Cuba: The Time That Flies

Warhol P

Heroes. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — While reading an international magazine, I came across a quote by Confucius that caught my attention: “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

I spent the better part of the night awake, thinking of these words. I couldn’t fall asleep. I think that, had I had a gun within reach, I might have put a bullet in my brain to free myself of the many contradictory thoughts going through my head. Instead, I took an antihistamine (which always helps me sleep).

I am not a suicidal person, mind you. The way I see it, if I didn’t commit suicide in the 90s, why would I do it now? I am the kind of person who thinks human beings ought to keep moving forward, no matter what the obstacles. Isn’t that what we Cubans do these days anyway, take it without saying a word, hold our breath, even though the rope shows no signs of breaking?

One of the things that crossed my mind is that I was born here, that this is the country I was dealt. Even though I love my country, I realize that the clock is ticking. I suppose many feel the same way. I’ve already turned forty and can jot down an inventory of the things that have happened in my life.

I’ve had five dogs that have died. Now, I have a small cat who will also die someday, a cat that was born in this country. My dogs were also Cuban. I feel that the cat has been rather fortunate, as he is a black cat and they say there is no racism in Cuba.

None of my pets ever had a good diet. If we humans born in this land graced by the revolution (by de-evolution, to be more precise) don’t get to see much of that, you can imagine that animals have to content themselves with whatever is thrown their way (to make my point clearer, suffice it to note that my kitten does not yet know what a fish bone is).

My father also passed away. His name was Juan Armando Perea Hernandez. He was a revolutionary. His remains rest in the vault for revolutionary combatants in Havana’s Colon Cemetry. I suppose that’s a great honor. However, my father died without heroism, stripped of possessions, in absolute poverty, devoid even of a TV to watch the news on or a refrigerator to make popsicles in.

He died of cancer. While dying at home, none of these so-called “revolutionary combatants” ever came to see him and ask him if he needed anything.

Photo: Juan Suarez
Cafeteria. Photo: Juan Suarez

I still preserve some of his medals as a keepsake. They’re worthless – I can’t even grind them up and make a soup out of them or add them to a plate of stew. Incidentally, a pound of red beans costs 15 pesos at the market these days. All food products, no matter how bad the quality, are being sold at ludicrous prices.

I don’t want to dwell on our hardships. I’ve written about them elsewhere and I hate being repetitive.

Repeating the same, tired phrases and disguising the old as new is what those in government do. In these past fifty and some years, they have used long speeches with subtle twists of rhetoric to manipulate citizens, who only know the same hardships year after year.

They clean their hands of the whole affair giving people honorary diplomas and medals, as though people could live off that.

One thing is clear: we are poor and we have food shortages. I don’t understand the reasons for this well. We are a small country surrounded by water. Despite this, the only fish that thrives here and is sold to the population is the claria. You put one of these in a nursery and, within two months, you have hundreds of fish. They even crawl out of the water and eat chickens on land.

If you catch a bus to travel to any province in the country, you immediately realize there are thousands of hectares of idle land, where you can grow food or construct buildings or houses for the many people in need of these.

Those who read this article will probably say there are not enough resources for that or that the government doesn’t have the money to pay for the manpower. Many people, as we know, don’t want to work in the countryside or in the construction industry because salaries are infinitesimal.

Before, we lived off the Russians. Today, we have to wait for Venezuela or China to help us. Are we always going to depend on others? The way things are going – and I hope I’m wrong – we will continue to be poor, because nothing works properly here. A lot of time has passed, and time has the last word.

Nonardo Perea

Nonardo Perea: I see myself as an observant person and I like to write with sincerity what I think and live first hand. I’m shy and of few words; thus it’s difficult for me to engage in conversation. For that reason, my best tool for communicating is writing. I live in Marianao, Havana and am 40 years old.

14 thoughts on “Cuba: The Time That Flies

  • January 9, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Portabales popularized the guajira genre, but he sometimes sanitized the lyrics in the name of political correctness. For instance, in the linked video he doens’t say “I work for the english” but “I work for whoknowswho” to avoid offending sensibilities, so be warned.

    In this specific case, the original song is from Ñico Saquito but I could not find a decent version with the original lyrics, so the next best thing is Portabales (specially since you guys probably don’t understand Spanish anyways).

    As for the source of the saying, I think it comes from the age of piracy where English buccaneers used to attack ships and steal stuff from the Spanish and as I mentioned before it means basically working for naught.

    Also notice that Cuban songs in those times were notorious for the double meaning of the lyrics (if you are in for laughs, try something from “El guayabero”), so it could be understood (and in fact was understood) as working for a foreigner (specifically Americans) basically for naught.

