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Alfredo Prieto: I was born in Havana, a fact that’s not so common around here these days. Most of my family emigrated a long time ago to the United States, something that motivated me to study that country a little to try and understand it. I learned some English, and later I improved a bit more through direct contact with US citizens in their homes and above all in their universities. Later I found out that this was called “sleeping with the enemy”, but I confess that I never saw one in front of me. I’ve had many invitations, but as of six years ago I can’t go back because they changed the rules of the game. I’ve been the editor of the magazines, Cuadernos de Nuestra América, Temas and Caminos. I now work at the publishing house of the Cuban Writers and Artists Association (UNEAC) and I’m writing another book. Like my aunt, I am a declared fan of strawberry cheesecakes… and of Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac’s ex. If any of you know her, please give her a flower for me.

The End of a Cuban Summer

September 3, 2009 | Print Print |

By Alfredo Prieto

Enjoying the last days of the Cuban summer.  Photo: Caridad

Enjoying the last days of the Cuban summer. Photo: Caridad

They say that summers in Cuba are everything but mild.  Prior to the beginning of this summer that is just ending, an announcement was made that electricity consumption was outpacing projections, which acted to ignite concerns about the return of residential blackouts.  In the end, however, blackouts generally didn’t occur or were incidental.

A program was implemented that compelled the large sector state to re-adopt strict energy-saving measures that so as not affect the public in their homes.  For all government office and state agencies, excess energy consumption was penalized not only with fines on the offenders, but even with closings.  The use of air conditioning was especially prohibited during specific hours of the workday.

Many workplaces readjusted their schedules from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and some appealed to workers who had accumulated vacation time to use it.  Other companies in the industrial sector, such print shops, closed their doors until September.

Even the tourist industry saw its use of electricity reduced, which was expressed in innumerable nuisances for visitors.

The psychological effect

The problem is that these and other measures adopted, while capable of solving the problem of the blackouts in Cuban homes, will have an inevitable psychological and practical effect on people.

 Some workplaces appealed to employees who had accumulated vacation time to use it.  Other companies in the industrial sector, such print shops, closed their doors until September.  Photo: Caridad

Some workplaces appealed to employees who had accumulated vacation time to use it. Other companies in the industrial sector, such print shops, closed their doors until September. Photo: Caridad

The principal effect is that they will contribute to greater inefficiency, unruliness and indifference: three of the weaknesses of an economy needing additional changes (we must remember that this is a country where the wage has lost its essential role and basic subsistence is subjected to multiple daily tensions).

In addition, the effect of the world crisis generates feelings of uncertainty: it reinforces the idea that the Cuban crisis is permanent and feeds the notion that emigration is the only path out.

This is dangerous when considering the current attitude regarding immigration in the United States.  And it is to the US where past migratory crises have occurred for a combination of domestic problems and political positions specially designed for the island (the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act).

The movements of the dollarized economy – such as the disappearance of the system of Cuban Stores Serving Foreigners (Cuba al Servicio del Extranjero, or CUBALSE), substituted by the Stores for the Collection of Foreign Currencies (Tiendas de Recaudación de Divisas, or TRD) – generated shortages of products as basic as detergent and toilet paper. These gave rise to perceptions that did not exactly correspond to reality but that acted to stimulate hoarding and insecurity.  Bureaucratization has its effects, and this is one of them.

Bye Bye Summer

Bye Bye Summer

Violence in interpersonal relationships has taken a sharper edge and is expressed in a thousand ways in the social fabric, beginning with the family circle, work relations and ending up on the bus ride home.

The island’s warm temperatures complicate this panorama even more: sweltering heat irritates and affects rationality.  Public fiestas and dances have always been problematic from this point of view, as depicted in the introductory scene of the now classic film Memorias del subdesarrollo(Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968), as they usually end up in altercations and police involvement (alcohol always plays its part).

The result of this highly complex intrigue of structural problems and social representations is diverse, but it converges upon a sole point: the overwhelming tendency to do the least possible, down to the level of the personal sphere of each individual actor.

This spans from picaresque to the farcical as paths of practical and psychological escape as people attempt to weather the crisis while gripped by the sensation that life has no remedy; it is a fatalism inscribed in the stone of social conscience and acts as a heavy burden on any stage.


What's your opinion?

  • Ramon Andujar

    Great reflection, Alfredo, I’ve just returned to Spain from Cuba and I have the same feeling as you about the Cuban reality. Inertia is deeply rooted in the common citizen mentallity. One example were the Carnivals in Bayamo, where I saw thousands of locals drinking a watery and hot beer which most people would have not drunk a few year ago. And nobody takes any action. Most people complain but they do nothing to better their situation. It’s time that Cubans undertake a bottom-up revolution in order not destroy socialism but to improve it.