Spanish Brigade Member’s Perceptions on Cuba (II)

“Everything has an end, nothing lasts forever,” as goes the song by Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe.

Pablo Ivan Romero Rovetta

HAVANA TIMES — Outside the offices of the Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP), I said goodbye to my closest fellow brigade members with whom I had shared the first part of my stay in Cuba. They climbed in the taxi that took them to the airport, while I stayed behind to pack my luggage after watching them disappear.

Spanish Brigade Member’s Perceptions on Cuba (Part 1)

A Cuban friend who had seemed upbeat and sincere led me to my new home in Vedado. For anyone who’s never been to Cuba, I recommend the option of renting a room, which isn’t only more economical but can give you the chance of living in an ordinary house with a typical family, bringing you closer to Cuba than staying in some hotel room.

The brigade members had asked me why I was staying ten extra days in Havana when I could have taken advantage of the time to visit other cities such as Trinidad and Villa Clara.

What’s certain is that I wasn’t interested in tourism. I had come to get to learn about real Cuban life (to the degree possible) and Havana seemed like a city that was worth settling into during my stay. In this way I could take my time and get to know it.

On the porch of the building, in the Vedado neighborhood, a huge sign with the pictures of the Cuban Five would greet me every morning (“Cuba is your home!” it read), and another one of Fidel and Raul greeting me daily with the message “Unity and Victory.”

Time in Havana goes along at a different pace than in the countryside. I felt freer, things were more relaxed and I had the opportunity to hang out with Cubans and talk with a lot of people. The variety of opinions and outlooks was wide, in contrast to the simple left/right duality presented by the media in both Cuba and Spain.

The second night I finally got to meet Isbel, Jimmy, Erasmo and Irina. They asked me about the brigade while we drank a few beers in a square in Vedado. Following that, we all hung out for much of my stay, allowing them to give me their vision of Cuba, which I considered interesting.

The next day they took me to an independent children’s project created by an artist couple. Finally, in this liberal environment, I felt like a fish in water.

We were also accompanied by a couple of US anarchists from San Diego. We all took advantage of this mix to spend the whole afternoon in Almendares Park exchanging our opinions and talking about politics in general.

The people associated with the Critical Observatory didn’t mince their words. Their criticism was tough, direct, and made me rethink a lot of things that really are difficult to accept for a person on the left.

One night, drinking rum on the Malecon with some of the people still there from the brigade and several Cubans who we had met at the CIJAM camp, we got into a conversation with a rapper who was smoking a cigar and drinking rum. Between the alcohol and a few rhymes (I too am a rapper) we talked about Cuba.

He defended some things — like free health care and education, and how he was convinced that there wasn’t a single child in Cuba who doesn’t get an education — but otherwise he was highly critical.

He criticized the restrictions on leaving the country, censorship, absurd wages and how he had been picked up the night before for talking with a foreigner.

The rapper called himself a follower of Camilo Cienfuegos, and said he firmly believed that Fidel betrayed both him and Che.

“…revolution is changing everything that needs to be changed…”

“The Titanic sank in the middle of the Atlantic and they found it, but Camilo sank right here off the coast and they never found a trace,” he said.

Then, after reeling off a whole repertoire of homophobic jokes, he finally said something that stuck in my mind, though it had been bouncing around in there before. What he said was, “Actually health care and education aren’t free; you pay for them with your life.”

More than one Cuban had hinted to me about things like this. We can say that no one is excluded from the educational system for economic reasons, but their education isn’t “free.” The government doesn’t give anything away for free.

As a socialist, I feel good that they apply the profit from people’s labor for social purposes, for funding public services, but the absurdity of Cuba is that people’s wages aren’t enough for them to even eat.

With salaries at around $15 a month (an amount that does if fact stretch farther than in any other country, but nevertheless still isn’t enough to live on), people have to “invent” in the street in order to buy beans or whatever. Also, given the travel ban aimed at preventing the muscle and brain drain (or “theft,” as Fidel would say), we can’t say that these services are really free in Cuba.

This isn’t the situation for all of the people who for years have benefited from the educational and public health systems, but I believe that there’s systemic problem. I’m critical because — like the slogans on the walls of Havana reminded me — “Revolution means changing everything that must be changed” – right?

“Fifty years ago here there was a dictatorship, and Fidel and others fought against it. Now we have another dictatorship and it’s up to us to struggle like they did. I’m not leaving,” he said. He left me his telephone number but I wasn’t able to find him again.

During the time I was in Havana I realized certain things that I think a common tourist doesn’t. Many tourists often say that there’s freedom of expression in Cuba because people on the street talk to them and criticize the government.

Ignoring the fact that freedom of expression should be more than being able to speak on the street, the truth is that I realized that this wasn’t even entirely true. In many cases the people I was around had to speak more quietly or shut up completely if another person was nearby when we were talking about something “delicate.”

I went to a number of bookstores, where I was amazed by the prices of the books. I purchased a number of works that in Spain are very difficult or almost impossible to find. However, I saw that these same books were everywhere. Plus, there was no variety in the social and political literature.

What I found were Cuba: Territory Free of Illiteracy, The Diary of a Guerrilla in the Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro in the Face of Natural Disasters, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, etc.

Another brigade member had a lot of questions about the country too. To her there were many good things but many other things that didn’t add up or make sense. I invited her to a meeting with members of the Critical Observatory to at least hear a different version from that of CIJAM’s and to draw her own conclusions.

We met in a dilapidated house in the Marianao neighborhood, where I talked to the Cubans there about the “15-M”or “movement of the indignant” in neighborhoods in Madrid and how that movement functioned. It was a good day, relaxed, but there was something that had everyone nervous.

Five grams of pure cocaine had “magically” appeared in the home of Mario Castillo, who quickly reported the finding to the police. This event has already been criticized by the Critical Observatory in its blog (in Spanish).

Although they claimed to have never seen anything like that before, it was inevitable that they were on edge for possible attempts to criminalize the movement.

