Cuba, Endorsements and the Caste System

Ernesto Perez Chang

The blessing. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Finding a good job in Cuba is no easy task. On many occasions, having been “vouched for” (that is to say, recommended) by an important person, a member of the Communist Party (the “vanguard” of Cuban society, as the government describes it) is far more important than being able to demonstrate one is qualified for a certain type of work or position.

This type of selection process has consolidated a kind of caste system over the years. The process, designed to encourage mediocrity, has undermined all of the country’s structures. It has allowed people devoid of talent and knowledge to end up in the higher echelons of society and to wield power over those who, having real talent, did not make it into the club of the chosen few – that is to say, those who were never “vouched for.”

Many of the demented policies that have bled out the economy, that have turned Cuba into an unburied corpse, were put into practice because of the headstrong philosophy and whims of those who were entrusted leadership duties, because such people were selected on the basis of their political loyalty and not their ability to confront problems intelligently and on the basis of consensus-building.

Knowing that an intransigent posture will guarantee the preservation of their status and privileges, they stand in the way of any initiative that could damage their reliability in the eyes of the government, which seeks to keep the country afloat without shaking up those mechanisms that ensure decision-making prerogatives remain in the hands of a caste whose reproduction is encouraged by the system itself.

It is no accident all important positions in the more profitable companies have been assigned to high-ranking military officers, by the relatives of people who wield political power and by so called “leadership cadres”, trained in special schools where the main course isn’t the development of decision-making skills but ideological indoctrination of the most twisted kind.

This is truly nonsensical in a country where most citizens care little whether the economic model that is to prevail is socialism, feudalism or a throwback to the Stone Age, because they are simply concerned with making ends meet, earning money and living decorously, tired as they are of useless sacrifices.

The city in the background. Photo: Juan Suarez

When we apply for a well-paid State job or a scholarship in certain schools, we need an endorsement that certifies we are politically trustworthy.

If the person has no important friends or relatives, the chances of being accepted or admitted plummet and the path becomes increasingly winding, almost infernal.

If you manage to avoid the system’s pitfalls, you will confirm how much easier things are for those who, as we Cubans say, “have a godfather and get baptized.” It doesn’t matter how stupid the person vouched for is. The endorsement and some acting skills will get them a helicopter (and emergency parachute) for the steep climb.

The poor person without friends in high places will always end up the assistant or advisor, an indispensable employee who will never be allowed to reach the top. That said, if something goes wrong during the ascent of the protégé, his or her head will be sliced off by the blades of the helicopter that spins out of control.

Recently, I went into a hard-currency store. In order to get an answer to a complaint, I asked to speak with the manager. To my huge surprise, the manager of the store was a former military officer who had been my superior during military service. A former lieutenant colonel, he had been sanctioned in a serious corruption case. Nearly twenty years had gone by, and now this man was the one answering customer complaints and, in the meantime, vouching for the honesty of the establishment.

What was this corrupt officer doing there, taking in hard currency for his pocket, sorry, I meant for the State? The endorsement is the answer, as is belonging to the caste system that provides shelter for the mediocre and dishonest. Make no mistake: in time, these same chosen ones will spawn a blood-thirsty and unstoppable monster that will devour us all, the chosen ones and simple mortals, with one bite.

13 thoughts on “Cuba, Endorsements and the Caste System

  • Racism is rampant in Canada…..period.

  • Moses, I didn’t say that it doesn’t exist…I only pointed out that I’m doing my part to try to offset it by treating everyone as an individual first, regardless of what they look like. Racial profiling is not part of my vocabulary. So I’m not burying my head in the sand…to the contrary, I’m always promoting tolerance and equality in the face of prejudice. Racial prejudice does exist in Canada…but to a vastly lesser degree than it does in America…the comparison isn’t even close. I have a black family living beside me, an east indian family behind me, as well as two doors over, and two oriental families kitty-corner to my home too. I don’t look at them or treat them any differently than anyone else…they’re Canadians. They don’t treat me any differently either. By and large, that level of tolerance and acceptance is something that both the Canadian and Cuban cultures both share. My advice to you is to lose that chip on your shoulder…because when you carry around that kind of animosity, the bigots win. You’re better than that.

  • Sounds nice. But as a black man, my experience with racism, even in Canada has been mixed at best. The problem people like you and John Lennon have is that you don’t have to live in the real world where the skinhead Canadians and Americans alike terrorize and threaten anyone who doesn’t look like them. Lucky for you that you don’t have to deal with that crap. So if what you think I am feeling is resentment then understand it is an honest and normal reaction to my life experiences and when people like you bury your heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist where you live, then you only make it easier for the racist near you to do their evil.

  • I see that ‘color’ and race is much more of a problem for you personally. But then, you live in America, and that’s always been a problem for many living there. I don’t live in America. I live in a country that supports equal opportunity for all, tolerance, and a sincere appreciation for a diverse and culturally mixed society. I was raised (as were many in my country) to treat everyone as an individual, instead of harboring preconceived stereo-types. My opinions of people, by and large, have always been based on individuality. My response to individuals, regardless of color or ethenicity, has always been determined by how they respond to me as an individual. Therefore, I’ve always been color blind. I would have no problem with my daughter dating a black man, a cubano, asian, whatever…he could be purple for all I care. As long as he’s a good man…and I can only know that with certainty by interacting with him in an unbiased and supportive fashion. In that mind-set, I know I’m not the only one…coming full circle back to Lennon’s lyrics. And the mind-set of most Cubans mirrors that of those in my country…this is something very deep that our two country’s share. But Moses, I sincerely feel for you regarding the situation in your country, and the resentment that I feel you harbor because of it.

