Redeeming the Cuban people

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez  (photos: Cesar Vilá)

HAVANA TIMES — In Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno’s article, “Is there a crisis of values in Cuba?” published on Havana Times on October 11th, he deals with a very complex and inevitable issue. Our respected colleague surely didn’t mean to be derogatory in his analysis; however, without wanting to, he could be contributing to negatively stigmatizing a people like our own, as brave and virtuoso as any other.

There are negative and positive values in every human group; even in the Garden of Eden where there were only two people, who were “perfect” and according to the Sacred Scripture, made a very costly mistake. It was good of Rogelio to refer to historic examples; however, I believe he used them incorrectly. The document in Trinidad only proves that corruption has always existed (and not only in Cuba), and the fact that it was recorded is maybe proof that it wasn’t common practice at the time.

Espejo de Paciencia tells the story about an act of creole nationalism when they defended their homeland from corsairs and pirates. However, it also reveals the relationship the Church and political authorities had with smuggling or ransom trade, which is what Rogelio focused on.

It’s a very similar case to that which is taking place right now in Cuba because both of them are about a tyrannical government that wants to control economic activity and the people on the island don’t comply with these unjust laws that halt national development. It’s worth highlighting here that Spain was more liberal than the current revolutionary Government we have today.

This means there are crimes and a loss of values that could create bad cultural precedents, it’s true, however we have been victims of the abuse of power and I believe that everything one does in the name of survival is acceptable. When England wanted to do the same thing to the North Americans, they lived by smuggling and declared the war that would then lead them to independence. In Cuba, this abuse lasted a lot longer, almost since the time we were colonized and that’s why our independence process was slower and more difficult.

There are rearrangements in societies that are in the process of undergoing change towards new production methods, which cause social evils. It isn’t by choice that the word “villain” is a synonym for bandit; in times of feudalism, those who didn’t work the land or belong to the exclusive trade unions, didn’t have many options and were driven to commit crime. In the Cuba he refers to, that of Arango and Parreno, something similar happened.

Jose Antonio Saco was a man of his time: an educated slave owner. Cuba was a thriving colony (if it wasn’t a hard-working country, it wouldn’t have been) and landowners preferred slave labor. Freed people and failed immigrants were only able to work in a very limited range of jobs and many of them swarmed about the streets, idle and prone to committing crimes. Even though I don’t believe that they were a predominant part of society, I was concerned about the white ideologists who imposed the economic regime that favored them; more out of racism and the fear of people rebelling against them rather than anything else.

Fernando Ortiz described and studied this phenomenon in the Republican era, however I don’t believe that he would’ve ended up defining the Cuban people as “lazy” or “unproductive” or “corrupt”: if he had, he wouldn’t have been considered the Third Discoverer of Cuba. Our evils are the same ones that other people have and we shouldn’t intentionally judge ourselves, otherwise it will create and disseminate the painful stigma of “an incapable people”.

Integrity, formal education and hard work were indeed widespread virtues before 1959. That’s a fact. Here, where I live (Mayari), we remember the last workers at the Preston sugar factory (Guatemala) with a lot of respect, who retired in the ‘70s and ‘80s, for being extremely reliable and efficient. This is something that we have lost to a large extent in following generations and this contributed to the downfall of this factory as well as to the shortcomings in its planning.

I must also remind you that integrity is a poor person’s only heritage to look for work. Today, many of them are old, ashamed of their children and grandchildren who commit crime, or who are rude when they speak, or quite simply have to steal at work in order to get to the end of the month. People have always stolen; there has always been corruption; there have always been people who have climbed the ranks of power by dishonest means. What really harms us though is the fact that these practices are no longer the exception but have become the rule: this is where I believe the problem lies.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe our people are “bad” or “lost”. We’ve been dealt the hand of having to live a history of upheaval and we haven’t managed to create the optimum social space where we can let all of our potential loose. My hopes lie on proving the positive development of our emigres. Here, they clearly practiced the aforementioned evils to the same degree that the rest of our people do, but once they go abroad and are in an appropriate environment, they are normally successful; displaying honest and hardworking behavior. Then they come back to their homeland with a great culture of respect and courtesy, as well as brotherly love for their relatives and fans of Cuba.

I believe that there are still a lot of reasons to trust in our people’s great potential; in that their best virtues will shine through when we have the appropriate space. Asking for us to behave differently with the abnormal history we have is too much. We even deserve a hero’s medal for all the hardships we’ve suffered and for keeping our virtues to a somewhat significant, suppressed or manifest degree. Rogelio’s message is interesting, but it left me with a certain “derogatory taste” and that has forced me to redeem the Cuban people.