My last day was spent in Alamar with Erasmo and Irina in a family atmosphere; as usual, we talked about politics and society in Cuba and Spain. It was sad to see the day turn dark and to witness my last afternoon on the island. We walked almost two miles from East Havana to catch a bus to take us through the tunnel under the bay. Riding with us were dozens of families and young people returning from having spent Sunday at the beach.

I quickly said goodbye to Erasmo in front of the Capitolio Building, caught another bus to Vedado, and got off at G Street among a mosaic of “urban tribes” (emos, punk rockers and such). I left my things at home and came out again, this time to say goodbye to Havana.

I was walking by myself, but since it was late I couldn’t call anyone at their home and no one was going to answer me on their cellphone. I bought a Mayabe-brand beer and sat out on the Malecon seawall facing both the US Interests Office and the Anti-imperialist Plaza to watch the sea so that I could try to jot down a few lines.

“I’m saying goodbye on my last night in Havana, watching the sea from the Malecon. Behind me are Cuban flags, in front of me are dreams of immigration,” I wrote, while sitting there confused. I was thinking of everything I had seen and experienced during that past month.

In Cuba I had seen a governance model different from ours. It had its own specific problems, while at the same time not being exempt from the problems we suffer. It also has good things, like other models have their own good things.

I agree that it’s probably the “least inequitable country in the Americas,” where it seems to me that even the elites are limited by the system (“upscale” Miramar neighborhood is hardly comparable to the private wealthy neighborhoods in other Latin American countries), and though there is poverty and hunger, I didn’t find that desperate misery I’ve seen elsewhere.

It’s an extremely safe country, and that gave me a sense of tranquility despite everything.

It seemed important to me that the government subsidizes basic commodities, there’s easy access to culture (as long as it doesn’t rile the system, of course) and almost a zero level of indigence (though there is indeed substandard housing and overcrowding).

I think that repression in Cuba is very subtle but effective. I got a sense that the civilian population was suffocating. It was ironic that on a continent like Latin America, so rich in social movements, that Havana conveyed a sense of immobility.

Anyone who sticks out from the norm or creates waves within the state structure (which sometimes means disagreeing with it) will see themself gradually stigmatized to the point of triggering harassment or them being labeled a “mercenary,” etc.

One Cuban student told me that there’s no personality cult in Cuba because there are no large statues of Fidel or streets named after him.

Clearly, if a “cult of personality” is synonymous only with North Korea, then Cuba doesn’t fall into that category. Nevertheless I still got the impression that a form of it exists. Portraits of Fidel and Raul are everywhere: in stores, offices, schools, day care centers, jobs, government buildings, etc.

His quotations adorn walls and billboards. Everything good in the country emanates from them, as if they’re divine sources of some kind.

I understand that during decades of revolutionary fervor, many people admired and loved Fidel in a spontaneous and sincere manner. But when you’ve educated generations to admire his image, this isn’t something we can call natural or spontaneous – it’s simple indoctrination.

But of course, I couldn’t even remotely say that Cuba is the most repressive country in the Americas, as is claimed by the right-wing media in my country. On a continent where there are people like the former genocidal Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, Cuba doesn’t come off looking too bad. But still, the crimes of others don’t absolve one of their own responsibilities.

We can say that Cuba isn’t the worst system, but less bad doesn’t mean it’s good. I can’t expect Cubans to accept their situation because “the rest of the world is worse.”

As a whole, I can’t defend the Cuban government because I think it is negative at the root: a single vertical, hierarchical party (how many convinced young communists have left because they were ignored?), and top-down hierarchical institutions, as well as a top-down, hierarchical system of production.

Cuba is an authoritarian state. The propaganda is obvious and stifling. It is noteworthy more for its repetitive character more than for its quantity (we’re probably bombarded with more propaganda in Spain).

The travel restrictions are shameful. The preferential treatment that tourists have enjoyed for such a long time is embarrassing.

Surveillance. I had the sense of this being a monitored society, between the CDRs and State Security (which, as I learned later, I was “lucky” to have on my side, presumably, for a couple of days in Havana). The government has eyes and ears on every corner.

There are military elites, which is something everyone knows. And where there exists an elite, there also exist those who live from the system as it is. And while there exists a class that depends on things not changing, it will strive to ensure that things don’t change… or that they change to its members’ advantage.

As Engels said in Anti-Dühring that “So long as the really working population were so much occupied with their necessary labor that they had no time left for looking after the common affairs of society — the management of labor, state affairs, legal matters, art, science, etc. — so long was it necessary that there should constantly exist a special class, freed from actual labor, to manage these affairs; this class never failed, for its own advantage, to impose a greater and greater burden of labor on the working masses.”

I think this paragraph, which refers to the origin of social classes, is perfectly applicable to today’s Cuba, and thus the root cause of human exploitation remains.

I think Cuba has not broken with the logic of capitalism. It is state capitalism, which may confront international capital (at least in theory) but behind closed doors it hasn’t essentially changed the way it operates.

Moreover, as Che was able to see there in the 1960s, if you accept some basic pillars of capitalism but not its rules of the game (the market) you will be doomed to a hybrid and ineffective economy.

I think there is a different form of exploitation in Cuba. I don’t consider it a state that is more “gentle” than others or that its leaders are more honest.

I came away with a more or less well formed impression, though I’m aware of the complexity of the situation in any country, and most of Cuban life is full of contradictions. I don’t live there; I can’t give lessons to anyone, but I cannot hide what I’ve seen or felt, though in the end this is merely my own subjective assessment.

I tried to listen to all the opinions I could. Still, except with those people who were close to me and with whom I trusted, I didn’t argue with anyone (I didn’t consider it legitimate for me to do so). I didn’t debate with those who dream of living in Miami or with those who defend the Cuban government and trust in its good intentions.

The conclusions of this article are the result of trying to put together all the pieces of this puzzle of Cuba that I collected over a month. I hope I’ll be at least minimally successful.

I left the island with several bitter feelings. On the one hand, I was saddened to see a people who had fought for so long, who had been battered by so many people (from their own governments to those of the United States and of other countries), a people that has gone through such difficult situations as the Special Period crisis and continues to either stagnate or take one step forward and two steps back.


