Cuba: This Government Cares for Its People (Part II)

February 12, 2013 | Print Print |

Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — On Sunday morning (February 3), while the elections were being conducted in my country, almost a month after posting my article “This Government Cares for Its People,” I was walking down Obispo Street in Old Havana with two friends.

That was when I saw a policeman helping out a man who was missing a leg. He was helping him get back into his wheelchair, which he seemed to have fallen from, and also gave him the crutch he had dropped.

That was my first impression, or what I believed at first glance. One minute was enough for me to realize that this man — with his frail and rickety body — was struggling to free himself from the strong young police officer. It was a pathetic sight.

The man was like a rag doll against this officer, so helpless, when he started vomiting insults at the government.

The police officer then called for a squad car on his walkie-talkie for them to come and pick up this citizen, whose lack of respect was getting on my his nerves. We were all glad that he didn’t hit the man, though the officer needed to do something to calm him down. It was shameful to see that handicapped man in the wheelchair, helpless before the power, without being able to do anything.

I don’t have any photos of the incident because I didn’t have my camera with me, but even if I had, I don’t think I’d ever point it at a policeman.

My friends and I wondered what this frail man could have done, with his one weak leg and his worn out clothes almost hanging from his body. What could he have done to make it necessary for him to be taken down to the station?

If they were to take in every nut who shouted slogans against the government, in the street or on the bus, there wouldn’t be room in the prisons.

What’s more, the man only began insulting the government when the police officer began moving him, without him being able to avoid it.

I’ve seen him on the same street before, in his wheelchair, silent. Maybe they went after him for something he didn’t deserve. His appearance gives one plenty to talk about, but what harm could this poor guy have done?

This shows the not so pretty face of Cuban life, without makeup. Behind the posters announcing “we’re happy here,” and despite the triumphant slogans, and regardless of the elections in which the vast majority of people participate (they have no choice but to give their support to the revolution, otherwise they’ll single themselves out), there are Cubans who can’t buy virtually anything with their miserable wages. They have no choice but to beg.

As I walked away with my friends, I remembered the interview with Rosa Esther and her certainty in telling me that this government cares for its people, her appreciation because Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal told her she didn’t have to pay taxes for being photographed.

What’s the difference between Rosa Esther and this gentleman who’s missing a leg? Is it necessary for him to lose both of them to live peacefully off of what people give him?

Or is it that the difference is that Rosa Esther wears attractive clothes, speaks well of the government and is proud of her last name (Castro), while this man does nothing to hide his poverty, and if they screw with him he’ll blame the government?

I don’t know if there’s any country without beggars, without people who are disabled from war or since birth. But here, the party line says no one in Cuba need’s to beg. Instead, reality must adapt to that discourse.

But all of this made me angry over my own impotence and having to speculate. Nothing assured me that they had taken in this man for begging, until Wednesday, when I came back to Obispo Street and again saw the man in his wheelchair. He was being pushed by a friend who didn’t want to be photographed.

I think he was wearing the same clothes as on Election Day. I noticed he had difficulty speaking. His friend told me he had been prohibited from begging, which is why he had been picked up that Sunday. But there he was again, in his chair, still in the struggle.

 


What's your opinion?

  • http://twitter.com/WalterDTeague Walter Teague

    Yusimi Rodriguez, I wish you could have gathered more information on this man and the incidents you mention. Without knowing more about him and the context, it proves nothing about Cuba, or any other society. This is an “anecdote” and an incomplete and biased one at that. He could well be a victim of neglect or worse. He could represent, as you imply, the failures of Cuban social services or worse evidence of a society that really doesn’t care about it’s people. Or, his situtation could represent the exception to how Cuban society “takes care of it’s people.” You don’t help yourself or the reader to understand what this sad looking man represents.

    I am a social worker in a relatively rich society, and yet today, the USA is far from the top of societies that successfully care for their citizens. Any city, big or small in the US has many examples of human and social neglect. And I and many social workers and other citizens privately and within social organizations spend our time, money and energy trying to help people like this man. The best help is not waiting until the type of confrontation you described, but setting out to reduce the likelihood of many such sad outcomes. Looking at the bigger picture, many countries do better at preventing such despair than the US.

