Supporting the Cuban Revolution at a Distance

Yusimí Rodríguez

Photo: Edwin Wiebe

HAVANA TIMES, April 9 – Something strange often happens when I am with a foreigner and I criticize the system we have in this country. They’re taken aback and rebuke me for being ungrateful, naive, and ignorant, in daring to criticize the reality in which I live because I don’t know what the reality is like in other countries. Theirs, for example.

Many of them are young students from neighboring countries on the continent, even from the United States, that do not have the opportunity to get a university education in their home country. They can do so here. For free, too.

I understand their gratitude. But then I wonder: what have the studies of so many young foreigners cost Cuba so far?

I suspect that it is the funds generated by the Cuban people that have sustained the altruism of our government. I suspect that we are the true debtors of these young people and perhaps I should be the first to take offence if they failed to show their appreciation.

At the other extreme are the foreigners from the first world. When they tell me I am wrong, I guess they must be right. They have traveled, have seen the world and are in a position to make comparisons.

Sometimes I feel the same confusion when reading the comments made by some of the readers of HT. I even start to hesitate before writing a new commentary.

I cannot pinpoint the moment I experienced this feeling for the first time, but I know that I became aware of it in 2005.

That was the year I met a Welsh woman and an Argentinean woman, both Marxists and in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, who had come to stay in Cuba. They exuded enthusiasm, were eager to help the country in some way, wanted to live like Cubans.

Photo: Byron Motley

They came from the United States and spoke perfect English. They got jobs as translators.

I visited them quite often in the apartment assigned to them from their work, and there we talked about Marxism, socialism, revolution and Che Guevara.

It was a spacious apartment, comfortably furnished, two-door refrigerator (which I had not seen before), gas cooker with oven (I was still cooking with kerosene), a normal apartment in other words.

To them it did not seem all that big. So different from mine in Vibora Park, with two rooms for four people, a small dining room, a narrow kitchen with a small fridge. Not that there was much to keep inside it.

There on the 19th floor of the Focsa building, from where the cars running along the Malecon looked like toys, Marx and Che sounded like music to my ears.


They wanted to live like Cubans, they kept saying, that’s why they had come.

What did living like Cubans mean? What Cubans did they want to live like? Like ministers, state officials, (certain) top athletes? Like me?

I do not know if they ever went by public transport, if they ever tried to climb into one of those “camels” we had at the time. We went together to hip hop concerts and both times we took a taxi.

Not one of those cars from the middle of last century we call almendrones which I only take when I have to, and pay the ten Cuban pesos with regret. The three of us traveled by real taxi with uniformed drivers, and paid for in foreign currency. We completed a trip in less than ten minutes that normally would have taken me over an hour on my own.

When they mentioned living like us, did they realize that the paltry salary you get is barely enough to eat badly? To live dependent on a ration book, fearing every day it will be withdrawn and disappear? Each time they remove a product from the card, I tremble.

Photo: Gregory Israelstam

Would my friends have been in conformity with the official sources of information, with the impossibility of setting up other political parties, even if they were parties of the left? Would they have questioned the lack of freedom of speech and a free press?

But even if my friends had decided to get by on a ration book in a small house with a microscopic salary and even if they had gladly renounced certain personal liberties, one thing would certainly have created an insurmountable gap between us, and that was the fact that they could opt out, take their passports and book a plane ticket and say goodbye to all that.

I remember once having to attend one of those marches that were registering record turnouts. The newspaper said we could go to the march from our homes. There were points of transportation for the march in each municipality. But there was no transportation for anything else. So the only way you could get to work after the march ended was to attend the march first.

I went with my friends. Although we walked together, the distance between us was immense. Euphoric at the experience, they chanted slogans demanding the return of the Five Heroes and the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, the terrorist. I had seen it all before.

I thought about all the times I had had to attend a march or an open forum, under the threat of losing a day’s salary. I also thought about the fact that at the age of twenty-eight, I had no home of my own and no room of my own. And I had no hopes of seeing anything of the world beyond the Cuban coasts.

