Cuba: Prosperity for Whom?

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Prado walkway. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — With the triumphalism that characterizes the Cuban press (a tone that today evinces hints of a reformist demagogy), the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde recently published the partial results of the census conducted in our country last year.

The title of the article and a handful of tables showing statistical averages hope to convince the reader that Cuba is experiencing a marvelous reform process and that citizen wellbeing and prosperity are beginning to flourish.

Had the title been a bit less pretentious, there would perhaps have been no reason to write the criticisms gathered in this post. The fact of the matter is that a good many indices and statistics presented in the article cannot be brandished as a sign of wellbeing, not without a very high dose of cynicism, at least.

At most, we can perhaps talk about a slight improvement in the precarious situation of many Cubans, of the many, for instance, who, 60 years after the proclamation of the Moncada Program, still do not have decorous housing and are crowded in shelters without private bathrooms, or those who lack such basic utilities as water and electricity.

In addition to the statistics on housing, Juvetud Rebelde also proudly publishes indices on the number of electrical appliances citizens own, so as to illustrate that we Cubans are privileged in terms of the things we have at home.

These indices, however, do not convince me. To begin with, Cuban newspapers have made a habit of criticizing what they call “consumerism”, the practice of buying and using products like those listed. What, now that we own them, they’ve suddenly become good? And, more importantly, do so many of us actually own these things?

Reina and Escobar Streets in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

When I read that there are 0.78 color TVs per home (and 0.2 black and white sets), I ask myself whether that is a true indication of prosperity or, on the contrary, a figure that attests to the precarious situation we live in. Because, what this number ultimately indicates is that, no matter what the type, there’s less than one television set per home. The same holds for refrigerators.

I know there are countries that are doing far worse. What I don’t accept is being told we have the lead in anything. If we look at the numbers on telephones, be they land or cellular lines, we suddenly plummet to the lowest levels you find around the world, to say nothing of automobile statistics (even though I am not exactly a fan of this means of transportation, such figures are still an indicator of material prosperity).

The saddest part of this is that, back in the days of capitalism, we were the envy of some European countries (such as Spain and Portugal) when it came to such indices.

It’s true that, back then, social inequality spelt a huge mass of Cubans mired in extreme poverty, the dead time after harvests, chronic unemployment, malnutrition and illiteracy.

As we know, abstract statistical averages say nothing of social differences. This is not communist propaganda: you can find such comments in surveys conducted by organizations like Catholic Youth.

That is the other social dimension which the article in Juventud Rebelde scandalously leaves out. There is talk of growing wellbeing, as though it were reaching everyone equally, as though inequality were not increasing every day in our society.

I do believe (and can actually see it at every step) that the bread and fish is multiplying in the baskets of a privileged minority in Cuba.

However, for every well-to-do home we’ve all seen, the ones with a television set, a DVD player and an AC in every room, where everyone in the family has one or two mobile phones, among other things, how many marginalized families are living in poverty, so as to balance out the averages published with so much self-assurance in the newspaper?

Photo: Juan Suarez

Can an average be calculated by throwing the satisfied and the hungry into the same lot? Are the bare feet of children, more and more common in humble neighborhoods, compensated for by the brand sneakers worn by a handful of fortunate citizens?

Are we reforming the country to go back to the past? If one reads the official press between the lines, you can begin to appreciate some of the consequences of Cuba’s current reformist course.

I wonder what kind of prosperity is caught sight of in the closing down of small schools in areas that are difficult to access, the same that were once the pride of Cuba’s educational system.

It is the same lack of prosperity apparently endured by a number of art schools and “rationalized” healthcare centers, particularly those that poorer parents have no choice but resort to.

These were symbols of what was once understood as “prosperity” under socialism. Sorry, socialism is an “obsolete” model, as Pope Benedict explained during his visit to Cuba (and no representative of the official press cared to contradict him).

A man as supportive of the regime as Raul Antonio Capote is today concerned that women stand to lose from this process towards “prosperity” characterized by junk-food stands and reggaeton music.