On the other hand I know that I’ll miss that country. Its 1950s Chevrolets, pizzas in the street, its juices and sodas for a peso, its people, its landscape and the magical light of Havana at dawn or at sunset, its painted houses, “Chan Chan” and reggaeton, its streets of numbers and letters, its accent; its “candela,”  “pinga” and “asere.” (And a warning to the potential tourist who reads these lines: the tap water and sodas bought in the street can have their consequences: I returned to Madrid with parasites.)

And above all, I left many people for whom I developed tremendous affection. I have the good fortune of being able to send and receive email with some, while I’m forced to communicate with others through postcards. Still, it hurts me to think that perhaps I’ll never see most of them again. There are too many stories and people to fit them all into articles like this.

My flight took off at midnight from Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport exactly four weeks after the members of the Friendship Institute came to pick us up. Time passes so quickly? It’s frustrating.

Viva Cuba Libre”! (Although no one really knows what that means).


25 thoughts on “Spanish Brigade Member’s Perceptions on Cuba (II)

  • Lawrence, noot sure if you will read this I almost did not see your comments back.

    Yes I think capitalism is better and as I explain what you call socialism I believe is a malfuntioning form or type of capitalism. There is naturally many different types of capitalism probably as many as countries that implement the sistem. My claim is that pretty much any sistem that uses money an pay workers for their labor is a type of capitalism.
    It is a type of capitalism becuase there is some appropiation of what is produced by the workers be by the state’s elite, by bureocrats or the owners. In socialist countries there is something even more powerfull than money and that is to be in power. I see socialism as a worst sistem becuase from the economic point of view is unable to solve its own problems so is not a complete sistem. It needs to get out of their own set of solutions to solve the economic problems. That economic problem of socialism is generated by the monopolitic nature of the sistem.
    The pattern is present in each form. Socialism produces scarcity, rationing, low salaries for workers, accumulation of problems that do not get solve like housing and people sooner or later see as the only solution to their problems to migrate. Even worst for socialism. A small elite takes control of a country and dictates to the rest what they should do instead of listening to the problems people have and trying to solve them. That is the main reason why we the people need a goverment in the first place. So that is able to solve our collective problems. The problems of a nation. Not sure if you have seen a picture here in havanatime that is worth more than anything I tell you about the failure of socialism. It is a picture about how each family in an appartment building place their own water pump to solve their individual water problem. This happen because the state fail to solve the problem so each of them was left to solve it. There is no better metaphore about the socialism and why it fails. Maybe Circles can put a link here to that picture.
    As for capitalism is not perfect and nobody says that it is. We can change it. It is build assuming inperfect people. And we are imperfect. Some of us have more drive than other some are more greedy. The miracle of capitalism is that it can make greed work in the benefit of society as a whole. I am totally with Adam Smith when he said “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” The butcher interest is really their own personal greed that drive them but in the end we all benefit by it. This happens in a natural way in capitalism. In socialism it does not happen at all. There is no drive. The drive is to do the least posible. That is why you see Raul and many others in Cuba asking for productivity to increase so they can pay more and obviusly asking people for it would not do the trick. People need to feel the need.

  • Hi Okasis,

    Working class on this side too. Many of my values derive from my mother who grew up during the Great Depression. It’s hard sometimes not seeing the younger folks writing in HT as whingers – complainers – when remembering her stories about life then.

    The difference, I think, is the whole world was in the same boat then. Now young Cubans see all the consumer gew-gaws available in capitalist countries and become consumed with consumerism envy. Of course capitalists relentlessly push it in order for capitalism to work, destroying the planet and everything worthwhile in the process, while capitalist propagandists in symbolic dirty raincoats hawk their wares to sustain their position as elites. “Psst, wanna buy a dirty economic system?”

    I noted your comments about Cuban taxi drivers before and now. I regularly tell people I talk to who also have had bad experiences with them that the only Cubans I found I didn’t like were the taxi drivers. They were the only ones who regularly try to take advantage of you.

    As they are the most corrupted element in Cuba – interfacing with tourists and getting paid in CUCs – it’s a graphic illustration of what capitalism does to people.

    Instead of making them content, it makes them greedy for more. Of course it attracts a certain type of personality but then it gives them big rewards, exactly what happens under capitalism which habitually rewards the very people you should be curtailing.

    Capitalism tries to sell us that we need these kinds of people. Phewy! We need them and arrogant conniving taxi drivers as much as we need a hole in the head!

    Luckily, taxis can in most cases be avoided in Cuba, where walking, biking and taking other forms of transportation are ready options. I wish I could avoid capitalists as easily! But they get in power and you can’t get rid of them. Cubans, be aware!

  • Lawrence,
    The only Cuban’s I talked to who seemed interested in ‘change’, other than an improvement in the standard of living, were the assorted Taxi Drivers. They were always interested in whether or not Obama would win the election, and whether he would end the Boycott. I disappointed them with my less than optimistic replies. Even so, they were always happy to talk about relatives in the US etc, and their favorite baseball team.

    Lucy and I were talking about my life as a working mother with 4 kids, which was never easy. Just surviving the Boeing layoffs in ’72 without going bankrupt was an adventure in creative economics. Her comment was “I am so glad I was born in Cuba! I would have hated to be forced to work all the time…”

    Frankly, that stunned me. I am so used to having to have a 2 income family, just to get by. I cannot remember it ever being different. My Mother worked all the time too, and so did most of the mother’s of my friends. That was back in the ‘Good Old Days’ of the 1950s, btw.

    Roberto, who ran the parador in Cienfuego, did complain about the frequent power outages. Or he did until I told him some of the horror stories about losing power on an Island in the US. Actually, both the Islands I’ve lived on, and I’ve been an Islander for over 40 years now. Losing power for long periods [8 days!], seems normal. I imagine it does to most people in the Mississippi River Valley too.

    Actually, I thought Cuba, both Havana and Cienfuego, were far more similar to the areas I’ve lived in in the US, than foreign. Of course, my late husband and I prefered working class communities – That’s our heritage.