I felt like sitting on the sea wall of the Malecon seawall, but I was prevented. A policeman told me to move on, indicating an advancing wave of people.

My friends said that even my frustration at not being able to see the world, was a privilege. In other countries, people were too illiterate to think about expanding their horizons. Or were too hungry to be able to afford the luxury of worrying about anything other than filling their stomach to make sure they were still alive next day.

And I had to admit they were right.

Photo: Jennifer MacDonald

A month after this talk, my friends announced they were leaving Cuba. It was less than a year since they arrived. I never quite understood why they left. I know that their eagerness to help the country had been received with more suspicion than gratitude, that the environment they worked in was hostile.

They were going to France. From there, they assured me, they would continue supporting the Cuban Revolution.

I thought about how much I would like to support the Revolution from France or anywhere else in the world, at least for a while. Being able to discover from over there that I live in a marvelous country, where things are going well, where there is freedom and justice, and being in a position to afford to miss the benefits of the Revolution.

Perhaps the reality of the situation is blinding me to the facts, because I am too close to it, because I am caught up in it, because I am suffering because of it…

It has been seven years since we parted. I heard about them recently. They are fine. Separated, but fine. They have their jobs, their plans, during the holidays they sometimes take a trip abroad.

I am 35 years old. I still do not have a place of my own. I share a room with my sister and my niece. I have seen nothing of the world, but I hold on to my plans and my dreams. I have my health and my loved ones. I guess I can also say I’m fine.

17 thoughts on “Supporting the Cuban Revolution at a Distance

  • We also have to remember that Cuba before Castro was not just any Latin American country, but probably the richest Latin American countries. Given how much richer the USA or the Bahamas are vs. in 1960, if Cuba had continued to allow some opportunities for free enterprise, Cuba would probably still be very rich. Cubans in other countries with other system are notorious for being well off.

  • I’d like to return to the launching pad for this protracted discourse and say: VERY GOOD ARTICLE, YUSIMI! It was insightful and inciting.

  • Dear Mr. Landis…… you are a hard case of indoctrination…… your rhetoric seems to me more like a Cuban answering question in a “history” test in Cuban school than someone exchanging opinions…….. you still call castro regime “revolution” when it is not the revolution but the faction that got US support and size the power thank this support….. revolution was made by the whole cuban people together with several other organizations fighting batista including part of batista’s army and the navy….. you still call democracy in pre-castro Cuba “pseudo-republic” when this name fits better to the actual regime……….. you still blind to batista’s responsibility in fighting USA and Platt Amendment and the work by him done to transform Cuba in a cuban owned country while you are blind to castro’s labor to transform Cuba in a country half owned by foreigners, his responsibility to give up Cuba’s major industries to USA and give up 20% of cubans to USA too……… what’s the difference between batista and castro?????…… both started their political life as thugs and then became revolutionaries, both were socialists and were backed by Cuba’s Communist Party, even they had in their respective regimes same commies: Blas Roca and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, both became bloody dictators, multimillionaires, and USA puppets…… but you still keeps loving castro and discrediting batista when the one is not other than the continuation of the other…….. I agree with you it is time to go on but first we have to lose all partiality, we have to understand the new world…… and for this we have to know the past…….. first at all you have to WANT to find the TRUTH………… if you are not interested to find the truth you will remain a blind believer……. you will remain a castrist fixed in the past and not going on beside those cubans you named giving timid steps in the web…………

