My Cuba: The Summer of 2010

October 12, 2010 |

By Alberto N.  Jones

Gen. Antonio Maceo Monument in Santiago de Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 12 — Having barely shaken off the dust from the road —as our  “apostle” [Jose Marti] once said upon his arrival in Caracas, Venezuela— I’m rushing to share with HT readers, some of what I observed during my recent 1,700 mile trip through valleys, mountains, cities, countryside and beaches in Cuba.

This experience made it possible for me to speak with friends, former co-workers, intellectuals, ordinary citizens, retirees, professionals, derelicts, tourists, foreign students and one or two petty crooks.

What I found, was everyone clamoring in unison for a change in the country’s socio-economic situation, while a few called also for political change.

What was it that prompted such a uniformity of opinion among the Cuban population from east  to the west of that country?

All signs pointed to the marked worsening of the economic situation of the population, which have experienced a suffocating increase in the cost of living and whose wages in domestic currency do not cover the needs of the basic foodstuffs (not to mention the many other basic and non-basic items that can only be bought in convertible currency, which is not part of their wages).  All of this has shaped that collective opinion across the entire country.

The low wages and the situation of two currencies have led the whole population to gradually accept the concept of inventor (literally, “inventing”) as being valid.  This has become the sole form of survival, though it has weighed heavily on the moral crumbling of a people who now take such illegal activities as normal.

The existence of two currencies in circulation is not exclusive to Cuba.  Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and many other countries in our region have similar systems.   What’s unique in the case of Cuba, is that the wages paid in domestic currency fail to maintain parity with the value pegged to the foreign currency.

Alberto N. Jones during his summer 2010 trip to Cuba.

That’s where the conflict between both currencies in Cuba constitutes an antagonistic contradiction that is leading the country into a moral and structural crisis that threatens the nation’s very survival.

How can we explain or ignore the fact that the daily wage of an average worker is about 20 pesos, which in the best of cases can only buy 20 oranges or a pound of pork?   The question then becomes: How can one meet their family obligations and material needs without resorting to some form of crime?

Economic evil affecting all social strata

As a result of this situation, economic corruption affects all social strata.  Many doctors openly ask if their next patient has a “traje” (brought a “gift”), while taxi drivers regularly turn off their meters, and local bus drivers brag about pocketing fares of between 150 and 200 pesos daily.  Likewise, bakers pilfer and selloff flour and cooking oil, grocers walk off with part of the store’s allotment of food, and airline tickets and inter-provincial bus tickets are acquired at premium rates at the homes of the employees, rather than in the sales offices.

Mechanics cannibalize car parts and replace them with others in poor condition, selling the good ones in the underground market; just as managers of warehouses and stores with products sold in convertible currency, pick out high-demand products and then sell them just outside the premises of those same businesses.

Teachers pass students of parents who are able to give them gifts, and exams are even sold on occasion.  Laboratory analyses, prostheses and many surgeries are provided in exchange for money, and construction licenses are blatantly sold or exchanged for sexual favors.

In addition to it being convincingly demonstrated that small business operations (like barber shops, cafeterias, bodegas, hairdressers, taxis, restaurants, soda fountains, etc.) cannot be administered from Havana or even from  provincial capitals, the supervision of these operations has been assigned to the local bodies of Poder Popular (similar to city councils).  However, these bodies lack the resources and authority to guarantee the proper supply, operation and/or the quality of those services.

Park in Manzanillo, Granma

The lack of resources of the local governments prevents them from providing their communities with adequate water and sewer services, construction and repair of government and other public properties. This has transformed these bodies into ornamental agencies, and because of that they have gradually lost their credibility in the eyes of the community.   It hurts to see high officials of these bodies worried about the construction of a cafeteria, a pedestrian walkway or a small market, while the community’s major problems languish without solution.

The serious problem of apathetic food-service workers, especially those who operate in domestic currency, is characterized by the marked mistreatment of the public, endless delays in service and the serving of cold food and warm “cold” drinks.