    So when I visit Cuba, I don’t expect to see perfection, nor was I surprised by examples of failed social care, but I did look for evidence that Cubans in general were better off than before 1959 and better “cared for” than the people in comparable societies. Caring for the individual is vital, but improving the situation for the majority of people is even more important.

    So maybe you can talk with this man, the police, a Cuban social worker and then let us know what you find. Maybe you can also consider if the efforts to improve Cuban society can be improved upon. I can tell you many things that could be done better in my rich society, what do you suggest for Cuba?

    • Moses Patterson

      Walter,given your highly visible support of the Castros through your frequent emails and pro-dictator comments on various internet blogs, surely you can muster a better defense for your cause than simply saying “it’s a problem everywhere else too”? I understand the need to establish perspective, but police insensitivity and social inequality is no less immoral in Cuba because there are bad police and homeless people in the US. Finally, are you being saccastic or just a little disingenuous when you asked what does she suggest for Cuba? You know as well as anyone that the average citizen can only dare to make a suggestion to the Cuban government regarding policy. Indeed, such suggestions had better be in line with the party or the person making the suggestion beware.

    • Grady R. Daugherty

      An excellent comment, Walter. Thanks.

  • Grady R. Daugherty

    I live in Southern California, Yusimi. I carry one-dollar bills in my
    car’s clean ash-tray, in order to give them out to ragged beggars whom I
    frequently find standing at freeway off-ramps.

    I know that these unfortunates may use my hand-outs for cigarettes,
    alcohol or drugs, and not only for food, but it’s too difficult to pass
    them by without giving anything. I would rather give something that
    might be used for questionable purposes, than to take a chance on the
    man going hungry, and/or feeling that no one cares.

    Hopefully, one day, the only beggars to be found in any country will be in the history books.

    BTW, many of the cops up here are trigger-happy, high-functioning morons who
    open up on the innocent and guilty alike, using their power and authority in a most shocking way.

    Just the other day, while conducting a man-hunt for a cop-killer, they opened up on two Hispanic women delivering newspapers in the early morning, firing 70
    rounds of ammunition into their pickup truck, spraying the whole neighborhood.

    The 71-year-old driver was shot two times in the back (and may live), and her daughter in the passenger seat was struck in the hand. The pickup was the wrong make and the wrong color, and the cops were looking for a large black man, not two diminutive women.

    I guess what I’m saying, Yusimi, is that things are tough all over. Cheers.

    • Julio de la Yncera

      Grady, Fidel Castro mentioned in one of his speeches that they were

      “proud to defend the revolution of the humble people by the humble people and for the humble people.”

      See here this is the fragment I am refering in spanish

      “orgullosos de defender esta Revolución de los humildes, por los humildes y para los humildes,”

      From this speech that appears here

      http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1961/esp/f160461e.html

      he was really paraphrasing the famous great words of Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg address see below

      “– and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

      Now given that Fidel said the Cuban revolution was for the Humble people. Here we have a humble person that is a beggar. Why is the revolution acting like he was a pest? If the revolution was to eliminate poverty was to eliminate this from happening, why it did not?

      He lie, lie to us and to the world. The revolution was not for the humble but for them the elite. That’s why they got the best homes in Cuba and the best Cuba produces. That is why they have no excuse that this happens everywhere else. That’s not excuse for them. Because they made a promise that it will not happen in Cuba. That is why and you do not know the history of the promises.

      • Luis

        Greetings Julio.

        Long time no see. However, this will not be an all-time greeting stance, as you shall see.

        Apparently, you continue to insist on a false premise that is, shortly speaking, that only in Cuba there’s an ‘elite’. This elite, as you pointed out previously, is capable of wearing Adidas jackets and giving their children trips to New York and Blackberries. Forgive me for the irony, but wow, that’s a very horrendous display of billionaire lust!

