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Ernesto Carralero: I'm 18, I live in Havana and I firmly believe in the progress of Cuba. I do not understand progress as returning to the past, but being realistic and taking into account our characteristics, evolve into a much more inclusive country with more opportunities than we have today.

Slapped in the Face by Underdevelopment

October 3, 2014 |

Ernesto Carralero

ernesto-holanda-1HAVANA TIMES — As a Cuban teenager, I consider running into a decent pizza an unforgettable experience, let alone being in Holland.

My mother lives in the Netherlands and she took me to spend the holidays with her. Even though I had already lived there before, back then I was a small boy and like most kids, I didn’t pay much attention nor give a lot of importance to the things around me. Now that I was a teenager, I was a lot more critical, more relaxed, more conscious of the world… to observe the First World again was truly an unforgettable experience.

The jump from Cuban reality to Dutch reality seemed very abrupt.

I remember that in the beginning, I’d try and identify a noise that sounded like clapperboard whilst I’d cross the street, and I was surprised to come across it at every traffic light (I swear there were times that I thought that my mind was slipping away), until somebody explained to me that it was a way to let the blind know when the pedestrian light was green and that the sound would gradually become quieter as time was running out and the pedestrian light would turn red.

Another day, while I was coming out of a shop, I walked straight into the shop windows that were so clean you could barely notice them.

Ernesto-holanda-2That was when it hit me: when a Cuban leaves Cuba and sees the world outside, it really is the simplest things that surprise us the most, more than the skyscrapers or the “Flowers Park”.

Leaving a supermarket, I saw a woman who was particularly offended as a dog had defecated in the entrance. A shop assistant quickly cleaned up the mess and I said to myself, ‘If this woman came to Old Havana, she’d never set foot in Cuba again!’

Cuba isn’t Holland, of that I’m sure. But I don’t believe that a country needs an out-of-this-world economy to learn to keep things clean. Would it be so difficult for a Cuban to take a plastic bag when walking the dog to clean up his mess? Or for the government to fence-off a green space or two and dedicate them exclusively to this end like they do in the First World?

In spite of Cuba’s material shortages, I think that we could still take small individual actions that can help us to improve the state of things here. Unfortunately, the sense of indifference is so widespread that there are only a few people left that care about such basic things such as being able to walk down the street without having to worry about washing their shoes when they get home.

Ernesto-holanda-3At shops, I learned that if you recycle an empty soft drink bottle, they give you a coupon so that the next one you buy works out cheaper. While at home, I used to see the collection of raw materials as almost a social event, I saw that with a small incentive people make an effort on the other side of the ocean. Couldn’t a Cuban store do the same and at the same time make soft drinks a little more accessible to people? Wouldn’t this be both profitable and educational?

But, what really surprised me was the goodwill people had to act and improve things, something that unfortunately I don’t see in Cuba. Cubans have become accustomed to dirty streets and overflowing dumpsters and therefore don’t do anything about it.

This was the hardest slap in the face that underdevelopment has given me: realizing that very few people actually care about making things better even though this is within our reach.

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  • Griffin

    One of the many problems of socialism is that the more people rely on the State to provide things, or to enforce certain behaviours, the less individuals are able to do so for themselves. Socialism breeds dependence, which leads to apathy, cynicism and resentment.

    • Wayne

      As usual you distort….”Socialism” has MANY different “brands”….I have no doubt you understand that…..you are a “smart” man….so why do you always put Socialism under one umbrella?…..in Canada we have a A very fine Socialist party….DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST….the NDP….the official opposition in Ottawa….and have been a force for decades…..Manitoba has a NDP government……Saskatchewan has had many NDP governments……BC has had a NDP govt twice and are presently thr official opposition…..I have supported the NDP forever…..don’t always agree with them….I’m not brainwashed….but I agree with their “core values”

      • Moses Patterson

        The “Socialism” that I understand that Griffin is referring to is the putrid and moribund type that continues to flail away in Cuba. Canada is a capitalist economy with socialist policies in public health and education. There is no comparison between Castro’s totalitarianism and Canada.

      • Griffin

        Of course there are different versions of socialism. For brevity I wrote simply ‘socialism’ instead of ‘Cuba’s version of socialism’. Ernesto’s post is about Cuba, as is this blog.

        That said, I would argue that all forms of socialism produce the same negative forces (dependency, apathy, resentment), to varying degree.

        Once upon a time, I used to vote for the NDP too, but Bob Rae’s incompetent govt in Ontario revealed for me the contradictions and inherent flaws of the socialist approach.

  • Moses Patterson

    The first time my wife went out for a walk with our next door neighbor was a few days after she arrived in San Francisco from Havana. My elderly neighbor decided to walk her English Bulldog on this walk to get to know her new neighbor. As my wife tells the story, when my neighbor pulled a bag out of her pocket specially made for dog poop and reached down and picked up that pile of steamin’ stink, my wife nearly fainted. She had never seen such a thing. I can tell you that if you don’t clean up after your pooch in my neighborhood, people will come out of their house and run after you to remind you to “curb” your pet. When my wife got back to the house and I asked her how was her walk, I could still see the surprise in her face. I agree with Ernesto, it has been the little things that have contrasted the most with my wife’s prior life in Castro’s Cuba.