While this outline of the situation in Cuba could seem to be exaggerated or pessimistic, it can be easily verified.  One needs only to compare the appearance and operating condition of hundreds of privately owned trucks from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s —converted today into a means of human transportation— with thousands of Yutong buses with less than five years in use.  These vehicles sit broken down, stalled or stopped anywhere along the highway due to mechanical defects or simply because the drivers are in the homes of campesinos  trying to resolver (“solve”) their own problems while exasperated travelers wait defenselessly for the return of those employees to their jobs.

Alberto N. Jones, second left, at Cayo Guillermo, Ciego de Avila

Equally fatal has been the false concept of social and economic egalitarianism, which has demoralized thousands of professionals, intellectuals and technicians.  Members of this stratum have to live in the same neighborhoods, beside, under or above people without education or standards of social coexistence.  These people have transformed those residential areas into infernally noisy and dingy tenements where they show their absolute disrespect for their own neighbors.  All of this has atrophied the desire to study, broaden their knowledge as well as the manners of professionals and their offspring.

The cost of the emigration…and its potential

Perhaps the most serious consequence of this misconceived economic philosophy can be seen in tens of thousands of young professionals in all branches of knowledge, who have been forced to emigrate all over the world in search of better lives.  This has transformed Cuba into a world leader in the export of gray matter, contributing a flood of free knowledge to the same developed countries that we’ve criticized of a monstrous brain drainage against underdeveloped nations.

These and many other examples of inefficiency, lack of foresight or control, listlessness, indiscipline and the misappropriation of resources are the basis for people’s clamoring.  They are demanding a change in the prevailing socio-economic system that has led the country to the brink of collapse while simultaneously eating away at the nation’s moral fiber.

Valle de los Ingenios, Trinidad

Fortunately the Cuban people have decades of cumulative experiences in a lopsided struggle – one that has forged them through adversities and has taught them how to turn setbacks into victory.  Because of this, we can assume that they’ll know how to lift themselves up and emerge gracefully, triumphant in this defining test of their character and their future through the application of the axiom “great problems demand great solutions.”

However, this requires what was advocated by our apostle Jose Marti when he organized the 1895 War of Independence:  Wherever they find themselves, all Cubans —together with their sisters and brothers on the island— must overcome ideological, social, ethnic, religious, sexual differences or those of any other nature that have artificially divided us.  We must unite as a single force under the aegis of safeguarding our nation, culture, individuality, history and everything that distinguishes and characterizes us as Cubans.

For our people, for our nation, it is required that all Cubans together, confront the greatest threat to our integrity and sovereignty that our country has had to face in its 500 plus years of existence.

Let us then make a profound and sincere call to our government and its institutions to find a common ground and national reconciliation, so that it can courageously call to its dispersed children in the diaspora —which never should have existed— to return home physically, mentally or in solidarity with their sisters and brothers, so that together, we can create the country dreamt of by those who gave it all for our homeland.

The graveness and urgency of the current moment does not permit us to analyze past events and circumstances.   When this nation is safe, when tempers have cooled-off and the future is in our hands, then and only then, will there be room for reflection, analysis and the correction of errors.

Monument to the Caballero de Paris in Old Havana

Today, our country’s treasury is practically depleted at the precise time when what is needed are enormous amounts of funds to undertake the greatest development of agriculture, industry and public works in our history.  Likewise, what is needed, are the economic resources for the financing of self-employed workers, as well as small and mid-size enterprises, in which tens of thousands of workers could find decent and well paid jobs to satisfy their families and social needs.

Reliable studies indicate that between 1.5 and 2.0 million Cubans live abroad.   These same studies estimate that only between 0.5 and 1.2 percent of them are politically committed to anti-Castro organizations or profess ideologies incompatible with the ideals of the Cuban government.