  • January 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Looking further at the labour statistics, given that in 1958 the total Cuban workforce was some 2,240,000 workers, and given that US owned firms employed 160,000 workers, the percentage of Cuban workers employed by US firms was 7.14%

    That is a far cry from the 90% figure cited in ac’s quote. These US owned corporations included Cuban sounding firms like Cuban Electric (owned by Boise Cascade) and Cuban Telephone Company (owned by ITT). The total value of seized US assets was about $2 billion.

    The revolutionary government soon carried on with their program by seizing the properties of Cuban owned businesses and farms. Eventually, even small business like barbershops and cafes were “nationalized” by the regime. Far more wealth was seized from the Cuban people than was ever taken from US corporations.

  • January 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you for the music link! I’m now listening to a playlist of songs by Guillermo Portabales.

    The line “I work for the English, what traitorous destiny” is interesting because except for a very brief period, Cuba was never ruled by the English. However, the English were a standard villain for the Spanish aristocracy who did rule Cuba. A singer who wanted to complain about the hardships of life in Cuba would be wise to blame the English, all the while he and the other guajiros understood who the real villians were.

    Somethings never change, eh? Cubans today will blame “el bloqueo” for the late bus or the burnt peas in their coffee. They nod and wink and stroke their chins and everybody understands who is really to blame.

  • January 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I do not dispute there was great inequality in Cuba before the revolution (if less so than other most other Latin American countries). I am arguing for people to be more accurate in their statistics. In that light, I take the statistics you quoted above with a large grain of salt.

    The economic situation in Cuba was neither as bad as the pro-Castroists say, nor was it as fine and dandy as the anti-Castroists say it was. The standard of living was bad for most Cubans, but it was getting better. There was a growing middle class and industrial wages were rising with an organized union labor movement. The issue which propelled the people to overthrow Batista was political, not economic. The Cuban people hated the dictatorship and wanted their constitutional democracy back.

    For the record, the “revolution” did not happen in the 1950s. There is no evidence that anything near a majority of the Cuban people supported a Marxist style revolution. The Communist PSP faired very poorly in the last legitimate election in Cuba, gaining only 7.2% of the vote. The people joined a rebellion against the dictator Batista who had illegally seized power in a coup. The broad based popular movement against Batista was publicly committed to free and fair elections and a restoration of the 1940 Cuban Constitution. Castro had publicly disavowed any connection with the Communists. The people would not have supported the 26 July Movement if Castro had been honest about his intentions.

    The old dictator Batista was overthrown when he fled on December 31, 1958. The new dictator, Fidel Castro, soon cancelled the long promised elections. It was only then that the real revolution began, and by then it was too late for the people to have their say. Fidel himself admitted as much in 1965 when he declared that a socialist revolution was his goal all along but that he knew in the 1950’s that the Cuban people would never accept it if he came out publicly for revolution.

    (By the way, that’s a funny source you linked to: a Lesbian pro-Castro website. Considering how the Revolution has treated gays, the editors of that website have a serious problem with cognitive dissonance. Their statistics are suspect.)

  • January 7, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    BTW, WHO owned the land is irrelevant in my argument, the main point is that most people were working for someone else and getting just scraps for their effort. And in the linked article you can confirm that between 1946 and 1959 more and more land was owned by less people even when latifundia was supposed to be unconstitutional.

    The “English” in the song could have historical roots (after all there are good chances that whoever inspired the song was working for an US citizen or corporation), but the phrase is generally accepted amongst Cubans as a metaphor for working for somewhere else.

  • January 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I checked the linked article and some of those numbers look incorrect (ridiculously so in some cases), not to mention that it fails to account for the huge disparity present in the country at that time.

    If something close to the picture in that article were historically correct there is no way that people would have joined to support the revolution in masse as was the case.

    Is hard to find factually correct information about Cuba because of the deep hatreds that permeate the issue in both sides of the political spectrum and the related propaganda, so at least allow me to point to other sources (dunno about how trustworthy, but THESE at least explain the popular support to Castro’s revolution)

    Some excerpts:

    -75% of rural dwellings were huts made from palm trees.
    -More than 50% had no toilets of any kind.
    -85% had no inside running water.
    -91% had no electricity.
    -There was only 1 doctor per 2,000 people in rural areas.
    -More than one-third of the rural population had intestinal parasites.
    -Only 4% of Cuban peasants ate meat regularly; only 1% ate fish, less than 2% eggs, 3% bread, 11% milk; none ate green vegetables.
    -The average annual income among peasants was $91 (1956), less than 1/3 of the national income per person.
    -25% of the (total) labor force was chronically unemployed.
    -1 million people (18% of the total population, 45% in rural areas) were illiterate.
    -27% of urban children, not to speak of 61% of rural children, were not attending school.

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