    Havana is very similar to Hilo, including lousy roads and a run-down infrastructure. Of course, not much Spanish is heard, but most people are fluent in two or more languages, and that is what I hear in the Market and local stores. “Same, same” as we say here…

  • Lawrence, I believe Cuba has a form of socialism–a state monopoly form–only because the ship of state is still socialist in character. But there is no doubt that their form–which is taken from Engels and Marx, not Stalin–is dysfunctional in the long term; and ultimately, if not changed to a new core principle, will destroy socialist state power. But what I’d like to ask you is this: If neither Cuba, China nor the US is socialist, then what, according to your view, would constitute a socialist country?

    Julio, the “nominal” owner of the corporation is the people; but just as you say, the de facto owners are the political elites. This is fairly clear. What is important however is know “why” this is so under the Marxian perversion of socialist theory.

    The Marxian formula is for the state to monopolize ownership of everything productive. This abolishes private property rights and the free market, and this necessitates massive bureaucracy and political absolutism to keep the unnatural system afloat.

    Where you go wrong is to think that (1) such bureaucracy and absolutism is inevitable under any form of socialism; and (2) that capitalism is a better system that a corrected form of socialism.

    Under Cuban state monopoly socialism the workers apparently are wage and salary serfs of the state. Under US capitalism we are wage and salary serfs of the capitalists, bankers and landlords, et al. You rant against the former and blindly glorify the latter. If you are ever ground under like most working people in the US, your sanguine view of capitalism might take a 180 degree turn.

  • Thank-you ‘Okasis’ for your comment. It brought back many similar fond memories of what Cuba has to offer. Reading Havana Times, focused more on topics critical of Cuba’s government, one doesn’t get a chance to hear as much about ordinary life in Cuba. I read all of the articles they print on the subject.

    I am sure you came across, as I did, a desire for changes to take place, expressed carefully sometimes, of course but nevertheless obvious. I encountered no evidence whatsoever that Cubans wanted to throw out what they have and become subservient to an imperialist power.

    One can only echo, “Long live a free Cuba!”

  • ‘Julio’, I think our points of agreement are Cuba is not a socialist state, that citizens in both Cuba and capitalist countries have little power – decision-making is in the hands of elites – that there are two economic class systems in both where a few have benefits and advantages that most don’t have and that there is dissent and unrest in both.

    But you give the impression you think capitalism is the better system. Why? I agree with ‘Grady’, there is a better chance of rectifying inequities in Cuba than in capitalist states as its government is based on egalitarian principles whilst capitalism is based on inequality.

    If you don’t understand that and if you only see the problems that exist in Cuba, then you don’t have a clear picture of what actually exists.

  • Sincere and abject apologies to Pablo for getting his name wrong in the first paragraph. It’s a good thing I did not use his name frequently, as the error would have been repeated.

    No excuse could suffice. It was definitely not intended as an insult and all I can do at this point is beg forgiveness. This is a fault I’ve been trying to overcome for far too many years, and like ‘patience’, which is another character lack I’ll confess to, it may take another 30 good years before I manage to correct either or both of them.

    Please forgive my carelessness and lack of attention…

  • Grady you are almost there.
    If the socialist state is a giant corporation then who are the real owners of this corporation.
    I point you to the leaders.

    The ruling elite are the owners of the corporation.

    The Cuban leadership life style is the life style of a privilege elite. The likes of no ordinary Cuban can even fathom.
    While lobsters, pate or expensive wine bottles are not even in the dreams of ordinary Cubans. They appear at the table of the Cuban elite.
    Do you know how the ordinary Cubans live? They are most of them hungry with very little to eat and with very poor medical care and badly pay jobs. Jobs that pay less than 20 dollars a month. The prices they have to pay at stores are as high or higher than here in the US. And the bosses (The elite) have a captive market. They can force prices at their CUC stores to be anything they want. It looks like a perfect racket of a mafia organization.
    Let me tell you if this does not repulse you I do not know what will.
    Their behavior is the behavior of a ruling elite that does want to continue living the live of privileges or as the older Castro said “enjoying the honey of power!”. If you are really on the side of workers then you should be at the side of those people those treated as slaves. Those deprived of the freedom to travel and that not too long ago could not be able to visit a hotel because the government of this elite will not allow them and that today to visit a hotel in their own country they have to pay in another currency the CUC not the currency they are paid.
    You have to see all these flags rising and why can you not see the message?
    Grady you have being reading here long enough to know many things are wrong in Cuba.

  • Our friend from Spain writes well, and talks about his desire to meet ‘real’ Cubans, and experience the ‘real’ Cuba. If I had to explain what I hoped for when I visited Cuba, I would put it very much the same way. Yet, the two of us approached our goal from diametrically different directions, and consequently reached conclusions that are also much different.

    Pedro has explained his approach, and his conclusions. Now I will talk about mine, and where I think the difference lies.

    For starters, Pedro went to Cuba on a ‘mission’ with a politically oriented group. The people he met were either part of that mission, or contacts he made through it. He also was obviously very familiar with the bloggers on Havana Times, and hung out with them, when he relocated to Havana.

    My approach was based on ignorance of Cuba, and a lot of research via books. I read Cuban Histories, both pro, and anti-Castro. I read several Cuban novels, and a few written by Cubans in Miami. I also got 3 or 4 guide books, and found a person here in Hilo who travels frequently to Havana.

    I wanted to meet working-class Cubans who had to cope with all the problems of daily life in Havana, regardless of political views. El Centro seemed ideal: convenient to the touristy stuff, but certainly not upscale.

    At the Airport, I somehow broke all the rules, and took a ‘gypsy cab’, rather than one of the licensed ones. My ride into Havana was far more exciting than I expected, as the driver and his friend made me try to look less like a tourist so they wouldn’t get caught. Eventually they located the Parador I contacted from one of the guide books and dropped me off. The fun wasn’t over yet, though. The Parador I had ‘booked’, was not available – but they had arranged for a friend to take me in instead. This turns out to be very ‘Cuban’, btw.

