HAVANA TIMES — While nearly 200 thousand people got married in Cuba in 1992, the number barely exceeded 50 thousand in 2012. These figures appear to show that today’s generations of Cubans prefer common law partnerships over marriage.
Curiously enough, the country witnessed the largest number of weddings in the midst of its worst economic crisis ever, when no one knew exactly what was in store for a nation that had lost all of its trade partners and had been left without fuel, means of transportation, clothing and even food.
People’s reaction to the crisis might strike those unfamiliar with the cultural idiosyncrasies of Cubans as contradictory. However, it has a rather logical explanation: for the young Cubans of the time, getting married implied something of a break in the midst of their daily hardships.
In its attempts at making all Cubans equal, the government had gone as far as subsidizing and rationalizing Christmas traditions, to guarantee that all Cuban children received similar gifts. The same thing happened with marriages.
The State took it upon itself to guarantee that all couples had the absolute essentials to celebrate their wedding. Accordingly, it handed out coupons to buy the cake, several beer crates, other beverages and snacks at giveaway prices.
After tying the knot, all newly-weds, without exception, were entitled to 3 days in a major hotel. The rooms, as well as all food and drinks, were paid for in regular Cuban pesos.
No one passed up this honeymoon offer, as the hotel guaranteed the parity of the Cuban peso with the US dollar, despite the fact that, in the early 90s, people paid as much as 125 pesos for a single dollar on the black market.
I used to be surprised by the fact couples would choose a hotel located in the city where they lived, until I realized this was a way of keeping the party going. During the 3-day honeymoon, friends and relatives would go to this hotel to enjoy the pool, eat and drink…in Cuban pesos.
For decades, Cuba had next to no international tourism and hotels were destined chiefly to nationals. In the 90s, however, the government began to forbid Cubans from staying at these hotels, and getting married was the only way of enjoying these establishments.
In addition, there were special shops were newly-weds could purchase household items, such as pots, sheets, dishes, towels, mosquito nets, coffee pots and blenders. If memory serves me right, there was a shop of this kind in the San Rafael boulevard in Centro Habana.
Economic reforms have since done away with subsidies in practically every sector of the economy, including those that made weddings so attractive to Cubans. The party’s over; now anyone who wants a bit of cake or a honeymoon will have to pay for it…and in hard currency.
What statistics seem to be showing is that many Cubans have now decided that getting married is no longer worth their while, for, ultimately, people living together as common law couples, and their children, have exactly the same rights as those who contract matrimony.
What’s more, Cubans know that a marriage certificate is no guarantee of anything. For decades, the country has had one of the highest divorce rates in the region. Common law marriages spare them the red-tape involved in getting married and then divorced.
In fact, divorces are so common in Cuba that next to no one considers marriage a definitive step. Many young people get married out of true love but very few of them do so thinking only death or God will do them part.
To get a divorce, it suffices for one of the spouses to request it at a notary’s office or law practice. The procedure is one of the few bureaucratic processes which are quicker in Cuba than in the rest of the world: it takes only 20 days and costs a mere US $3.00.
Very few Cubans have any moral qualms about this. During his visit to the island, Pope John Paul II condemned extra-marital relations and thus surprised many around the country, who do not consider sex a diabolical temptation but a life-affirming miracle.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.