Cuba: The Gloves are Off

Raul Castro’s Remarks on Cuba’s Social Crises

Fernando Ravsberg*

Raul Castro speech was more in touch with reality. Photo: Raquel Perez
Raul Castro’s speech was more in touch with reality. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Making Cuba’s official discourse reflect more and more aspects of everyday reality may well be one of the most important political processes undertaken on the island today. President Raul Castro’s pronouncements Sunday to the parliament were a clear expression of this process.

He began by saying his criticisms would help the international press disparage Cuba, but went on to suggest that restricting the public debate of economic, political and social problems simply to deprive the enemy of potential weapons is misguided.

He called “to discuss reality unflinchingly”, because “the first step towards overcoming any problem effectively is acknowledging its existence, in all its dimensions, and looking for the causes and conditions which have brought about the phenomenon.”

I admit I was somewhat surprised he publicly criticized such a broad range of domestic problems. Half-jokingly, a good friend of mine, an avid reader of Letters from Cuba (“Cartas desde Cuba”), said to me: “he’s left you without any topics for your blog.”

To tell the truth, I don’t believe Raul Castro’s speech will deprive national or foreign newspapers of any work. On the contrary, his diagnosis invites journalists to delve more deeply into some of the ills which Cuban society continues to endure and to explore possible treatments.

“The first step towards overcoming any problem effectively is acknowledging its existence, in all its dimensions, and looking for the causes and conditions which have brought about the phenomenon.”

Countless pieces of investigative or sociological journalism could be written about the “marked decline of such moral and civic values as honesty, decency, shame, decorum, integrity and sensitivity towards the problems of others.”

I don’t particularly believe these problems are more severe in Cuba than in other societies and feel there is still time to revert their effects. Cuba has “modernized” slowly and, for better or for worse, Cubans still do many things the old-fashioned way.

Till last year, cars and houses were still being bought and sold without any paperwork; supporting a relative is part of a deeply-rooted national culture; any neighbor “throws you a lifeline” when your food runs out before the end of the month and, for most people, loyalty among friends is still more important than making a profit.

Raul Castro called on the citizenry to defend the country's laws.  Photo: Raquel Perez
Raul Castro called on the citizenry to defend the country’s laws. Photo: Raquel Perez

It is also true, however, that Cubans began to shed many of these qualities during the economic crisis of the 1990s, and that this process could well pick up speed with the inevitable liberalization of the “market” and as a result of the social toxins this will invariably inject into society.

Frankly, I am unsure as to whether the fight against the demons awakened by modernization can be won. The Cuban president is proposing a long-term strategy, mindful of the education of new generations through the culture the reform process intends to build.

“I have the bitter impression that, as a society, we are increasingly more educated, but not necessarily more cultured,” he stated. This impression could be taken as a point of departure for the redesign of Cuba’s education system, as a call to stop extolling its achievements and begin rethinking it as a cultural instrument.

Little was left unsaid by Raul Castro, who spoke of the country’s low salaries, the two-currency system, the generalized practice of stealing from State companies, the corruption of public officials, cases of fraud in education, vandalism, illegal construction work and the degradation of civic customs.

The president got the gist of the matter when he blamed part of the prevailing social chaos on “the lack of respect, in the first place, towards State entities of the country’s institutional framework, something which undermines their authority and ability to demand that the population adhere to existing regulations.”

Without a doubt, Cubans must start to put their house in order at the top, because, socially speaking, a high official who gets rich on bribes is far more noxious that 1,000 workers who “pinch” here and there to stretch their salaries some and be able to make ends meet.

Without a doubt, Cubans must start to put their house in order at the top, because, socially speaking, a high official who gets rich on bribes is far more noxious that 1,000 workers who “pinch” here and there to stretch their salaries some and be able to make ends meet.

Managers who steal from their companies are, after all, the main suppliers of Cuba’s black market, and most illegal practices are carried out with the blessing of public officials who, in exchange for a bit of hard currency, would authorize the building of lofts in the Capitolio building itself.

The president criticized the fact “this happens right under our noses, meeting with no condemnation or opposition from citizens.” The truth, however, is that people do not have access to, or are unaware of, the institutional mechanisms though which they can claim their rights or demand adherence to the law.

There is no ombudsman’s office, in Cuba, which protects the rights of citizens or consumers, and few people know how to proceed when an inspector requests a bribe, where to submit a complaint against a police officer or who to turn to when a manager steals from one’s company.

Some of the old mechanisms currently in place are out of date, rusty or corrupted. If the government has any intention of having citizens participate “in a permanent civic movement”, it would help to provide these citizens with institutions capable of addressing, processing and giving legal form to such civic actions.

These challenges notwithstanding, speaking about the crisis faced by society in a straightforward manner will help Cubans identify with their government’s political discourse, particularly if it begins to address their everyday life and the problems they face.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original posted in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

15 thoughts on “Cuba: The Gloves are Off

  • Cuba imports less than 30% of total food and much of the imports go to the resorts / hotels. Smoked salmon in resorts is not from Cuba.

  • Gosh, what an original name for a bar! And so fitting for Cuba.