Could it be, that in this mass of economic émigrés —upon whom our country should center all its efforts and intelligence to design  bridges and comprehensive programs— to re-unify  the Cuban family; the ones who will be able to correct errors, heal wounds and promote the broadest process of national reconciliation?

If this was achieved, our country could generate a diverse number of formulas, agreements and economic mechanisms, that could allow those émigrés to contribute roughly $10-15 billion that the national economy needs to launch the largest development program in all of its history.

Cuba must not and cannot succumb!   The value and the teachings of Cespedes, Aguilera, Maceo, Mariana, Maximo Gomez, Hatuey, Guarina or Quintin, leave us no room  to be frightened, shy away or in any other state of mind,  that doesn’t respond to the blare of the bugle calling to us into battle.

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  • Milagros

    Albert jones if it is the Albert jones that i knew as a child..i.i have shared this with my fatherAnd of course he was not impressed and had some very unkind things to say lmao Moving right along
    ..However, where were u when our country needed you? Why change your tune now..Senor i suspect that you may want to come home permanently? If u are el pichon..i urge to to reunite forget the past and help rebuild Cuba….SIMPLE PATRIA OR MUERTE or remain where u are..if u are not El Pichon then u are still welcome

    PS Just so u know..There are no reliable studes about who may or may not desire Castro or support him..So that will not fly..Amerikkka is the only country that refuses to allow nations to be free of thier control..i am here in Matanzas Cuba, Gave up a great career to be here and at this time i am seeking to become an EX pat of amerikkka..Are u that serious or are u simply talking?

  • Milton Sanchez-Parodi

    Thank you for your informative article and beautiful pictures.

  • Dear Alberto, there are a few preconceive notions in your essay that I disagree with and not until a real free election is exercise by the people of Cuba we will be able to know the real answer.

    First: Are the majority of the people of Cuba for just a simple economical change or simple for a more radical change from one system that only supports one political party the communist party or one that allows for a multiparty system with no preferential treatment to any party?

    Second: You maintain as the Cuban leadership that the great majority of Cuban emigrants are economic emigrants. I sustain this is not truth. In my experience I have seen and witness a very vocal Cuban opposition outside of Cuba. On the other hand I have not witnessed Cubans that support the current regime in the same proportion. Only very few isolated cases do so.

    Third: This same people that are currently in power are responsible for the economical calamities that affect our country now. Much of the sick behavior and corruption observed in the Cuban society now and that you described above is mainly the responsibility of the current regime. It can not be blame on anyone but themselves. This takes me to the important point that the people currently in power for around half a century are not able to manage the country. Nor the economy of the country it was very clear from the first few years of the revolutions that this was so. Why do they eliminated systematically all the critical voices and accuse them of treason?

    Four: The situation of the two currencies in Cuba was created during the special period by the existing government. I suppose the reason for the creation was to collect hard currencies in the hands of the Cuban people. It is unacceptable to have two currencies. Cubans should be paid and should be able to buy in one currency. This situation needs to be resolve immediately by the Cuban government. One of the two currencies should cease to exist. The one that remains should be able to be exchangeable with hard currencies.

    Five: The large amount of prohibitions created by the Cuban government is responsible for most of the illegalities that have happen in Cuba and that will continue to happen as long as they are prohibited.

    Six: Cubans need free access to information if they are to make decisions for themselves and not be treated like little children by a paternalistic state. It is imperative that they get full and affordable access to internet and free media (Television, News Press and radio independent of the government)

    Seven: The Cuban government is responsible for most of the migratory problems. There should never be an entry permit or exit permit for Cubans nor should their be a fee attached to such process. Cubans should be able to enter and exit Cuba at their own will without notifying any local authority other that the normal entry and exit requirements in other countries. For those Cubans that do hold citizenship of other countries and wishing to enter Cuba with the passport of the other country the normal process for citizen of such country should be apply or even better not require a visa for Cubans using other passports even if the citizen of that country are require a visa.