    By the time we pulled my suitcase thru El Centro, and climbed 6 flights of stairs to Lucy’s apartment, we were old friends – or at least acquaintances. Lucy decided, that she’d move me to another friend’s place first thing in the morning, after watching me crawl up the last 2 flights [I really could not do the stairs, my arthritis just isn’t up for that kind of punishment]. As she spoke little, if any English, and my Spanish is confused at best, she called a friend, who arrived with some dinner [chicken, beans, and rice]. Juan’s English is about as good as my Spanish, so the three of us managed quite well.

    Juan collected me for breakfast, and then, we went to my new lodgings – a spacious apartment, with a kitchen and bedroom, plus a living room overlooking the street. The family lived behind the main apartment house, but the husband, Antonio, was a mechanic, and often worked on stuff just outside my door. He also was a baseball player, but was out on injuries.

    During my almost 3 weeks in Havana, I stayed at 5 different Paradors, everything from a dark dingy pit, to an airy, but crowded, apartment. The only constants were Juan and Lucy, whom I saw almost daily.

    Juan and Lucy were invaluable. They are from Camaguey, and Lucy’s known Juan since he was a boy. She’s about 50, single, and hard working. Juan is around 40, married to his 3rd wife, and knows everyone. He does a little of this and a little of that, to make a living. Has an urban garden, including some fruit trees. His first wife is ‘political’ [Juan is not]. She had moved to Tampa with his oldest daughter, who Juan talked to most days on his cell phone, and sent money to, far too often, IMO.

    Juan was my tour guide, and chaperone, and friend. And, if anyone is suspicious, neither Juan or Lucy ever took money from me beyond entrance fees and travel costs. If Juan did not go with me, he would set up transportation, and give me directions. Unfortunately, given the language problems, I often wound up having yet another adventure, rather than the sedate tour I was expecting.

    One of the best was my surprise visit to the 2008 Ferria Del Libros. I thought I was going to the book stalls at the Plaza De la Armas to buy some books in English, when to my surprise, the taxi headed thru the tunnel to the other side of the Bay.

    It was fascinating: Absolutely NO books in English , but I was amazed at how many best selling US and British authors are available, despite the Boycott. I am still amazed at the huge number of people who turned out to spend the day listening to authors and looking at books – and buying them for very low peso prices.
    Hardly the abused victims of Communism that are portrayed in the US Media!

    Since I am not writing a travelogue, I will say farewell to Juan and Lucy and Havana for a while, and catch the bus for Cienfuego for a week.

    I did make a brief political observation about Cienfuego:

    After my 3rd trip into Cienfuego [downtown], I have concluded that those who dream of Cuba as the next Capitalistic Bastion, a la China et al, are barking up the wrong tree. The Capitalists emigrated and live in Miami. The Socialists left behind are content with family and friends – except for the taxi drivers. Every time they have to ask for directions, the price goes up as their ego takes another blow. Money is the only way to get even as punching out tourists, especially little old ladies – is frowned on. I got a lousy sandwich at the Beny More [the guide books describe it as a ‘rough tavern, not for shrinking violets’]. I may go back, as that’s the only food I managed to scrounge up. Amazing! The Union Hotel had a patio bar/lunch place – with menus. I studied hard and decided on a tuna sandwich and Café con Leche’. Left 20 minutes later without so much as a glance by the waiter…

    Of course, all of Cuba is political. I’ve been scanning my journal for little tidbits. How do you describe things like a baseball game for a nickel, with popcorn and a soda for pennies each. That is impossible for an ‘American’ to relate to. Or the ‘Cananazo’. Walt Disney would have a heart attack, and so would the public safety fanatics. The lighting: oil torches, thank you!, very autentico, but really dangerous on the ancient cobblestones. An evening in a Vedado Jazz Club was $20 CUC, for two, including a good dinner and 2 beers each.

    On my very last evening in Havana, Lucy invited me to dinner with Juan, and another friend of hers: a retired History Professor, who spoke no English. But, he was a true Revolutionary, and had brought his collection of old newspapers from the Spanish Civil War. The one that caught my eye had been printed in Madrid during thee siege by Franco. It was published on May 17, 1937; the day I was born, and the lead article was by La Passionaria.

    Now, that is History!

  • If I may interject briefly, the Cuban form of socialism is definitely state monopoly. Our US movement is indebted to Julio for coming to this accurate theoretical nomenclature. The form however is not “state monopoly capitalism.”

    Capitalism may exist within an economy under socialist state power, and the socialist state might seem to function like a single, giant capitalist corporation, employing virtually all working citizens. But as long as the ship of state is controlled by a socialist leadership, the potential exists to change course and begin heading in the correct, transformationary direction.

  • Lawrence, as you mentioned
    Cuba does not satisfy this either of this
    please allow me to explain.

    “To have socialism, the means of production must be in the hands of the people and there must be an equitable distribution of income.”

    I think we both agree that the the means of production are in the hands of the state in Cuba
    The question is if the state truly represent the will of the people. As you probably could guess my answer to that question is no. The Cuban state does not represent its own people.

    That representation may be valid when they hold power thru free contested elections. Where there is multiple parties that can nominate themselves to power and compete for it. It is also clear that not all Cubans like socialism. I can show you than more than 2 million have voted already on the system with a resounding NO (that is the aproximate number of Cubans outside of Cuba) and I am very positive that many more remain in Cuba that will also answer No if they are given the opportunity.

    Right now Raul’s modification will be producing some wealth for some individuals. Creating again great disparities in society. So they are fast deviating again the other socialist principle you mentioned.
    The thing is that he has being force to do this. Because they experimented with us with their socialist ideas of how society should work and after 50 years we have proved it does not work for us.
    The end result is a corrupt system. Even the so call “free services” you actually need to pay them under the table if you want to have access to them. So as the end result we have a system that is not functional and not self sustaining. It requires of outside help to survive.

    I have said before that Cuba’s system is nothing more that State monopoly capitalism.
    I came up to this conclusion by thinking that all they actually did with the revolution was replacing the owner with a communist party cadre. There was still appropriation of the surplus produced by the state and this will not change even if the cooperative gets under way. So this defines the system as a type of capitalism.
    Because the state owns pretty much every means of production and controls trade. It is a monopoly.

    So socialism as define can not really exist.