  • Dear Dr. Freud,
    Lets not continue constructing our respective sand-castles in a competition to see whose can be piled higher, with more minarets and turrets. I’ll admit that you win hands down! Also, I’ll be the first to admit the Revolution charted an erroneous course towards a Stalinist model. Still, this was never completely true; Cubans are too individualistic, irrepressable and pragmatic for this to have ever been completely true. If it were, then its Revolution would have collapsed, like those of the Eastern Bloc. At this point, the Revolution has the pragmatic sense to correct its course towards a more equitable destination. Incidentally, having read numberous histories (both pre- and post-Revolutionary), I’m well aware of the nuances of pre-Revolutionary Cuban politics during the epoch of the psuedo-Republic, and although at times Batista presented himself as a populist, in essence he was foreever and always an opportunist first, not to mention a thug, and as time ent on, increasingly an out-and-out henchman of U.S. Imperialism. With all his faults, Cuba was fortunate to have a leader of the caliber of Fidel. His Jesuit mentors at the Belen Academy were correct in their assessment! But now is the time to go on, and from what I’ve read in the pages of the Havana Times, Joven Cuba, and countless other Cuban blogs, Cuba does not lack the talent of those generations about to enter leadership into whose hands the Revolution can march forward to the New Jerusalem!

  • About Panama and Costa Rica……. there is a phenomenon going on nowadays among cubans in USA…… many of them are selling houses, business and other properties to relocated in Panama or Costa Rica…….. it is a curious trend most of all pushed by business possibilities in those countries, real estate development and social law suit that includes health and education, climate and language……. even Americans do it, and American companies also are hoping into the stream.

  • Michael N. Landis says:

    April 12, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Dear Dr Freud,
    Still, I somehow doubt Cuba was the pre-Revolutionary Paradiso you depict; otherwise, ?

    Your doubt have an easy cure…………… study Cuba’s history and put aside tons of propaganda you consumed in the past, get knowledge about Cuba’s economical facts before 1959, historical fact out of secure and trusty sources….. but first at all you have to WANT to find the TRUTH………… if you are not interested to find the truth you will remain a blind believer.
    Why the Revolution?
    This question I have answered to you several time, still you insist in reformulating it each time we meet in a new site……. ok, no problem I know it is an issue a bit hard to understand….. here I go:

    Batista dived up to cuban political scene as part of the anti-imperialist revolution known as “Sergeants Revolution”. This revolution led to an anti-imperialist movement (cubans always hated US imperialism and we still does) that ended with the finish of Platt amendment and the coming of a succession of anti-imperialist-socialists presidents democratically elected started with Batista self (1940-1944), Ramon Grau San Martin(1944-1948) who came to power thanks an incendiary anti-imperialist -socialist campaign and Carlos Prio Socarras …….. Batista who in his first presidential period governed in coalition with Cuba’s Communist Party turned with the time into a corrupt populist precursor of Chavez-Castro stile and sized the power after a state coup in 1952 what caused the insurrection of the whole cuban people and the revolution.
    Cuban revolution was not a revolution caused by economic problems but by political ones…… the fact that castro siezed the power and transformed his power into a Stalinist dictatorship have nothing to do with the revolution cubans did to get back democracy Batista destroyed. Castro alone was not the revolution…..there was several revolutionary currents inside Cuba at the time castro was “fighting” …….. most of those revolutionary currents continued the fight, this time against castro, when they found the new “leader” was not other than a new dictator.

  • Dear Dr Freud,
    !Yikes! ?!What hath I wrought–or who hath I provoked?! Still, I somehow doubt Cuba was the pre-Revolutionary Paradiso you depict; otherwise, ?Why the Revolution? Still, as Eric Cartman might say, “Mistakes have been made!” and, err, need to be “rectified.” or at least “resovled.”