    I think many Cubans will be willing to set differences aside and will be willing to talk and to come to an understanding and there are many steps the Cuban government should do to demonstrate that it is serious about going on this path. Change seems to come ever so slowly and I do agree with you that it seems the situation is very critical.

  • grok

    Reading between the lines here, Alberto Jones appears to be a nationalist and not a socialist — and calls for what is essentially capitalist restoration without just coming out and saying it (as some others writing on “Havana Times.org” also appear to be doing). But no matter how good his analysis of the problems facing cuban society — and what competent liberal commentator in the West, for instance, cannot at least detail the problems they want to address — like these liberal commentators, his solution to these pressing problems is where he falls down: AFAIC assuming far too much about the miracle of ‘independent initiative’, foreign investment, etc. — and selling short the socialist possibilities, which he appears to discount out-of-hand.

    Unfortunately, the cuban ‘socialist’ government appears equally unable to come up with that truly *socialist* solution to Cuba’s chronic political-economic problems: not least because the bureaucratic and Party apparatus are simply and clearly unwilling to give up their privileged position in what still remains a — increasingly deeply divided — class society. And yet they must — in order for the Revolution to continue to exist, let alone advance.

  • grok

    > Dear Alberto, there are a few preconceive notions in your essay
    > that I disagree with and not until a real free election is exercise
    > by the people of Cuba we will be able to know the real answer.

    We all know how “democratic” elections everywhere are, when they are skewed by the financial — and other — interventions of the dirty tricksters of the CIA, et al. And in fact, this is the reasoning behind the cuban regime’s main argument for keeping a tight lid on things — and enough of a fact to allow the government a valid point.

    > Are the majority of the people of Cuba for just a simple economical
    > change or simple for a more radical change from one system that
    > only supports one political party the communist party or one that
    > allows for a multiparty system with no preferential treatment to any
    > party?

    Capitalist parties cannot be allowed to exist in a socialist state. Period. For one thing: such parties ‘de facto’ imply the existence of *capitalists* in the society — which implies that they are hard at work *subverting* socialism. Got it? Just look at Cuba today, even, to see this process hard at work…

    And so capitalist parties CANNOT be allowed in the socialist democratic system. EVER. This is WHY we have revolutions, Julio. However, since social classes DO ‘de facto’ exist, and will *continue* to exist (and even in Cuba, still), other parties than simply the old stalinist ‘communist party’ *must* be allowed to exist as well: in order that they represent the interests of those various classes and fractions. Which the stalinist cuban ‘communist party’ demonstrably *doesn’t*.

    However, these parties should all be expressing their existence and interests at the community level in the form of consejos/councils/soviets — and not in the presently-existing still-bourgeois form of ‘parliamentary [representative] democracy’: which is obviously wholly inadequate for truly democratic tasks (not to mention the equitable distribution of resources).

  • Alberto N Jones

    Thanks very much Julio, Milton, Milagros and hopefully others, for taking the time to read my views and share their imput.

    To Milagros, what I have said and sustain everywhere, are my observations, which maybe right or wrong. That is secondary. What really matters is an exchange of views, suggestions, critique on behalf of our people.
    I hope you are not angry also at President Raul Castro, when he asked everyone in Cuba two years ago, to speak up. More, not less discussion is what our country needs.

    Regarding Julio’s point #1, I think we all tend to demand of Cuba, what we do to no one else. Traveling to Cuba until recently was a crime in Miami, because it was perceived supporting Castro!! Who do we support and why it is not a crime, when we spend our money in Wall Mart, Wallgreens or UPS?

    Why is it, that visiting Cuba is synonymous with support of the Cuban government, while we do not know the names of the Mayor, Councilmen or State Representative in our communities?

    Tons of people in our communities are upset with their political system, especially during GWB administration, but we do not demand of them, to change it or flee the country?

