Normality and Progress in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg*

Panel for the Cuban television program “Circle of Trust. “

HAVANA TIMES — On Sunday, I was invited to be part of the panel for the Cuban television program Circulo de la Confianza (“Circle of Trust”), organized at Havana’s Fabrica de Arte cultural center. The topic discussed was progress: what the concept meant, whether Cuba was making any progress with its current reforms and what we ought to do to have progress in the future.

Despite the rather dense nature of the topic, the room was full of Cubans of all ages and stayed that way till the very end. Many expressed very well-argued opinions, but the comment that received the loudest applause was the idea that no progress can be had without citizen participation.

I again heard people say they wished Cuba could become a “normal country”, and was surprised to hear them maintain that this entailed giving everyone access to the Internet, having a salary that affords people a decent life and that allows them to travel to other parts of the world.

With the exception of Cuba, child labor is “normal” in nearly all of Latin America.

I think it is very positive that Cubans should aspire to a kind of progress that benefits everyone and not merely a minority, but, if they achieved this, they would not be a “normal country” but the exception in a region that boats of the unique privilege of having the starkest inequalities on the planet.

Some of the world’s largest fortunes co-exist with the most terrible of abject poverty in our continent. A telling example of this is Brazil, the region’s great economic power, where Lula and Dilma have just pulled 40 million people out of extreme poverty and still have a lot of work ahead of them.

Those who speak about Cuba becoming a “normal country” should not be thinking about the normality of Holland, Sweden or Canada.

Levels of violence in Cuba are well below those common in the region.

It would be complete madness to expect an underdeveloped country with very few natural resources to reach such levels of wellbeing.

The only “normality” Cuba could attain in the short or mid-term is the kind we find in the region, in Latin America, where not everyone benefits from progress, many receive salaries that aren’t enough to get through the month and only a minority has access to the Internet or the luxury of traveling to other countries.

Latin American societies tolerate child labor and children on the streets, without a roof over their heads, schools or medical attention. This is “normal life” for millions of people living in the slums, favelas and shantytowns of the continent.

During a trip to Peru, I visited the Ica desert, an oasis with an Internet connection whose speed, coming from Cuba, left me startled. Among the dunes of this same desert, right in the middle of nowhere, we also came upon a shanty.

In the Peruvian desert of Ica, there’s a better Internet connection than in Cuba and a shantytown in the middle of nowhere.

The normal state of affairs in our continent is extreme violence: safety has become an electoral campaign issue even in peaceful Uruguay. The examples of Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil or El Salvador are more than familiar to us.

I know that, as a foreigner, I have no say as to where Cubans should be headed, but I can nonetheless express the wish that Cuba not become a “normal country” but rather an anomaly, where progress benefits all citizens.

I want for all Cubans to have access to the Internet, to be able to travel freely and, most importantly, have a salary that will allow them to lead decorous lives. That said, I don’t want for health, education, services for children or the safety of citizens to be sacrificed on the altar of “progress.”

To impel progress together without losing what has been gained is the great challenge facing Cuban society, and the aim will only be reached if everyone sets out to build a “different country”, a country that is different from others in the region and different from what Cuba has been to date.

Such progress, as the audience expressed during the debate, must involve everyone in the decision-making processes. This does not guarantee heading in the right direction but it is always more difficult to go astray when the path is decided by everyone.
(*) Visit the blog of Fernando Ravsberg.


31 thoughts on “Normality and Progress in Cuba

  • To clarify, I am suggesting that a large number of Cubans who aspire to leave Cuba do not have a preference as to where they want to go. They just want out.

  • Your first sentence is a “yes,” but your second sentence is a “no.”

  • Quick to misjudge private business? After 77 years, I have a plenitude of examples of Capitalistic Private Businesses. Boeing, Enron, Exxon, Standard Oil, The coal mining in West VA, Nuclear Power Plants built on known earthquake faults… The list is endless.

