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.


Janis Hernández

Janis Hernandez: I don’t seek to change the world, much less give recipes on how it should or shouldn’t be. I don’t have the gift of oratory or that of the letters. I’m not an analyst or a philosopher. I am just an observer of the things that happen around me and I feel obligated to speak about my country without a muzzle, just write and that’s what I do in my diary.

6 thoughts on “Cuba and the Problem of Marginality

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

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