    2.- We have all seen many vocal Cubans as most Latin-Americans are, which is our prerrogative. But if what I said was not the case, why are all Cuban oppositions groups in Miami, so upset with tens of thousands of new arrivals, dying to be here for One Year and One day, for them to head to Miami International Airport to Cuba? Why the legislature in Fl are working on a number of bills (R-David Rivera) to remove every Federal and State benefits from those filling up an ever increasing number of flights to Cuba?

    3.- The fact that those in power, when good or bad happens, are fully responsible for their acts, is undisputable. The difference lies with our approach. Since 1970, the US is clearly on a downward trend, yet, a minority of the voting population do so, for two barely distinct parties and no one demands the abolition of the current system. It is and must be entirely up to its people!

    However we may feel about Cuba and its problems, there are no comparison with the scandals corroding the Vatican, as most of us, sit silently and hope it evaporates without trail.

    4.- Agree fully with you. One currency should be abolished or they should have exchange parity.

    5.- I disagree with most prohibitions, but I would attribute the increase in illegalities to a lack of basic goods and rising poverty. In the 60’s when fresh milk was assigned only to children under 7, the milk truck left these supplies at 4:00-5:00 AM by itself at every store front and no one dared to take a pint of milk. Why?

    6.- I fully agree that people should have acess to information and use it. Sadly, a study I came across recently describe as less than 35% of internet users engaged in education, news, culture and other uplifting activities. Gambling, Games, Gossip, X Rated and violent games, occupy much more of peoples time. Hope this type of freedom is kept out of Cuba!

    And lastly, how can we blame the Cuban government for its migratory problems? Prove me wrong! Let’s grant every country in Central, South America and the Caribbean for ONE WEEK, the same migratory benefits the US has given EVERY Cuban for 50 years and we would see, how many poor people would be left in each and every of these country?

    That’s why my dream is to see Cuba and the rest of the underdeveloped countries social tragedies resolved, as the only was to begin dealing with humanity most intractable disaster.

  • Alberto N Jones

    I do not wish to monopolize this discussion. I have not and will never support capitalist restoration in Cuba.
    I was born under it on a segregated sugar plantation. I did not read about it, I lived through it and survived . I hope someday, I may be able to share such horrible experience with you.

    What I am trying to say, is that Cuba had this experience in the 60’s, when we had cooperative farms, where farmers pooled their land, work, knowledge and expertise, produced, sold their goods and shared the income. It worked!!!! but was turned into Granjas del Pueblo by 1966 and others names, with failing results.

    Everything need not to be either or. During my studies in Germany in the mid 60’s, all small business were Mom and Pop owned, and they worked incredibly well. Large swats of agricultural lands were operated as coop (Landwirthschaft) and the only food shortages was those coming from the tropics. There are many experiences around the world that our country could explore and sort through, without ever, going back to 12/30/58

  • Grok I got news for you.
    Cuba was and still is capitalist.
    What they have is called state monopoly capitalism.
    There was and there is no socialism anywhere. I am sorry but have you been paying attention?
    The country is being sold as we speak. To whomever want to buy it right now.
    Do you read the news? About the condos and the golf courses? and the foreign investment already in Cuba?

    Alberto

    To your first question
    “Tons of people in our communities are upset with their political system, especially during GWB administration, but we do not demand of them, to change it or flee the country?”

    There is a natural process here in the US to get a president unseated and presidents in this country can only be so for a maximum of two periods with the approval of the people on a real election where people can pick other persons with different ideas on how to solve the problems of the country.

    The answer to number 2 is actually a question and the question does not seem to be related on less it prove to be related to what I talk about on item 2.

    Answer to number 3. Just because others do wrong does not mean we can not hold the Cuban government accountable for misdeeds and failure to govern. You can not defend the Cuban government just because the rest of the world maybe crumbling. Incidentally that last statement is not true. That is exactly the technique use by the Cuban government on their official news rooms to make Cubans believe that they are actually in paradise when they are in reality living thru hell.