    We bail out Banks, Airlines and General Motors, while the real income, adjusted for inflation, of Workers is now below that of the 1960s. Apparently you have missed the truism about US Politicians, noticed by most Citizens in the US: We have the best Government money can buy!

    It should shame all who give a damn – and maybe it does, based on some of the posts I read here…

  • On paper you nailed it. But in the real Cuba, that’s all crap. Education? As long as you buy a fan for the classroom, and a gift for the teacher. Not to mention the cost of buying the exams. What is it that Fidel loved to say?….”University is for revolutionaries”. That means “think the way we tell you to think or else”. Cuban Health care? Bed sheets and working toilets not included. The Policlinico near my favorite casa particular in Havana floods when it rains! Listen, I could go down your list and trash every one of your “few” but why bother? If you can mention monthly income in Cuba with a straight face, you are beyond help. To call what the libreta provides “a modest provision of basic foodstuffs” is an insult to the Cuban people who can barely squeeze a week out of these provisions and have to lie, cheat and steal to eat the rest of the month. You must be drunk on Castro Kool-Aid.

  • To name a few…. The right to education (including post secondary which includes a small monthly stipend); the right to health care for all (including transportation, surgery, medications); the right to child care for working parents; the right to a modest provision of basic foodstuffs over and above monthly income (by way of the famous “libreta” that is portrayed as a ration card in the US, which is provided to all citizens equally); the right to participate in barrio, community, provincial and national elected bodies to influence priorities and plans and discuss solutions to problems; the right to develop one’s cultural, artistic and professional skills in a system that guarantees equal opportunity for all based on demonstrated interest and capabilities, regardless of financial circumstances.

  • Freedom of assembly, free speech, private property rights, and so on. Which of these basic human rights do you respect more in Cuba than in the US?

  • It would be fair. However, many Cubans in Cuba would disagree from the perspective of ‘anywhere is better than here’.

  • You know more than I do about Cubans living in Mexico. Even so, based on what you have said, would it be fair to say that very few Cubans aspire to live in Mexico or Brazil?

  • In Havana, about half the drinking water pumped is lost in leaks. The sewage system is in even worse condition. Many high rise apartment buildings haven’t had running water for years. The problems in Detroit are nothing compared with what most people in Havana endure.

  • I wonder how I can be the “stereotypical old-school Miami”?

    I’m not Cuban, I’m Canadian. I live in Toronto & I’ve never even been to Miami. I have been to Cuba and seen with my own eyes how the people live and I heard from their own lips what they think of the Castro dictatorship.

    I admit my bias in favour of freedom, democracy and human rights. If as you said, you have read my various comments and can find any instance where I have supported or endorsed anything else, please post it here.

    Furthermore, if you would like to discuss the facts and arguments I have presented in this thread, again, please post it here.

    Instead, you resort to name calling.

  • From your various comments that I have noted, it is clear your bias prevents a rationale discussion. Much as I despise name-calling, you are the stereotypical old-school Miami. No more time to waste with you.

  • The Cuban education system is next to worthless, as an engineer will make more money driving a taxi than he would working at his profession. The Cuban healthcare system is in a shambles and the statistics you refer to are unverified figures produced by the regime propaganda apparatus.

    No strip clubs, you say? Clearly, you haven’t been around in Havana lately. There are places, not legal of course, but for a price the girls, or boys if that’s your poison, will strip and anything else you wish. Prostitution is rampant in Cuba today.

    The Communist State hold the monopoly on gun violence in Cuba. However, the homicide rate in Cuba (achieved with the brutal methods of stabbings and beatings) is higher than that of the USA.

    Of course there are no “gangs” plural. There is one gang which hold supreme power, controls all the money making rackets, and has all the muscle it needs to maintain it’s grip on power. They’re called the Castros, and they’re the only gang on the island that matters.