  • Grady, thank you for your answer. Sincerity is very much impossible to measure. For example the Castro regime has implemented very capitalistic solutions to “socialist” problems. This actually interest me. Because it seems socialism is not capable of solving its own problems. It seems to fall back into capitalism.
    From my point of view socialism is just a type of capitalism that some one decided to call differently.
    To me socialism is State monopoly capitalism.

    I have issues with this paragraph

    “According to these criteria, Cuba, China and Vietnam would be socialist countries. Even the repugnant DRK (North Korea) would be, as well. Yes, all four of these countries are implementing programs that have many negatives and positives, but the capitalist state power in each one has been replaced by a socialist state power. This is the critical element.”

    Here in the USA, a capitalist country, we the people hold the power thru elections. Not the capitalist as you mentioned (when I vote I do it myself and no other and the same is true for you or any other) on the other hand by your own definition only a selected group of individuals (a self appointed elite) can hold power with or without the control or approval of the people in a socialist country. This takes us then to conclude that in socialist countries a ruling minority could potentially take full control of a country and become an Authoritarian-Totalitarian regime like the case of Cuba and North Korea and do changes without the approval of the people. Such situation is a major problem and explain why “socialism” is not and can not be an stable system of government and it appear may collapse on their own, further more the people of these nations because of the disconnect between the ruling elite and the normal average Joe creates great injustices. The elite enjoy unrestricted privileged while the working class are living at the same level of serf and slaves.
    One only have to compare salaries in Cuba with other countries of similar development to realized that they are not being paid what they actually should earn for their work even counting the “free benefits”.

  • I don’t think my presentation involves a tautology (a “circular” argument in which the conclusion is assumed at the beginning). It argues that the critical question of whether a given country is “socialist” is the nature of the power of state, not the highly-changeable economic mode of production.

    You agree with ultra-Left Maoists and Trotskyists in that you look at the mode of production as the determining factor. While the economic mode is vitally important, it is not key. If a leadership party holds state power and consciously tries and hopes to build a social bridge to a classless, stateless future society, then, we would argue, it is socialist.

    But it would not be socialist because it is implementing a 100% effective bridge-building program. It would be socialist because it holds the power of state and has the “potential” to evolve such an effective program.

    According to these criteria, Cuba, China and Vietnam would be socialist countries. Even the repugnant DRK (North Korea) would be, as well. Yes, all four of these countries are implementing programs that have many negatives and positives, but the capitalist state power in each one has been replaced by a socialist state power. This is the critical element.

    As long as the Cuban government is sincerely trying to build socialism, Cuba will be a socialist country. But let’s remember that a country is never a static thing, but a dynamic entity always evolving toward the future.

    If the Cuban party will ever come to its senses and throw out the stupid Marxian program of state monopoly ownership, and begin implementation of a cooperative, state co-ownership program of social transformation–with private property rights and a conditioned trading market–socialist Cuba would astound the world with its prosperity and truly democratic political attributes.

  • Hi Julio, Before addressing your question, I think we need to agree on some kind of definition of socialism which means wading into deep waters! Libraries of books are devoted to the subject. I use as a working definition that there are two basic premises that define socialism that I hope we can agree on. To have socialism, the means of production must be in the hands of the people and there must be an equitable distribution of income.

    I think this is about as high level as you can get. It says nothing about specific forms of government but provides a general yardstick for judging a particular one. Using the last first, distribution of income in Cuba is certainly more equitable than in any capitalist country but there are certainly inequalities on display when in Cuba, not as glaring as elsewhere, but obvious and obviously growing.

    The means of production in Cuba has been in the hands of the state which theoretically represents the people. I think we can safely assume that believing representative governments, capitalist or socialist, actually represent what people want is truly dead, now blatantly obvious but recognized in Canada over 100 years ago, for example, in the early 1900s, by a populist group in the Canadian West known as “Prairie Socialists”. They rejected parliamentary government on the basis that sooner or later representatives would be entirely controlled by the wealthy elite class and not answerable to the people. Sound familiar?

    Under the circumstances, Cuba does not meet one of the basic criteria for being a socialist state. The means of production are NOT in the hands of the people. This is why, I think, there is a buzz about cooperatives that is part of the stated reforms. There is hope.

    Representative states that are not representative of people are undesirable whether they are capitalist or aspire to socialism. The latter is preferable as at least the principle of standing for the common good, as opposed to selfishness and greed, is on the books. The next step is to fulfill the principle. Capitalism doesn’t even make it to first base.

  • It’s not surprising ‘Moses’ plays the’ race card’ instead of addressing what I wrote. OJ notoriously did the same when in a losing situation. ‘Moses’ writes that I “assume that because an African-American holds conservative political beliefs that he must want to be “white”. But that’s not what I wrote. What I did write was, “Right wing American blacks – the Clarence Thomas variety – are usually characterised as ‘coconuts’”.

    ‘Moses’ ignores all the other points I made and cries racism. Shame on you O.J., er, ‘Moses’. Anything to say about the rest of my comment? It would seem you are on shaky ground with one of your ardent fans, ‘Susan L’. She has no patience for anything that “has little to do with the debate on the present and future of Cuba”.

  • Thanks Grady, it seems to me that what you wrote looks like a tautology.
    Your definition seems a bit murky.
    It seems to me from your definition that any group that calls itself a Communist and holds power in a nation makes a government socialist. I do not believe this is so.
    As part of the transformations the Communist party in China has change towards capitalism. So China is not really a socialist country but is as capitalist as our own country is. The same could be said about Cuba.
    So I still do not understand why call them socialist or communist. When in reality they are elites in power that control de government and that call themselves Communist.

  • ‘Susan L’ complains about what I write, claiming, “when I read HT I’m looking for information and views about Cuba not the United States”. Did anyone force ‘her’ to read ALL of the comments? She seems to appreciate what ‘Moses’ writes, which is hostile to this website, and not my missives. Both are clearly labeled. Why doesn’t she read the ones she likes for the information she claims to want? Is it masochism? Or is she trying to silence what she doesn’t like? ‘Susan’ insists on reading my comments and feels compelled to write they are inappropriate to the website. One must ask, is this written because she is incapable of addressing the points I’ve made? It seems so.

