Cuba Before the Revolution: The Little Gold Cup

By Yadira Escobar (Progreso Weekly)

Illustration by Yadira Escobar.
Illustration by Yadira Escobar.

HAVANA TIMES – Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, said in Madrid that Cuba before the Revolution – that is, dictator Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba – was “a golden jewel.”

To hear this from someone who proclaims everywhere that her group is interested in human rights, seems to me aberrant, considering all the pain that that blood-thirsty regime caused our motherland.

Because Soler does not refer to the ethic aspect of that dictatorship but rather to the materialistic nature of the regime, I believe that the topic deserves a more economic analysis.

In 1957, Cuba ranked fifth in Latin America, behind Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. Annual industrial production was about $1 billion. So, were we the little golden cup that some nostalgic émigrés recall in their Calle Ocho cafeterias?

Well, to begin with, I think that “were” is a collectivist term, and what moved Cuba’s economy in those days was not collectivism but capitalist individualism. So, to mistake the production of wealth for the distribution of wealth seems to be a trick performed by the apologists of that “paradise lost.”

They want to draw ALL OF US into a reactionary nostalgia that clears the road for the same political forces that caused so much harm in the past.

Speaking of gold and jewels, I don’t think that in colonial times any house slave was happy to wear in public emeralds and fine silver, as happened when coach attendants and housemaids were dressed in elegant finery by their vain masters.

I say this about others’ jewels because often the symbols of power and wealth don’t match the title or dignity of those who appear to own them, and in a burst of emancipation the slave might be glad to leave the borrowed jewels behind, just to earn his freedom and real dignity.

Despite enormous inequalities, Cuba managed to create wealth. We might say that the capitalist machinery worked, because the Cuban workers (who almost always came from the rural areas) moved out of the fields as the sugar industry moved in. They moved to the cities, adding to the cheap manual labor needed by the industry.

Let’s not forget that Havana was proportionally (after Vienna) the most densely populated city in relation to the country’s total population, and that a huge unemployment rate guaranteed employers a cheap human capital.

The petit bourgeoisie took advantage of that fact, especially under the rule of the Autenticos (a Cuban political party whose administrations led to Batista’s rise to power), so the little street shops and humble grocery stores flourished. The grande bourgeoisie, in alliance with American companies, wanted to monopolize everything, making Cuba a servant of the foreign interests.

The honest efforts of small businessmen could not – not even with the support of the Farm and Industrial Development Bank of the Autenticos – prevent the island from drifting from popular sovereignty and real democracy and falling into the hands of a militaristic, right-wing minority that finally staged the 1952 coup d’état that assassinated the idealistic 1940 Constitution.

Despite the benefit of the high tariffs since 1927 (high worldwide, after World War I) and facing a shortage of cheap fuel, the nation’s industry depended on the Cuban Power Company, which was a subsidiary of American and Foreign Power Co., Inc.

We depended hugely on U.S. capitalism. At the end of the chain of production stood an over-exploited worker who was not as interested in the “equality of opportunities” offered by a free market and a National Lottery as he was in social justice.

Cuba did not enjoy economic sovereignty so it might choose its political destiny. Beyond the exaggerated propaganda disseminated by the reactionaries, we find data that make us think.

Between 1946 and 1955, 60 percent of the lard consumed in Cuba had to be purchased in the United States. Due to structural flaws in the rural economy, Cubans had to buy abroad 80 percent of the garlic and onions they consumed.

The leader of the “Ladies in White,” who has openly asked that the blockade be maintained against her own people, may not know that, behind sugar and tobacco, Cuba’s third source of economic income came from tourism – almost exclusively from the United States.

Therefore, it is not very coherent to speak of a “golden jewel” that was funded in part (one third) by U.S. tourism, while comparing it with today’s Cuba under the blockade. That was an era of casinos, prostitution, mafias and obvious feasting.

Maybe the sparkle of neon signs is a nostalgic remembrance to some in Miami, an image of a cruise ship filled with lights and music. But that ship was moored with thick chains to the docks of a nearby empire that had little respect for the dignity of Cubans.
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Yadira Escobar lives in Hialeah Gardens, Miami and writes for Progreso Semanal/Weekly. Her blog is Yadiraescobar.com.


9 thoughts on “Cuba Before the Revolution: The Little Gold Cup

  • May 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm
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    “there is a large middle group of people who neither support the
    stifling and oppressive Castro regime nor wish to go back to Cuba’s
    colonial past.”

    Well, doesn’t seem to be the case with the Ladies in White.

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