  • Dear Mr. Landis, I know there are around 10000 cubans living in Panama, a similar number in Costa Rica, around 5000 in Honduras(!!!), more than 20000 in Mexico, around 2000 in Caiman Island, several thousands in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela (in spite of Chavez and of course much less than before Chavez), Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina…….. Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru are traditional destinations for cuban emigrants that prefers those “poor” countries not maybe because economic reasons but because freedom and democracy……. most cubans are not economic emigrants but political ones looking for a better climate to develop a free life. It is true that most cubans uses those countries as escape way to reach USA because in USA exists the bigger concentrations of cubans out Cuba and there they can find relatives and friends that can help them to start a new life but many other stay in the country they use to escape Cuba when they find that all myths they bought of professionals advertisers are just that, myths, and countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Grand Caiman, Ecuador, Chile, etc are democracies with free and universal health and education and no tyrannies for half century as pretext to enjoy those health and educational systems…… and other countries like Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, or Honduras can have some local problems like violence, guerillas, populist and hopefully eventual regimes but are places where freedom and democracy are making the way to success and where you only need to have a job to have a normal life and even help the people you left behind in Cuba…… in spite the “poverty” status you can have of international organizations.
    About learning of USA, well, dear one you evidently don’t know cubans and our history….. we don’t need to learn nothing of Cuba to raise a rich and prosperous country. We did it even under Spain dominance when for centuries Cuba was among world’s richest countries…….. the man that started our independence war were among world’s richest men….. only one of them, Francisco Vicente Aguilera, had properties in Cuba, USA, and central America valued the equivalent to 3000 000 000 of dollars nowadays, without accounting his bank accounts and properties in Europe….. this guy expended all his fortune to get Cuba free and ended his life in NY working in a factory and expending most of his and his family salaries in the independence cause……. in same way of ruin Cuba was born as free nation…….. our economy destroyed by 30 years of war and all cubans in bankruptcy……… 30 years later we had created a rich country again, a country that produced a social law suit that placed it among the world’s more social developed countries………. if you take a look in UN records you will find that Cuba lied 13 among world countries with lower infantile mortality rate in 1958 and with lowest illiteracy rate in America…… for the time to have a literacy rate of 25% like Cuba had placed the country among the world’s lower illiterate countries…….. we rebuilt our huge Sugar industry and became world’s sugar supplier with the most bigger industry and production in the world……… we built a huge agricultural industry that supplied the internal market and exported to USA and Latin America……… we built a huge construction industry that supplied the country’s tremendous demand and even exported to Latin America……. we built a light industry that supplied the country with soap, cleaning products, washing products, oil, paper, shoes (even to export), furniture, plumbing-electrical-fixtures, glass, perfumes, and many other articles…….. we built citric industry, cattle industry that after supply the country of meat and milk exported a lot to USA, fishing industry, commerce industry and many other industries destroyed by the actual regime……. we cubans received a country after independence war not only destroyed but in hands of Spanish and American investors that took advantage of cubans ruin to buy almost the whole country….. 30 years later cubans had pushed all foreign competition out of Cuba…… in 1958 almost all business and properties in Cuba were in Cubans hands……. you can find all above data in UN records and the book “Cuba’s owners” written by Guillermo Jimenez and presented in cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde…….. so, dear Landis, don’t be afraid about what can we cubans built with freedom and democracy….. we did a remarkable work before and will do it again with no needs to see learn or copy USA or any other country…….. when Sweden or Norway were half empty countries because their population emigrated escaping hunger Cuba was a rich and prosperous country where social laws implemented by successive socialists and ant-imperialists democratically elected president placed us among world’s social advanced countries for the time’s standards, including the health and education system the actual regime inherited of those that built our country from ruins in the first 50 years of our existence as independent country….. take a look to our history, not the propaganda one you can memorize easily but the real history, the one that only exists in UN records and the memory of elderly cubans.

  • Ok, Luis, but however, what can we use to put in Capitalism place when it is the only economical system that exist, a system that those that once tried to modify are retaking and using even in its more ancient way (the so called wild capitalism or infantile capitalis), I am talking about China, Vuetnam and Cuba???????…….