  • My point is that you seem genuine in your hope for a better life for Cubans in Cuba. But I wonder how your perspective would change if your neighborhood suddenly became home to two or three black Cuban families? Would your neighborhood watch schedule suddenly be reactivated? How long would it take before all that liberal blather would be replaced by murmurings as to why did ‘those people’ move to “our” neighborhood? Probably just after one of the teenage Cuban boys began dating one of your neighbors daughters I suspect. Do you see my point yet?

  • And your point is???

  • It turns my stomach when liberals quote the words from that song then get on an elevator with my afro-Cuban son who is wearing his ‘hoodie’ and the same liberal clutches their purse a little tighter or touches their wallet to make sure it still in their pocket. Spare me that kumbaya crap.

  • Walter, the article is not intended to be an academic essay of the current state and potential solutions for a positive outcome. It is geared towards those that have little, if any, insight into how the job market, workforce and the political system interface in Cuba. This situation is, by no means, unique to the Island but the current system is made more abundantly ridiculous and obsolete, given the critical socio-political and economic junction just ahead. There is no practical solution. There is no pragmatic way to affect change when the principal actors in the process are decidedly oppose to ANY and ALL systemic change. Especially change that involves extending or even sharing business, social or political leadership with those not part of the traditional (historical) leadership “apparatus”.

    As to your apparent affinity for the Cuban government I will simply say that your lack of personal experience as to what it is to live in Cuba as a mere mortal, seriously compromises the value of your opinion.

  • “You write “we would all be better off if we minimized the harm done by borders and other divisions.” Really? No borders? Need I say more?”

    For me, the song lyrics to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ come to mind….. Moses, I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.

  • Walter, try to read my comment again more closely. I wrote “seem to hate…” There is nothing absolute about the word “seem”. Equally, my comments reflect the article. When the post is about Cuban jazz or Cuban singers or Cuban cigars, I effuse positivity. What you define as American imperialism, most US citizens see as American assertiveness and our right to self-determination and self-defense. Your failure to share our common outlook about spreading democracy around the world is further evidence of your “hatred” of the US. When I see young US Marines on foreign soil, like most Americans, I see a young person who is sacrificing their time and possibly their life so that someone else may enjoy the freedoms I have here in the US. It is likely that you, like the Castros, see these Marines as invaders and conquerors, who are bent on colonization. Finally, I am no more guilty of libel than you are. Your own words condemn you far more than what I have written. You write “we would all be better off if we minimized the harm done by borders and other divisions.” Really? No borders? Need I say more?

  • OK, once again the commentators who never have a positive or practical suggestion reveal they just love criticism without merit or verifiable sources. Ernesto writes what could be a useful critique, but fails to provide any real evidence or means to correct any of his allegations. He may be completely truthful, but other than a general “Ya, right” retort, his article doesn’t help.

    Moses for example, who loves to hate all actual efforts to make life better for the majority of Cubans, chooses to name me and two others and malign and libel us. I have consistently tried to make my comments helpful to what seems to be the best intentions of the authors. Here Moses intentionally distorts virtually all the commentators he disagrees with. Saying someone who critiques certain US government policies and practices “hate[s] the US” is not just wrong, it is clearly a malicious statement. Most people of all countries seldom “hate” the whole country or even everything the government does. I certainly don’t hate everything about the US (my country of origin) nor do I “love” everything about Cuba or any socialist or semi-socialist enterprise. But I do come pretty close to hating everything I know about imperialism and oppression. But the ability to critique proportionately and discriminate between particular policies and practices is essential if one wants to make useful efforts to improve or even fundamentally change part of most of any society.

    So I suggest people beware of the intellectual honesty or ability of anyone who uses such absolutist assertions to bolster their arguments.

    For example, my reading of this article suggests that it would be worthwhile to explore how much these allegations are substantiated. Also I believe it would be in the interests of Cuba and Cubans to look for ways to change any anecdotal or systemic corruptions that help, without wreaking havoc on aspects of Cuban social achievements that are worth keeping and improving. What “right-wingers” typically can’t consider is that most people who support the more socialistic approaches, endorse a spectrum of social improvements from safety and security to greater democracy, not for just a few lucky or avaricious individuals, but for the maximum number of citizens. Most socialists of any kind, even argue we would all be better off if we minimized the harm done by borders and other divisions.

    I don’t doubt that Cubans also have a wide spectrum of views on social issues and believe that how this will work out is best done without continued military or other attacks from the much more powerful US government.

    Most US citizens are still unsure if the US was or is ever an “imperialist” acting nation. I learned first hand how US imperialism works and how it has long been a sad characteristic of both foreign and domestic policy. My hope is that those who want to be able to sincerely love the good things about the US, will be able to add the fact that US imperialism finally died a long overdue death. We will see.

  • The sixth paragraph of this article “This is truly nonsensical…” is the best written explanation of the political temperature in Cuba. The Walter Teagues, Dans and John Goodrichs and other like-minded frequent commenters here at HT who support the Castro regime and, more dramatically, seem to hate the US, fail to understand that their zeal for socialism and against capitalism is simply not shared by the great majority of Cubans who are simply struggling to live and get by.

  • sounds alot like china.

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