take part in violent reprisals against fellow citizens.

Eggs, stones and garbage were hurled at people and large paper and rubber worms were burnt on the porches and in front of the houses of those who had decided to leave the country. These people were referred to as scum and lumpens.

These shameful actions are still practiced by so-called Rapid Response Brigades, whose ranks are filled with people willing to physically attack others, for the sole reason that these others do not share their ideology, or because they demand freedom of speech.

To give the semblance of “cultural plurality”, radio and television shows have promoted grotesque and vulgar singers and genres, some of which are a direct copy of foreign trends (this includes most of Cuba’s reggaeton performers).

On occasion, however, highly-talented artists like Frank Delgado or Carlos Varela have been censored or denied promotion because they are considered anti-establishment. Other Cuban artists like Amaury Gutierrez or Pancho Cespedes have also suffered this, simply because they live abroad.

It is true that marginality, as the name suggests, is nothing other than the characteristic of that which is marginal or secondary, the condition of a person or social group that hasn’t been integrated into society at large. The phenomenon has a historical background that involves certain racial or socio-cultural groups.

It is true there are those who marginalize themselves, who choose to behave in negative ways, to make a living out of illegal activities and other types of infringements.

But there you have the mistakes of the family as an institution and even of the educational system, which has been quite dysfunctional in the past decades, what with the massive deployment of “teachers” who do not have the calling, education or talent for the profession.

Another reason behind this problem could be the absence of laws aimed at ensuring civility and/or their enforcement, a strict set of rules designed to guarantee respect among people.

In short, even though everything described above is everyone’s responsibility, the authorities and people of Cuba have a lot of work ahead of them if they have any interest in reducing marginality.

6 thoughts on “Cuba and the Problem of Marginality

  • Good post. It points out the over looked option the extremist like to avoid.

  • perfect.

  • You present a false dichotomy for Cuba’s future: either the socialist path they are now on, or a return to the ’50’s era of Batista’s corporate-Mafia capitalism.

    First of all, the Mafia never had the exaggerated degree of presence or influence portrayed in the official mythology, and Batista is long dead and gone. There is no logical reason to assume capitalism and democracy will mean a return of gangsterism. Indeed, the current Cuban regime is now rife with organized corruption run very much like any mafia family.

    So how about a democratic capitalist future? Many countries around the world have free & democratic multiparty systems, with a robust capitalist free market and still provide generous levels of social programs for the less fortunate. I offer Canada as a leading example. Our constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of the people while clearly defining the role & limits of government power. The rule of law and an independent judiciary are important for preventing criminal and or political corruption.

    That could be Cuba’s future.

  • People that marginalize those that oppose the regime or want to leave are the vulgar ones.

    A friend of ours left in the late 1970’s. He was an engineer and sent to work for a number of years in hard labor in the cane industry. He was in a punishment brigade with thugs added in that were encouraged to abuse him.

    His wife lost her job. His children were paraded in front of the whole school in the yard while teachers encourage – forced – the other children to abuse them.

    People came to their house to make a complete inventory of all they had. All they had to “donate” to the state.

    At the airport their single bags were opened and pictures were ripped from some frames as the frames were “contraband”. The foul inspectors even tried to take their wedding bands and a small chain with a Saint Christopher from his young daughter.

    Those that did that to them are the vulgar thugs.

    Those that call the poor people that try to survive by going though the garbage belts “people of a low cultural level” are the ones that are vulgar, not those that are forced to do this by necesity.

  • The author ends with a call for everyone to work to improve the social conditions in Cuba. Now it remains for analysis of the causes and impediments to improvement to be addressed systematically in the public interest. Cuba today by any measure is neither the worst off society, not is it close to what could be. Comparisons either to other countries or to past conditions in Cuba serve to inform and help only if applied with honest and positive motivation. For example, while there is certainly much to learn from history, a report from 1967 is unlikely to be helpful if not first checked for objectively and then brought up to the present conditions. Context is vital to understanding why societies “marginalize” or worse. Reducing unnecessary conflict and promoting social health and harmony take a great amount of time and effort. Stop for a second and look at examples where this has occurred, both within Cuba and elsewhere. Comparisons don’t provide exact solutions, but at least can help clear away simplistic or dishonest suggestions. For example, I have actually seen advocates of a return to a capitalist past in Cuba, based on very dishonest comparisons. Cuba in the past did not have some of the benefits now enjoyed, even if imperfectly. Some Cubans and many Americans loved the wild days of Mafia run Havana. Then there are those who claim totally dishonestly that marginalization and other social ills are relatively non-existent or easily explained away in the “free societies.” When you look at the facts and not through rose colored glasses, this fantasy disappears. So as difficult as it may be to reduce many of the important problems in Cuba, the effort won’t be helped by reactionary or delusional thinking or ill-conceived or malicious interventions. For example, paying millions for American agents to feed dissent won’t bring either prosperity or peace to Cuba, anymore than it did in countless other countries. I could give a long list of countries that are far worse off after foreign interventions. Sadly, the list of countries that are better off after help from foreign armies or agents is short. If you ask Nelson Mandela, Cuba gets honorable mention. As an American citizen I am deeply grieved by the horrors my government and military have wreaked on so many peoples, including Cubans. I will end by saying when help is offered, check the fine print and the record of the source. Ultimately, history has shown over and over, people in need, whether from natural or human causes must gain both the will and abilities to lead themselves to healthy societies.

  • There were more than 25,000 inmates of the UMAP camps:

    Former Cuban intelligence agent Norberto Fuentes estimated that of approximately 35,000 internees, 507 ended up in psychiatric wards, 72 died from torture, and 180 committed suicide.[3] A 1967 human rights report from the Organization of American States found that over 30,000 internees are “forced to work for free in state farms for more than eight hours a day and are given the same treatment as political prisoners.”[4]

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