  • Dear Dr. Freud, Although there are some Cubans of the Diaspora who remain in Central America and Mexico, most who leave Cuba by that route continue on to the U.S. (although I know of exceptions, like the mother in Habana who, thanks to the monthly remittances of her son, a parmacist in Mexico City, lives as well as anyone in the 1st World). Concerning your other points, I would only say that most of us who are sympathetic to the Revolution–but not uncritically so–hope that Cuba incorporates more economic and political democracy in its Revolution, but without falling victim to the siren-like songs of the Collosus of the North. Cubans will have to contine improvising–descarga like–in constructing their system. They have no real lessons to learn from the North, however, in constructing any real social, political or economic democracy, since democracy here becomes ever more surface, rather than substance (not that it ever was, really, but now the plutocracy becomes ever more entrenched). In a recent pole, the world’s “happiest” nations are those with a mixed economy with a working social safety net, imaginitive educational innovations, etc. (In that survey such Western European and Scandinavian democracies as the Nederlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweeden were at the top of the list.) At least its stated ideals, the Cuban Revolution recognized the importance of the development of its human capital as its greatest end. It is my belief that such capital can better be developed by viewing man as a creator first, and only as a consumer–and an educated consumer–second.

  • I suppose with a nickname like that you ought to know “Civilization and its discontents”. I highly suggest for you to review that book to know what I mean.

  • Anti-capitalist????!!!!……. Each time I hear someone stating such a thing I make same question:

    Suposeding you can destroy capitalism, which other economic system you will put in capitalism place??????

    Most people answer is: Socialism, Communism, etc…… well, the only problem is that:

    Socialism, Conservationism, Liberalism, Neo-liberalism, Communism, Maoism, Laborism, Social Democracy, Christian Democracy, Fascism, Falangism, Anarchism, are political doctrines more or less grounded in different philosophical streams. By other side Capitalism is the name given, to the only (THE ONLY) existing economical system in this imperfect world, by the writer William Makepeace Thackeray and later used by Carl Marx to design this economical system nowadays known as market economy.
    In other words, there is only an economical system: Market Economy or Capitalism. There is no more economical system in this world despite the effort of some philosophers and politician in order of making you and me believe they found a new economical system that will make us all happy for ever. If you try to find another economical system you will find nothing but political doctrines.
    All those above named political doctrines has to use capitalism as its economical system because no of them has an own economical system to sustain them. Some of the politician and philosopher that have tried to make us believe their found a new economical system has used a lot of tricks to disguise capitalism and present it to us as a new thing. They has tried to abort capitalism, change it, destroy it or redesign it but at the end they have to get back and resuscitate the capitalism because if not the grotesque being they created would die economically and of course would die as doctrine, as political system. That’s why we see the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Cuba get married with the international capital and foment a wild capitalism in their countries in order of surviving.
    Capitalism has to be tamed. You can’t let it drive itself freely because you will create a monster like the primitive capitalism of XIX century Europe or you will create a inefficient been like Haiti or most of Africa or Latin America countries . However, you get to grab a political doctrine in order to tame capitalism….. which one is better?….. it is something that have to be found yet. The history teaches that Communism, Fascism, Anarchism, Falangism, Maoism and most extreme political doctrines are not a good option………. I prefer the European socialism, German or English style.

  • Mr. Landis, as all professional supporters of castro regime, still insist in luring readers to myths about central American poor countries and USA hell…… well, cubans immigrants in central America increases by thousands every year, they bring to us a very different picture of what you and Castro regime gives but mainly they bring and send dollars to their relatives in Cuba………. I never seen people of central America sailing rustic rafts to Cuba but I seen thousands of Cubans sailing the way down to central America …… I also have seen cubans in USA living under poverty line helping relatives in Cuba to survive ……… the answer to this “curiosities” is easy: Poverty levels in USA and central America are measured in such way that a poor person in those countries have a live standard like a vice-minister of castro regime elite.

