Cuba’s War on Sweets

By Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada (El Toque)

Photo: Sadiel Mederos / El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – In the 1980s Cubans girls and boys sweetened their afternoons and weekends with meringues, lollipops and marshmallows. In the shops, sweets were sold in bulk, hard candies and in indivisible groups with mysterious flavors.

Chewing gum an ilusion. I remember the thousands of tricks passed on by word of mouth on how to make homemade gum. I also remember the gum hardened in the freezer after a few chews, waiting to be used again.

Chewing gum was frowned upon in Cuba. Still today some people consider it an allusion to the American way of life, the USA. A few years ago, the Industriales baseball team was criticized by journalists and other players for chewing gum during the games. Even the origin of what they chewed was analyzed. However, the truth was that the gum was for free in the ashtrays at Tulipan Hotel, where they spent the night.

In the late 80s, Industriales was also criticized because some of its members were using charcoal under their eyes to protect from the Sun. It was considered a practice said to be prone to ideological diversionism, since they do that in the US.

Living without superheroes

We boys and girls of the 80s did not live protected, as they do now, by superheroes and heroines. Moreover, we were never able to enter Mickey Mouse’s house. All that is common today for childhood was distant and wonderful for us, even if we liked Soviet cartoons.

However, in Cuban factories, cookies even with animal shapes were produced, colored eggs with a raisin inside, chocolates, chocolate bars, powdered chocolate, and different types of candies like chocolate jawbreakers, creamy milk, coffee, fruit flavors, etc., wafer cookies, colored pills, and Cuban chocolate sweets called africanas. In short, all bad for the teeth, but good to celebrate the passing of days.

What relentless wind blew away most of the sweets made in Cuba?

Now, our girls and boys, when they are lucky enough to taste a small sweet, it almost always comes from other countries. Those Cuban factories have forgotten the secret of movement and production.

My generation did not have Santa Claus or toys under the Christmas tree or Three Kings Day. Surely someone considered, with very good intention, that all this was only confusing us. Since our destiny was to be atheists and not believe in Magic Kings, incense, myrrh or gold.

For us, there was Children’s Day, Toy Day, Pioneer Camp, Explorer Camp, Pioneer Palace, pioneer emulation, pioneer watch, etc. All that made us ideologically strong and atheist, revolutionary, uncompromising, and objective forever.

However, it turned out that ´forever´ lasted until the 90s. It seems that the strong socialist character had to be forged on an indestructible anvil without imperialist cartoons. The success of the commitment for the new man depended on that.

However, many of the new men turned out to be macho, homophobic, dogmatic, oportunists, and later, without any transitions, emigrants. Of course, in all cases prior abandonment of the brain of the new man in Cuba.

The extremism, supposedly atheist, Marxist, Leninist, materialist, which led us to fight from chewing gum to Spiderman, was overcome. The globalization of information and Cuba’s inescapable connection with the world became a reality. This combined with the downpour of capitalist propaganda and the ineffectiveness of our own propaganda.

The Revolution’s internal wars

Making war on sweets, cartoons, toys and fantasy is a bad idea. The animated Elpidio Valdes achieved more in Cuba in 50 years, politically speaking, than all the trainings run by political leaders without imagination and culture.

The revolution confused the way when it waged war on chewing gum, long hair, English music, American cartoons, religious people, homosexuals and the critical intelligentsia. Life has shown that it was impossible to achieve an alternative culture in Cuba with exclusion, extremism and discrimination.

Now it is more difficult to find a chocolate in a Cuban store than the diamond of the Capitolio building. The communists are as strange as a lemon sherbet. Many of us were educated by Panfilov’s Men and walked the Volokolamsk Highway. We believed in “The Fate of a Man” and seriously studied the works of Marx and Engels. Today we don’t see even the slightest allusion, direct or symbolic, to the social project we prepared for.

After six decades should we need to hide sweets?

In that story, not even at the most difficult moment, do I remember hearing something justifying that today, after sixty years of the Socialist Revolution, we have to hide the sweets from our children so they don’t cry. We are unable to sell them at prices that parents can pay.

The request to put them out of sight in Guantanamo’s Venceremos newspaper, caused a tremendous controversy. A person alerted the authorities about children crying in front of US dollars shops with windows full of sweets. It’s an indication that the candy war is not over.

Leaders must be reminded that insensitiveness tears down more walls than a bombshell. The hearts of parents who cannot buy sweets for their children are not easy to convince of the humanism and justice of our economic and political system.

The solution, as recently explained by journalist Jesus Arencibia, was worse than the problem. The remedy was to remove the goodies from the Windows, so that injustice was kept safe. I once said that this measure would create second-class citizens. This is a proof that sadly I was not wrong.

Is the political project proposed by the Communist Party and the State really socialist? I am convinced that socialism cannot be built without justice, democracy, transparency, equity, fighting all discrimination, toys and sweets.

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