    4 no issue

    5 It is hard to say what exactly snowball this whole situation. It is clear that whatever they had going was not working. It was not working 20 years ago when I left Cuba and it sure is not working now. It was not even working 1 or 2 years after the “revolution”. When you read the lies that people were make to believe back them you feel so much pain for all the suffering the Cuban people have to go thru.
    Fidel Castro in the early days of the revolution unilaterally decided without any democratic consultation or plebiscite of the Cuban people to declare Cuba a socialist state. The Cuban people never asked for such thing neither they asked him to self nominate as dictator for life. Again who is responsible for the poverty of Cubans now? There is no other than Fidel Castro and those than surround him.
    The devaluation of the Cuban currency was done because they can not sustain the system they created. With a colossal mismanagement of all the state resources.

    6 Again the same as number 3 you can not compare Cubans with the rest of the world. And by the way people should have the freedom to determine what they like to do with their lives. If they want to be in politics they are in politics if they care more about other things then let it be. Nobody should position itself in such a way as to dictate what people must do. That is exactly what Cuba has been for 50 years. A paternalistic and authoritarian state. 50 years of it. That is why we see what we see. That is why the youth in Cuba have no hopes or better yet should I say have the hope to emigrate as soon as possible from there to any other place on earth!

    Lastly
    Let us assume that your prior statement about the majority of emigrants from Cuba are for economical reason. We know the Cuban economy is a disaster of catastrophic proportions so it could be a plausible hypothesis. Who is responsible for the economic problems in Cuba? Who was dictating policies and making all the economic decisions? there is one name that jumps in my mine and should also jump into yours.
    Fidel Castro. So are they or not responsible for Cubans wanting to migrate from Cuba?
    Who is the one that said
    “with the revolution everything without the revolution nothing”?
    Who is the one that create such divisory remarks like counter-revolutionaries and worms to refer to those that have different solutions that the ones he likes or he wants as solution?
    No other name that Fidel Castro should pop into your head again.

    If they did not migrate for economic reasons but rather for political ones for the lack of freedom and for not being able to participate in the solutions and contribute to them then it is clear why they migrated. Looking for the freedom they did not have in their own country and again who is responsible for that?

    So you see Alberto, They have created their own problems. It is 50 years of them accumulating. of so many broken promises to so many people. What a terrible waste. How pitiful to see so many lives wasted in a fantasy.

    It will be a lot of hard work to undo all the damage done to Cuba.

  • Hubert Gieschen

    Milagros,
    I need to seriously take issue with your statement that ‘Amerikkka is the only country that refuses to allow nations to be free of thier control.’
    What about Russia, China and Indonesia?
    Indonesia still controls West Papua, China stills controls Tibet and Russia stills controls Chechnya. Neither Russia, China or Indonesia have a greater claim to these countries than Spain had to Cuba.
    In Chechnya Russia maintains a government that openly advocates honour killings of women. In Tibet and West Papua, China and Indonesia do exactly the same what Spain did to the indigenous peoples of the Americas so they can steal their lands and their minerals.
    Just like many hypocritical governments in the West, Cuba’s government has failed to speak out for the oppressed people of Chechnya, Tibet and West Papa.

  • Luis

    It seems Alberto punched Julio right in the face! Julio’s hatred against the “evil Cuban regime” is neither natural nor normal. Maybe his family lost land/proprieties during the Revolution. That’s the only sane explanation for an insane and illogical hatred.

    Cuba has its problems but it’s the only country in the world that – according to Julio’s reasoning – those problems will only be solved if its government is toppled by a coup or something.

  • Luis do not distort what I have said my words speak for themselves.

  • Luis

    Here is the types of logical fallacies you have used on just one single post

    Argumentum ad lazarum or appeal to poverty

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_lazarum

    argumentum ad hominem
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

    Straw man argument
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    I do not think you help your position of defending the indefensible with those arguments!