    I’ve commented before on why I write about the ills of not just the US, but of capitalist countries in general – if you write about what’s wrong in Cuba without putting in perspective the wrongs of the capitalist system you are presenting as superior, as capitalist ‘Moses’ does on a regular basis, it’s nothing more than propaganda at best, or deluded ignorance at worst. Take your pick.

    Sorry I’m boring you Susan. Spare me the thank-you. Somehow it doesn’t ring true.

    In the case of socialist Pablo who lives in a capitalist country, he has a lot to learn.

  • Julio, I’d like to give one possible answer to your question. If we take as a major premise “A government is socialist if a transformationary political leadership holds state power,” and a minor premise that “The Cuban gov’t is one in which a transformationary political leadership (the PCC) holds power,” then we can conclude “The Cuban gov’t therefore is indeed socialist.

    This syllogism seems to be logically valid, but is the conclusion true?

    It would depend on whether the PCC is, in fact, a transformationary political leadership. I say it is–with the need and chance for great programmatic improvement, of course–but you might have a different opinion.

  • Lawrence your comment regarding my being a “coconut – black on the outside, white inside wannabee” is racist and uncalled for. African-Americans come in all shapes, sizes, colors and political persuasions. To assume that because an African-American holds conservative political beliefs that he must want to be “white” is ignorant. You should not want to align yourself with such a banal and idiotic comment.

  • Hi Lawrence, I used to be a regular here but now I normally write at the spanish side.
    Can I ask you something.

    What makes the Cuban government socialist?

    Please tell me, I’d like to know.

  • I’ve been following the responses of Lawrence W. to the young Spanish person who gave his impressions of Cuba and Moses, someone we see regurlarly contribuiting to Havana Times. Lawrence, you seem to have the know-it-all chip about Cuba and the world. However, when I read HT I’m looking for information and views about Cuba not the United States… there are plenty of alternative sites that deal with that country. So I must say your attempts to stear all discussion on Cuba to the United States gets very boring and leads nowhere. I’m well aware of the injustice of the US blockade and support the Cuban Five being released but that has little to do with the debate on the present and future of Cuba. Thank you

  • ‘Moses’ writes that no country can claim their health care, or criminal justice system or allowance of public expression is perfect, “particularly Americans”. I don’t recall anyone writing about perfection. Did I miss something? ‘Moses’ is actually using a time-worn defense mechanism Americans habitually use whenever anyone points out something less than perfect in their country. “We are not perfect but we are better than anyone else” is the full defense. ‘Moses pulled the second part to disguise the American superiority complex it illustrates.

    Psychologists traditionally point out superiority complexes usually are an attempt to cover up an inferiority complex. Americans traditionally have had one according to social historians for various reasons, mostly having to do with comparisons to the older and more sophisticated European cultures they originally came from.

    ‘Moses’ saying he is Afro-American is another situation. Right wing American blacks – the Clarence Thomas variety – are usually characterised as ‘coconuts’ – black on the outside, white inside wannabes. Since most Americans, according to polls, believe the Cuban embargo should end, he doesn’t agree with what most Americans want, so this doesn’t seem to apply to him.

    He does spout a number of hoary old American myths, however – not being perfect but the best there is, and any US citizen can be president, at least anyone born in the US. Unfortunately, after Obama, it’s not likely another African-American will be given a chance to run in the near future so ‘Moses’ son shouldn’t hold his breath. There are few people Obama has not disappointed on both sides of the political spectrum. This morning, media reported Obama and Romney are both at 47% which tells it all. The Republican ticket is the biggest joke ever and Obama can’t hold his own against it. Romney could well be the next president.

    ‘Moses’ writes I “criticize the attacker as a way of justifying [my] own defects”. Uh, isn’t that what he is doing?

    Moses’ writes, “If I want to criticize my government in the public square with a bullhorn and protest sign, I can do it.” Sure, as long as he does it alone. If he does it as part of the Occupy Movement, it’s likely he will encounter a different fate. The reason is obvious – one person is not a threat to the government, groups are. I suspect the same is true in Cuba.

    ‘Moses’ writes ” If I want to buy a new car, or start a technology business I can do that too.” Maybe. If you have the money you can buy a new car – most can’t afford one – and you are free to start a high tech business that you will probably lose your shirt on. I’ve talked to several folks here lately trying to take advantage of the green technology boom and start up solar, wind and thermal power projects. All the stories I’ve heard end up saying you don’t stand a chance against big business with deep pockets. Occasionally someone gets lucky and develops something big business wants and they get bought out – the best you can hope for.

    ‘Moses’ may not have to ask permission to travel but why don’t Americans travel – the least traveled of any developed country? Several reasons I think – too busy working for one, just to stay afloat or just can’t afford to. They also have the least number of paid holidays than any developed country. Many I talk to are scared due to what they are doing overseas (of course they always claim they are targeted because the world is jealous of what they have!). They borrow Canadian flags sometimes so people won’t know they are Americans. .

    ‘Moses’ asks what’s good about the same leader for 53 years. One can also ask, what was good about the 10 leaders the US has had in the same time period – trillions spent in warfare, now in perpetual state mode, millions killed worldwide – up to 6 million in Vietnam alone, a steadily declining social safety net and ballooning income differential that has returned the US to the 1890’s so-called Gilded Age era when extraordinary wealth was held in a few hands, etc. etc. Give me the 53-year leader any time.

  • Lawrence you seem to have mastered the Cuban art of self-defense where you criticize the attacker as a way of justifying your own defects. Psychologists call it deflection. Listen, no country can claim that their health care or criminal justice or public expression is perfect, particularly Americans. But what I can claim, especially as an African-american is that if my son wants to be President someday, it is possible. If I want to criticize my government in the public square with a bullhorn and protest sign, I can do it. If I want to leave the US, I don’t have to ask permission. If I want to buy a new car, or start a technology business I can do that too. If I was Cuban, none of these opportunities are currently available. It is difficult. at best, to tit-for-tat compare the US to Cuba. At the very least Lawrence you should try to defend your positions based upon what’s good about refusing citizen’s of Cuba the abiltiy to travel freely. What’s good about limiting free expression especially if it involves criticizing the totalitarian regime. What’s good about the same leadership for 53 years. Try that instead of always pointing out what’s also wrong somewhere else.