        The problem fundamentally resides in a deep lack of perspective, and an uneven judgment of Cuban problems.

        Instead of wondering about the causes of these phenomena, like Carlee did – the rise of the tourist industry, rural exodus, lack of social security resources originated from the general poverty introduced in the so-called ‘Special Period’ – you point out that a bunch of beggars in Havana is a proof of the complete failure of the Cuban Revolution, which was not ‘of the humble, by the humble and for the humble’. Well I ask you to question yourself: is the bailing out of the banks in order to save the financial system leaving millions – I said millions – of homeless people out of the blue from subprime mortgage crisis an opposite act of a government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’? What about the reasons that led the Occupy movement to be? The 99%? And the violence and silence their government offered to them in response? Is it not a clear indicative that the American Revolution has utterly failed its people? What about the social catastrophe that’s happening in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland…?

        This is a logic that can be summed up like this: ‘if Cuba isn’t perfect, then it’s Hell on Earth’, and everything else can be relativized. And a act of throwing stones when you have a glass roof.

        Social inequity… oh well. Let me only say that when somebody in HT posts a photo like this:

        http://test.cms.lsecities.net/files/2011/08/14_SA08Ref_Caldeira11.jpeg

        Then we’ll talk.

        Promises. How many broken promises do we see? Starting with the Nobel-prize marionette that’s Obama. From the ending the War to closing Guantanamo to acting even worse than Bush with his policy of ‘shoot first, ask latter’ with the popularization of drones to combat ‘terrorism’… that’s what I call the rule of the ‘elite’, the military-industrial complex, overriding the supposed people’s power and will.

        Off topic, you affirmed that Cuba was better off with Batista and Fidel is ‘worse than Hitler’ or likewise on another post. This is obviously a product of personal frustration and grievance rather than an objective viewpoint, and I shall not comment any further on these affirmatives.

        Respectfully,

        • Julio de la Yncera

          Luis, why is it that every time we do point the failings of the Cuban system you guys go for the hills to sling mud back into our society.
          Havana Times is about Cuba not about any other country but since you insist on bringing this up.

          The difference between the Raul’s grand doughtier and the average Cuban is abysmal None of the average Cuban could do what she does. Just traveling to New York City with her boyfriend or simply having shoes is a major accomplishment for any Cuban. You do lack the perspective of what I am talking about. Search right here in Havana Times pictures of kids almost naked without shoes in the streets. Now when you compare that to the elite. and yes it can be call an elite because it is an elitist government. A government of people that have isolated themselves and that do not live the life of the average cuban. Tell me please. When was the last time you seen a picture or video of Fidel Castro taking a bus in Havana or Raul? When have you seen them doing any lines for anything? Or suffering the scarcities the normal cubans have to endure?
          But yet we can see in the news that Raul went to Egypt with his grand son at the expense of the Cuban people. How much did that trip cost to the Cuban people? The purpose obviously was recreational because he had no business with the Egyptians.

          I have pointed a lot more than beggars on the street I have written a lot here and we can see failures everywhere. The Cuban system is like a big boat making water and full of holes. Those holes are form because they have been unwilling to listen to problems and solve them. To this date any body that dares to be critical of them is considered a traitor.
          I believe they are the traitors because while they spend lunch eating lobsters the average Cuban have hardly anything to eat.

          Now you guys that are supposed to be leftist and defend the underdog take the side of the actually wealthy in Cuba. Take the site of the elite! What a surprise!
          For ones you should be consistent. If you where true to your left leanings you will take the side of the people, those that are oppressed Of the workers that get pay slavery wages of less than 20 dollars a month.
          Is ironic that I am not left and I am taking the side of those that are poor. The reason is because I was there and know what it is and none of you from your arm chair trying to arrange the world can count with that experience.

          • zihuarob

            Julio, while I think there are certainly many failings to the Cuban Revolution, there are also many failings to the revolutions in Mexico and the USA and certainly many more. Poverty or police cruelty exists in all our countries. Cuba has had the additional hardship of the criminal US embargo added to its Revolution. And yes, a privileged class has sprung up out of the party. I know of know political system in the world where the families of the “public servants” aren’t served an extra portion of the nation’s wealth.

