Cubans Do Not Live on Bread Alone

By Pedro Campos

Waiting to see what happens. Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

Don't go. Photo: Juan Suarez
Don’t go. Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

7 thoughts on “Cubans Do Not Live on Bread Alone

  • Pedro Campos appears to have imbibed very well all the racist cliches and imagery employed by the Western media in their obfuscation and exotification of . “We don’t want to be compared with Haiti or the famished countries of Africa.” He then proceeds to give us a delusional history of Cuba in which the African and slavery have nothing to do with the fabulously wealthy country he attributes to the ingenuity and enterprise of the slavers and exploiters. In this mendaciously revisionist historical account, even the acts of popular resistance and revolt by the exploited have no role whatsoever. “The country’s independence fighters drew from the thought of the bourgeois revolutions”. No internal contradictions from the brutal exploitation of African slave labor as well as the subjugative taxation of the Creoles by the Spanish royals had any role to play in Cuba’s independence struggles, according to this new history by the honorable Mr Campos.

    Perhaps, what will wake up Mr Campos from his cute, lily-white historical reverie is to only ask himself why many of his similarly “enlightened” French bourgeois achievers escaped to Cuba from what is today the Haiti he despises – a fraternal island subjected to a long legacy of French and US imperialism and their many brutal, internal neo-colonial agents!

  • Thanks for the insight and I too find your written piece extremely well done! Can’t add anything since I’m not from Cuba, never visited Cuba but from many who I find to be reliable, you’ve pretty much summed up the problems living their.

  • Well written. It is the natural evolution of advanced societies to empower self actualization. Giving up control to the lord of the manner so all the serfs could have an equally pathetic existence is at heart of totalatarian communism. The promises of bounty for all turns to a lie every time. The final stage commencing with the end of toilet paper. Always it is the toilet. Many good things are happening in Cuba with the reforms. Many do not yet feel the reforms in their lives. It is up to the state to harness the productive capacity of the market forces now unleashed. A fair tax system to fund public goods such as education and security is needed. Institutions are needed to check and balance each other to tame corruption that is drawn to centralized power centers. Greedy CEO’s or government officials need controls. Power corrupts, it must be diffused.

  • All the Cuban people want is the opportunity to breath real free fresh air and to be able to stop worrying about which neighbour is spying on them. They want to live life as free fun loving hard working individuals.Fre from Mr Castro and his bunch of criminals.

  • I’ve visited Cuba several times. Despite the comments above, many people expressed openly their disagreements, anger against the regime. And nothing heppened to them. Of course, Cuban newspapers are boring with many speaches and have little marxist analysis.

  • “At the time, the United States was a world champion of liberties.”

    I hope i have time to do some research on this. My impression is quite the opposite. For example the US reaction to the independence struggle in Haiti was not in support of liberty.

  • If you think all those Cubanos currently camped out at Penas Blancas , Puerto Obaldia, Quito or other parts unknown are heading to Miami to express their political thought you are wrong. They are greedy , materialistic wanna a bees. Thier biggest goal in life.. a flat screen TV.

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