    Let me get this straight, your children aged 12 and 10 own houses in Cuba? Are they Canadian or Cuban citizens? You might do some research on Cuban real estate law. It’s illegal for non-Cuban’s to own houses in Cuba. You and your children may be in for a big surprise one day.

    Safety & return on investment are more important than price per square feet.

    Still, your Cuban friends who helped you buy your houses will be grateful for your naivety.

  • My cildren now have four houses in Cuba which I gave them the $$$ to purchase. One is a duplex and on one side they are going to make it into a patio bar for tourists – Name – Hotel California Bar and Grill. New condo – Vancouver $ 1000.00 sq. ft. Do your home work – Si !!!

  • “Caliban”…That’s a good one, never heard it and I hope within 4 years the Caliban will be “fueron”.Like Alarcon….”se fue”

  • You cite a random assortment of economic statistics without comprehending what they mean. So what if the average house price in Vancouver is $1million (it’s not infact, it’s much lower) but lets run with that. As a ratio to the average
    Income, $46k, a million dollar home is 21 times the annual income. The Cuban example you gave of $5000 is 45 times the average Cuban income. Furthermore, Canada has a developed & well managed mortgage market. Cuba has no mortgage market, no legal real estate lawyers, no propert insurance and a highly dubious state of title law.

    It sounds like you’ve recently bought a property in Cuba, through a local intermediary no doubt, as its illegal for a foreigner to buy a house in Cuba. In addition to your legal hypocrisy, you can look forward to being swindled very soon.

    You are a fool. I pray for your children’s sake you can get them out unharmed.

  • A house in Vancouver costs + – $ 1 million – House in Niquero Granma $ 5000.00. 94 % of pensions in Canada are underfunded. Both federal / provincial debt per income tax payer in B.C. is $ 72,000.00 . This does not include house hold debt. The U,S. is in even worse shape.
    Gordon Robinson

  • Cuba’s GDP is $72 billion. Canada’s GDP is $1.8 trillion. Canada is a major exporter of oil and food. Cuba must import oil and 80% of all their food. Canada has a AAA credit rating, while Cuba’s rating is in junk bond territory.

    Therefore Canada will pay off her debt long before Cuba does, if ever. Historically, Cuba has a habit of reneging on her foreign debts.

    To move your children from a peaceful, prosperous, free & democratic Canada to one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world is worse than irresponsible, it’s child abuse.

  • We in Canada had it very good the past 50 years but our debt levels are beyond belief. Total per capita debt – government – private is only $ 1700.00 per Cuban. This is one of many reasons I choose to raise Michel ( 12 ) and Angelica ( 10 ) in Cuba which will shortly have the best economy in the Americas very shortly.

  • After reading Raul Castro’s speech a couple of times in Granma, I found it to be fairly consistent with the message he’s been preaching since inheriting power from his big brother 5 years ago. The message is to focus on individual rather than institutional failings, and then prescribe order and discipline as the solution.

    Reminds me of the cranky old Grandpa who fondly remembers the good old days and condemns the younger generations for their loose morals, lack of discipline and work ethic.

  • The Cuban people have suffered 54 years of the tough love dished out by the Castros. Would you accept the same dictatorial government ruling over you for 54 years?

    The Cuban people dont need your condescending Canadian patronization.

  • I have visited Cuba 79 times in the past 20 years and this is what Cubans needs ,, a bit of tough love. Gordon ” CubaKing ” Robinson – Port Alberni B.C. Canada

  • Corruption is endemic in Cuba. It is to a more or less extent in all of communist systems. Lots of rules and limited option (often only one) to get access to some resources hands lots of power to those controlling access. The have both the control and the opportunity to extract bribes to facilitate access to anything from work, education, housing, medical care, …

    Reducing corruption in this kind of a system is hard: if one allows freer access to resources or more options (private initiative in providing employment for example) the communist state reduces its span of control and thereby its power. Cracking down on those in the system that are corrupt causes resentment within the ranks – corruption often being seen as a perk and reward for collaboration – and does not tackle the root cause – the system itself – which therefore means that over time corruption will return most likely in a more sophisticated form.

    the Mexican writer Octavio Paz called corruption the oil and the glue of some systems. It keeps the regime together and make things happen that otherwise would not. Tampering with corruption may cause the regime to be less cohesive and even less effective than it already is as less options to solve issues are available.

    Raising other benefits to people within the regime to reduce their appetite for corruption is an option, but one that will increase resentment of those outside the system that live on a shoestring.

    Che’s new man has become a selfish state apparatchik that demands capitalist style rewards and privileges.

    The only way to stop the rise of a new rich oligarchy in Cuba is to increase freedom, both economic and political, in Cuba as soon as possible. Cuba is on a Russia / China path tat serves the interests of the elite more than that of the people.

    News about corruption in Cuba:

  • The blame for every one of these failures and problems besetting the Cuban nation which Raul Castro has complained about lies at his feet and those of the larger shoes he now fills.

    The lack of accountability, the disrespect toward citizens, the pilfering and corruption, the indifference and cynicism: these sins are all products of the revolution these two have designed, directed and enforced for 54 years. It take some chutzpah to lash out at his victims for all the pain and suffering he has put them through.

    You don’t like what you see around you Raul? Look in the mirror.

    This is the rage of Caliban at seeing his own face in a glass.

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