    You “hope” progress in human rights will magically appear, once the Castro gangsters get their mitts on all that post-embargo business? That’s not hope, that’s a delusion.

  • I don’t know how you have any idea what I see or fail to see. My comment was about Cuba, not the USA. Whatever the flaws in the US political system, they are irrelevant to a rational discussion of the problems in Cuba and the Castro regime.

  • Cuba has one clear advantage: no weapons. These other countries are overrun with handguns and automatic rifles. Even the most fervent counterrevolutionary is a lot less prone to violence when he is armed with only a machete

  • In many ways I find more respect for human rights and needs in Cuba than I see in the US. As I watch the rich buy the current elections in the US I realize democracy does not exist in the land of the free …where the people are not even free to visit Cuba for themselves. U fail to realize that the US is now seen by much of the world as a quasi fascist state.

  • I couldnt have said it better. Whenever I have been to Cuba I could walk the streets of Havana and Cienfuegos without worry about being robbed. I sure cant do that in any Central American country or in Rio or Sao Paulo. More economic reform will lead to political opening as well.

  • And they are hoping to avoid the violence that those countries have. And it sure doesnt want to allow gangs as there are all over central america. Too much freedom allows the worst elements to take over.

  • Cuba is far bettr off than most other Latin American countries. There are no gangs, no strip clubs, no gun violence, no casinos. Instead there is a high level of education and the best health care in the hemisphere. With the end of the embargo in sight Cuba’s economy will take advantage of new opportunities as has Vietnam. Hopefully human rights progess will be made.

  • Privately-owned utilities usually exist because the nearby publicly-owned utility was unwilling or unable to build out or maintain the infrastructure for a given service area outside the publicly-owned utility service area. This is usually because of geography or weather or other high-cost impediments to providing utility service. However, even privately-owned utilities are subject to government regulation and must obtain rate increase approval from a government regulating authority. You should not be so quick to misjudge private business. You make yourself sound like those stupid and ungrateful socialists who live in capitalist countries benefitting from capitalism while espousing the socialist dribble.

  • Do not confuse Public Utilities with Privately owned ones. In the US, a Public Utility is owned by a City, or County, or even a group of Counties closely linked by geography. These Utilities, whether Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Power or the others that are common in the NW, do not pay dividends. Nor do their managers receive inflated ‘Salaries’ and bonuses or Stock Options.

    This allows them to maintain the infrastructure. Most of them have rates far lower than the privately owned utilities in near-by locations. When we moved from Seattle, to the County it is in, we were forced to buy from Puget Power – our costs per KWH doubled. Puget Power is infamous for the seven Nuclear Power Plants known as WHOOPS, none of them completed due to a faulty design that didn’t work.

    That did not stop the Power Company from adding the investment costs onto the customer’s bills. Meanwhile, they continued to pay dividends and inflated salaries, while writing off the ‘Investment’ as a tax loss with the Feds.

    Hawaii’s Private Power Companies work the same way. We pay the highest KWH rate in the US. Maintenance is minimal. And, they add extensive charges to home-owners who convert to Solar – even tho, that power is delivered free to their system.

    Of course, if you own stock in a Power Company, you make money. I’ve never worked with, lived near, or even known anyone in that Class – Not that I am feeling abused!

  • Ken there are quite a few Cubans who have emigrated to Cancun, Mexico. The difference is that when Cubans have migrated to the US, the entry-level jobs and minimum wages they have been willing to accept still afforded them a lifestyle that was well above their lives in Cuba. But in Mexico or Brazil, starting out at the bottom isn’t a lot different than life in Cuba.

  • Raul Castro has declared there will be no political changes to go along with the limited economic changes he has introduced. The Cuban Communist Party will maintain the absolute monopoly on all political power. There will be no respect for human rights and freedoms under the Castro regime. The State Security police will continue to repress the people and crush all opposition.

    So were will the necessary change come from?

  • Many Cubans have emigrated to seek a better life. But, as far as I know, very few aspire to live in Mexico or Brazil.

