By Pedro Campos
HAVANA TIMES — A number of Cuba’s official media have pointed out that Cubans who spend thousands of dollars to try and reach the United States aren’t exactly fleeing from poverty. This is true, to a considerable extent.
I know several self-employed persons, including some cab drivers, who earn about 1,000 Cuban pesos (some 40 Cuban Convertible Pesos, or CUC) a day. They have told me they’re saving this money to leave for the United States, be it via Ecuador, on a speedboat or any means available to them.
It’s clear these people aren’t living in poverty. With an average income of 40 CUC a day, they and their families probably eat well and can satisfy most of their basic needs.
They aren’t leaving Cuba because of material poverty (which is a real problem for many), they are fleeing from the lack of freedom, the lack of democracy, the asphyxia provoked by a system that has persecuted and brought envy upon those who prosper as individuals.
People, human beings, have higher needs distinct from the animal instincts which also define us. As social beings, we need more than food, clothing and sex. We need to freely express our thoughts and develop the abilities we’ve acquired, to realize our professional aspirations, get to know the world – and, as we begin to explore the globalized world in which we live, we increasingly aspire to be on a par with the most developed peoples.
We don’t settle for less. We don’t want to be a Third World country. We don’t want to be compared with Haiti or the famished countries of Africa.
It is not a question of consumerism, as a vulgar communist might say, but of living in step with the progress made by the whole of humanity, in step with the real possibilities opened up by our work and our knowledge.
For historical, socio-economic and geographic reasons, since the arrival of the Spanish, Cuba gradually became the center of the New World. We were the “key to the Gulf,” the world corridor that developed nations had to cross.
By the 17th century, as the main docking point for the Spanish fleet that traveled across the Americas, San Cristobal de la Habana was the continent’s most commercially developed settlement.
The English colonies to the north regarded Cuba as a cultural and commercial reference.
Cuba was also always at the forefront of the continent’s political thought. Wealthy Cubans sent their children to study in Paris, Rome, Madrid or London. The country’s independence fighters drew from the thought of the bourgeois revolutions. The progressive legal and social concepts sketched by Ignacio Agramonte and the sophisticated thought of Jose Marti were no accidents.
It was no accident that Cuba’s war of independence against Spain concluded with the intervention of the United States and the birth of a liberal republic in 1902. In addition to the geographic, cultural, political and social ties, the emergence of a republic in Cuba was linked to the struggles for independence against England and Spain in North and South America, but, because of its socio-economic, demographic and cultural particularities, Cuba was in fact closer in spirit to the north than the south of the continent.
After losing the rest of the continent, the Spanish empire went after Cuba’s independence force with everything they had. Governments to the south promised major aid and expeditions that never did come in the aid of Cubans, while many Caribbean, Central and South American individuals did participate in our independence struggles.
Cuba’s independence struggle drew most of its sustenance from the north. In Tampa, Key West, New Jersey and New York, Jose Marti was to find fertile soil for his preaching. He secured the support of Cubans in the north, and the US government responded to the call for aid from the island’s independence forces (though we must acknowledged that the interests behind this intervention were varied).
At the time, the United States was a world champion of liberties.
Cuba’s independence, libertarian, social and liberal thought of the 19th century was the great precursor of the revolutionary currents that led to the revolution of 1930 and the constitution of 1940, recognized as one of the most advanced of the time.
The longing for freedom, democracy and prosperity were always at the heart of Cuba’s political thought, and it was this longing that brought about the triumphant revolution of 1959. Since then, Cuban leaders have drawn from Cuba’s independence currents to wage their war against “imperialism,” but they have done so in Manichean, state centered and absolute methods and through forms of exclusion that have ultimately gone against the most genuine libertarian sentiments of the Cuban people, forged in the course of decades.
The wish to express themselves freely and to feel free to do as they wish, within a framework of peaceful coexistence, is one of the main reasons why people leave Cuba. State restrictions on personal initiative, be it private or cooperative, on the ability to develop the creative forces of Cubans, are the main reason behind the mass exodus of Cubans towards the United States.
It’s true, this exodus ultimately has a political rather than an economic explanation. Perhaps, without quite realizing it, these government spokespeople have been exceedingly honest – quite simply because humanity does not live on bread alone.