  • In the second part of Pablo’s essay, we see him somewhat expanding his horizons on Cuba. One would hope that after being back in Spain for a period of time, he submits a third part, writing about Spain from the perspective of his visit to Cuba. Spain, of course, is enduring a massive econonoic downturn at present with double-digit unemployment, an economic collapse and massive unrest.

    I sometimes feel capitalist countries and Cuba are converging in terms of citizen unrest. Cuba, based in socialist principles would seem to stand a better chance at addressing the discord than capitalism, based on selfish, self-serving principles. But the powers of propaganda can never be discounted and capitalism, with its superior access to money and long-term experience utilising propaganda for marketing purposes and to prop itself up, means there are no sure bets.

    Traveling definitely broadens the mind and has the potential to eventually give you a perspective on the culture you were born in or have lived in for most of your life, but again, there are no sure bets. I remember once, traveling in New Zealand, talking to an American who was appalled at white New Zealanders’ racism towards its indigenous Maori populace. I too had witnessed it but found it ironic that the American was able to see it so vividly in New Zealand while virtually all Americans are oblivious to the far worse racism and racist history towards their own First Nations people.

    While showing he learned more about Cuba in this second article, Pablo still exhibits the cultural blinkers he was raised with, the results of incessant propaganda that even a socialist cannot escape.

    Pablo quotes a Cuban saying, “health care and education aren’t free; you pay for them with your life,” writing that “more than one Cuban had hinted to me about things like this.” And of course, you also pay for it with your life when you don’t have them, typical in capitalist countries with no, or elite health care systems and unaffordable or unavailable educational opportunities.

    Pablo rites, “the absurdity of Cuba is that people’s wages aren’t enough for them to even eat,” oblivious to the “working poor” phenomenon prevalent in capitalist societies, including his own country. I’ve commented elsewhere about Americans I meet who have two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. The principle of having a “living wage” is constantly fought off by the elite. For a time I did volunteer work for a food bank that supplied food on an emergency basis to families who showed up who couldn’t buy groceries. I was told some people live very close to the edge and it only takes one thing to happen that results in not being able to provide for themselves.

    Pablo writes that “in many cases the people I was around had to speak more quietly or shut up completely.” When I visit the US, I constantly have to monitor what I say. Attitudes and bumper stickers combined with a ubiquitous gun-toting citizenry makes you think twice before expressing how you feel about Cuba, the Vietnam invasion, the Iraq invasion, the Afghan invasion, etc., etc. In Canada where political discussions have been bred out of the populace – commented on frequently by visitors – you shut up quickly when starting one unless you want to be ostracized.

    Pablo writes that “Anyone who sticks out from the norm or creates waves within the state structure (which sometimes means disagreeing with it) will see themself gradually stigmatized to the point of triggering harassment or them being labeled a “mercenary, etc.” He seems to be unaware of what is standard business practice under capitalism nor what Julian Assange recently stated in his balcony speech at the London Ecuadorian embassy, that under Obama, there is currently a war going on against whistle-blowers. It always has been going on, only more intensely now.

    Pablo writes he talked to Cubans about the “movement of the indignant in neighborhoods in Madrid and how that movement functioned,” but didn’t mention it stands no chance of achieving any of its goals unless a revolution takes place similar to Cuba’s. It’s a perspective he seems to have missed.

    Pablo’s prejudices are starkly on display when he writes, ” In Cuba I had seen a governance model different from ours. It had its own specific problems, while at the same time not being exempt from the problems we suffer.” All problems and nothing good, despite noting in his article that Cubans “apply the profit from people’s labor for social purposes, for funding public services”, that Cuba is the most equitable country in the Americas (although he phrases it as a negative and adds a “probably” weasel word – “it’s probably the least inequitable country in the Americas), that “though there is poverty and hunger, I didn’t find that desperate misery I’ve seen elsewhere”, that “It’s an extremely safe country, and that gave me a sense of tranquility despite everything”.

    Pablo notes Cuba’s “single vertical, hierarchical party” without referring to what is now blatantly obvious and continuously noted in so-called democracies. Michael Moore says it with humour, “It’s not fair that both of the main political parties in the US service the same economic class. The only difference in Canada is that we have three parties who do the same. No one else stands a chance of being elected.

    Pablo writes that Cuba has “top-down hierarchical institutions, as well as a top-down, hierarchical system of production,” again failing to note it’s the same in all capitalist countries except Cuba at least tries to service the populace and government is premised on this, unlike elsewhere where government support of the elite class is barely disguised or feebly defended – “the trickle down” whopper lie.

    Pablo writes, “I’m aware of the complexity of the situation in any country, and most of Cuban life is full of contradictions.” It’s time to hear more about the complexities in Pablo’s own country to put things in perspective I think.

    Pablo writes that the “propaganda is obvious and stifling. It is noteworthy more for its repetitive character more than for its quantity.” I’ve commented elsewhere that propaganda is most effective when it is not perceived as propaganda. It is better that it is obvious. Repetiveness is one of the techniques used by propaganda, in common with brainwashing, whether it be to sell governments or bars of soap. Capitalist propaganda, through marketing, has learned to make the repetition seem not as tedious, making it entertaining or by using catchy sayings or jingles. Anyone living in a capitalist country can still dredge up any number of decades-old advertising slogans – “see the USA in a Chevrolet”, “the loneliness of a Maytag repairman”, “I would walk a mile for a Camel [cigarette]”, etc, etc.

    Pablo finishes by writing he “was saddened to see a people who had fought for so long, who had been battered by so many people (from their own governments to those of the United States and of other countries), a people that has gone through such difficult situations as the Special Period crisis and continues to either stagnate or take one step forward and two steps back.”

    Much better than sadness would be activism – not the type that sees you working in Cuban fields, whinging (Brit slang for complaining) about the uncomfortable existence you are forced to live in – but that works at getting YOUR government to break with the American empire and do everything possible to end the Cuban embargo.

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