  • Good point. Public utilities should be controlled when in the private sector. But in many countries electricity and water are so highly subsidized for urban areas that there are no funds available for maintenance. Utilities must charge a rate that covers their costs whether in the pubic or private sector.

  • Yeah – The Citizens of Detroit are ecstatic about the services provided by the Privatized Water Company, the sell off of many of the irreplaceable Publicly Owned Art Works to pay off the Banksters, and the total collapse of Public Services.

    All decisions ‘freely’ made by an Unelected Political Appointee.

    Be careful what you wish for – you may get it…

  • Please read this comment carefully. No human civilization has been, is, or will be free of human frailties. It is the human condition to be violent, covetous, deceptive, etc. You get the point. Here is the difference between the human-made society in the US and the Castro regime. Americans have the freedom to effect change. The FBI, NSA, CIA and any other initials can be forced, a some point, to answer for their mistakes and the people can make changes. Citizens in Ferguson, Missouri who feel disenfranchised are able to protest peacefully to express their grievances. The Castros have denied these “freedoms” to their people. See the difference? I agree that there are too many guns in the US. But I would rather risk having too many guns than what exists in Cuba where there are too few guns. That is too say that only the government has the guns in Cuba and they have them to use against the Cuban people. That is a far worse situation. Too much freedom can be dangerous. But too little freedom is without a doubt worse.

  • Thank you. As a Canadian with a fascination (some might say obsession) for Cuba, you have expressed my exact thoughts. Changes are happening. More changes are needed. But “cuidado” … the changes must serve the people of Cuba, all the people.

  • Speaking of ‘normality’, I take it that it’s ‘normal’ to have people shot dead, all night riots and SFPD impotent to control the SF Giants.
    Once again we are being preached at by the gun toting US of A.
    As for freedom, just how many spooks are watching your every move? Feebs NSA, CIA, Homeland Security, Secret Service and on and on, and you think the US of A has freedom and is NORMAL?
    Someone has ha their rose tinted specs surgically attached.

  • Yeah, Mexico really has “freedom,” doesn’t it?! Life does not seem to be valued highly there–at least amongst the drug gangs, their police and local government retainers, nor even by the national government, which is “powerless” to confront such outrages as the recent “disappearance” of 47 students. In fact, as Hobbes once observed, so to in Mexico now, where life is “short, unpredictable and violent.” In fact the only Central American nation to significantly reduce such violence has been–Nicaragua!
    Even Venezuela and Brazil are dangerous places, with much criminal violence, but this reflects several centuries of economic, racial and political injustice, and such legacies cannot easily be overcome in just a few decades (unless firmer measures were to be undertaken, as Tovarich Stalin did from the late 1920’s through early 1950’s–but I doubt most folks would like to emulate that path nowadays!)
    Cuba is moving in the direction of freedom (as exemplified by the very program in which Fernando Ravsburg participated). In the future I suspect Cuba will have multi-party elections, but with safeguards against outside $$$ coming in to buy, or unfairly influence, them, as is now the case in the U.S., with the Koch Bros. and their ilk, the monopoly of the large, multi-national, corporations on the mass media, the campaign of the Republicans and Democrats to prevent 3rd and 4th parties from gaining access to the ballot, and finally, now a purposeful campaign to limit the franchise amongst the poor, blacks and hispanics, college students, etc., as is the case here now during the declining days of our psuedo-democracy.

  • Hoping for a “normal” country obviously means different things to different people. But in every country that Fernando attempts to disparage, from Mexico to Brazil, has at least one thing in common that is lacking in Cuba….freedom. I would like to think that when Cubans want a normal country, that’s really all they are hoping for.

  • Cuba will advance much more quickly if it promotes, rather than controls, free private enterprise. the private sector can provide better products and services than the state. Let the state run many social sector functions but let private enterprise enter all other fields.

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