Though some wanted to lynch writer Roberto Zurbano for his daring statements, the system’s inability to do away with the racial divide in Cuban society was once again made evident by the author.

I can understand that those who spend their vacations at golf resorts in Varadero, and even Paris and New York, should be talking about prosperity, but what type of prosperity is there for those who have nothing but Havana’s unsanitary and dangerous ocean drive or the no less dangerous consumption of alcohol as a means of recreation?

Dominos on the block. Photo: Juan Suarez

The question is particularly relevant now, when the sword of new prohibitions has been plunged without qualms into privately-owned means of entertainment.

Not even a Chinese doctor trained in ancient healing arts seems capable of fixing the problem of the measly salaries earned by Cuba’s working population, who are denied access to hard currencies.

If we recall the continuous reduction of subsidized food products or the elderly population, who have no other income than their miniscule pensions and are forced to rummage through garbage bins, we cannot help but ask ourselves, with no small measure of concern, where these journalists are seeing any prosperity.

I feel it is premature, to say the least, to speak of any prosperity in general terms, at least when it comes to Cuba’s working people and given the conditions they live in. I hope the staff of Juventud Rebelde will not unquestionably portray the golden side of the reform process, where the hardships of the underprivileged are forgotten.

10 thoughts on “Cuba: Prosperity for Whom?

  • Another Russian style diaster on the way with the military elite as the future oligarchs.
    Another massive theft of the Cuban people’s assets – both those on the island and in exile.

  • Cuba might have had political problems before 1959, but so did all of Latin
    America! Lets put things in context shall we!


    On the eve of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Cuba was neither the paradise
    that would later be conjured by the nostalgic imaginations of Cuba’s many
    exiles, nor the hellhole painted by many supporters of the revolution, who
    recall Cuba as “the brothel of the Western hemisphere” — an island inhabited by
    a people degraded and hungry, whose main occupation was to cater to American
    tourists at Havana’s luxurious hotels, beaches and casinos. Rather, Cuba was one
    of the most advanced and successful countries in Latin America.


  • Why then do Americans not choose to migrate to Cuba?

  • I agree. Its 1959 with diffrent players but no Fidel.

  • In the US only 29% of the houses are owned without mortgages and people still have to pay thousands dollars each year in property taxes. Most of the Americans have to slave all their live paying off their mortgages. Compare to Cuba where 95.6% of the homes are owned by the people who live there. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

  • Hey, snappy idea ! Prosperity for all, from millions McDonalds wage-slaves to the handfuls of David Koch $34 billionaires. It works in capitalist superpower America doesn’t it? What it is that those Cubans don’t get?

  • I would say the regime created a new rich subservient class that now has a lot to lose if the regime falls.

  • The rich remain but now the poor are told they are not poor. That is a difference between the Cuba of 1959 and 2013.

  • Cubans are poor by any standard. Drastic changes are need and regretfully the situation will be worse before it will be better. Prosperity in Cuba is now mainly for those that get lots of remittances, are part of the elite or that are part of the corruption. It is the right of all Cubans.
    This regime can not bring prosperity to all Cubans.

  • The Castros have been singing the seen and unseen praises of their dictatorship from the very beginning. Cubans believe that they have everything from the best beach resorts to the best cigars to the best doctors to the best salsa to the best athletes and so on. The truth is the revolution did serve to lessen the disparity between rich and poor Cubans by making everyone poor. Everyone except the Castro ruling elite. As tepid economic reforms take hold, more and more Cubans with access to foreign capital have been able to improve the quality of life for their families. Still, a majority of Cubans, without this access continue to live as Castro originally intended, dirt poor and dependent on the government. During my last trip to Cuba this spring, I saw a three year-old Hummer SUV on the streets on Havana. For this owner’s family, life is probably pretty good. However, on the same broken and potholed-laden road were many more 50+ year-old American and Russian cars as well as scores more of Cubans without cars waiting for the crowded buses. I agree with Rogelio that there are a few Cubans who have prospered. For an overwhelming majority, life is unchanged and an increasing number of Cubans are worse off.

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