  • I’ve learned a lot about Cuba since I’ve discovered this site. Anybody could say I’m amongst the ones who “support the Revolution from abroad”… because I’m anti-capitalist. Yet capitalism is actually increasing it’s arms in today’s Cuba… it’s complicated. For a Latin-American leftist it’s almost inevitable to – at least – respect the Cuban Revolution and – more importantly – the right to self-determination of the Cuban people, like John said. It’s always been about the struggle of Cuba against the almighty USA that resembles the fight of David against Goliath…

    In reality, it’s difficult to compare any country to another because each one has grown under different Historical contexts…

  • As you say, Yusimi, when they get tired of the privations–although, from what you have reported, they seemed to be insulated from most of these privations–they can merey hop on a plane and–!Viola!–a few hours later are back in the First World! Still, they must have been incredibly naive. Perhaps you, and other Cuban friends, should have invited them to your homes to experience your daily privations? Still, the mind can “make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven” (not that Cuba is at either extreme; like most places, it lies somewhere betwixt the two). Last year I attended a meeting of a returning delegation of local high school students and their theacher, who had spent all of two weeks in Cuba. From what they reported, Cuba was a virtual Paradiso! I didn’t attempt to dissuade them of their illusions; just like most believers in religon, they need their myths; instead, I merely smiled to myself. Such as they are, once was I, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, a half century later, I have come to know a more nuanced reality. Still, I can’t help but hoping that you would want something better for your country than what is here, or in Mexico, the rest of Central America and the Caribbean. At least the Revolution’s stated ideals, in contrast with its reality after fifty years, should be embraced. What are the alternatives? What ARE the alternatives? In a recent survey of the “happiest nations,” it turns out that those with some sort of mixed system, which also has a secure “social safety network”, come in at #’s 1 thorugh 12 (i.e. The Nederlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc.) Yet what is now happening in much of the 1st World, thanks to the mobility of modern monopoly capitalism and imperialism, is a “race to the bottom,” with many decent, middle-class jobs migrating to the Third- and even Fourth-Worlds. (Perhaps Cuba, like China and India, should be fortunate enough to be a recipient of such oursourcing, should the embargo were ever to be lifted!) Your article has given me much to think about (not that I haven’t thought about it already; only, that it has articulated many of the problems faced by all thinking Cubans today.).

  • All good points Moses and Yusimi,

    It all boils down to the question of whether Cubans consider them selves better off under the Cuban way of life or the way of life in a country of similar resources without the benefits of Cuba’s state socialism .

    Also to be considered is the difference in what one can hope for the future in Cuba as compared to a place like Honduras.

    Would you rather be a poor person in Honduras or Guatemala or some such countries or in Cuba ?

    Meanwhile it is important to push for democratic change in Cuba wherever and whenever possible and make Cuba a better place to live.

    I will not go without mentioning that Cubans could always surrender to the demands of the United States and by doing away with state socialism, end the 50 year war on them .

    Never make the mistake of thinking that it is your political/electoral system that the U.S embargo is all about. Dictatorial governments are always fine with and even preferred by the U.S. providing they also have a totalitarian capitalist economy

    ” I’d rather be a free man in my grave , than living as a puppet or a slave ” (Jimmy Cliff) comes to mind.

    But giving up the revolution is a decision for Cubans and Cubans alone to make.

  • First of all, Yusimi, I believe that very few foreigners are as naive as the two you speak of in your post. Of course, Marxists throughout the world who visit Cuba arrive predisposed to see only the good. I lived in Cuba for three years and never once did I believe or even imagine that Cubans were fortunate. Even the three pillars of the triumph of the Revolution presented false faces which were quickly revealed to me. Free medical care was fraught with paying bribes to Doctors, Nurses, and Pharmacists.Twice I helped purchase the fan for the classroom of the son of the owner of my Casa particular and on several occasions paid for gifts for the teachers as well. So much for the Free Education. Finally, the safety and security in the streets is also overstated because the reality is that Cuba has one of the highest incidences of rape in Latin America and the if everything was so safe why does everyone have bars over their windows and doors? It is easy to support the ideology of the Cuban Revolution but to live with the reality is a horse of a different color.

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