            Cuba has incredible potential thanks to its Revolution, but its psyche has been damaged by fear of retaliation for wanting more than the Revolution has so far been able to offer the Cuban people, and of course that has manifested itself in a belief that escaping to the USA is a goal worth pursuing in life for many Cubans, including the missing dancers of the dance troupe. I agree that the confiscation of private property was a huge mistake, but I understand the need to redistribute the wealth, though I believe the Revolution carried this to an unworkable and unecessary extreme. There should be limits on how much wealth is enjoyed by a few. A society should sink or swim together, and you are right that Raúl, his family and the political elite should not be allowed to live as jet-setters.

            Change will come soon to Cuba and the incredibly creative, hard working and well educated people will find a much more acceptable way to govern themselves and manage their economy, I have no doubt about that. I only hope enough Cubans remain in Cuba to realize and enjoy that change.

            ¡Viva Cuba! ¡Viva México!

          • Julio de la Yncera

            Zihuarob, I agree, it is normal for us human to fail and retry. It is ok to recognized failure. One most not be measure not for the many times one falls but for the times that get up.

            That is where the main problem is with the Cuba government. It does not like to be pointed where is wrong. I think it all comes from Fidel Castro’s ego. He can not tolerate someone correcting him. I do think and I have express my opinion here before that the embargo is counter productive. I think Cuba need contact with the outside world.

            I disagree that the USA is responsible for the failings of the Cuban system. If they USA was not there then they will try to shift the blame into someone else but themselves. They seem unable to recognize the mistakes they make and therefore are unfit to govern. Someone that can not see problems and does not allow people to point them out will get overrun by them. That is why youth in Cuba do not see their future in Cuba. Any government that provokes such desired should not govern any nation.

            I believe the great potential for Cuba will only be unleash with freedom. When everyone can pursue their dreams.

            Viva, Cuba, Mexico y Estados Unidos!

          • Luis

            Blindness is echoed in every word you write, I’m afraid. And it seems to be getting worse. You used to point out the negative effects of the US policies – especially the embargo – upon Cuba. Not anymore.

            No coherent person says ‘Viva Cuba’ and ‘Go USA’ at the same time. It’s offensive to anybody who knows just a little bit about Latin American History in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Monroe Doctrine and the Big Stick.

        • Julio de la Yncera

          Luis, I am forgetting my manners, greetings to you too. Glad you are still around and also Grady I enjoy discussing these issues with you guys. Hoping I can shed some light some day into you! :-)

          I am normally nowadays on the Spanish side of HavanaTimes because I thought It was better for me to be there to kick start the discussions and braking the ice. I am still really trying hard to understand why you guys take the side of the wealthy in Cuba. Can not get my head around that.

          I really have no problem with people being wealthy. I do have problems with people that ask sacrifices from everyone else except for them. This is the case of the Cuban elite. If they live the life of ordinary Cubans then I could not say those things but it is true they live above everyone else.

          • Grady R. Daugherty

            One last blurb to you on this subject. I think our hearts are on the same side, but your brain hit snag and got stranded on the monopoly capitalist shore.

            The problem in Cuba is the same as the problem in each country, that the instruments of production are not owned directly by those who do the work. In both Cuba and the US what is needed is a socialist cooperative republic.

            Finally, for someone like you to believe that he might bring light to someone like Luis or me is arrogant, blind and silly–but best wishes.

          • Julio de la Yncera

            Grady there is no silver bullet. Your cooperative will translate the problem into new problems but the original problem will still be there in some form. That’s exactly what happen with the Marxist socialism

      • Grady R. Daugherty

        Earth to Julio: Come back.

        Fidel did not make the Revolution to get a bunch of goodies for himself and “the elite.” If you think he did, then there’s not much I can do for you.

        My view is that Fidel–together with his cohorts–has done his best to transform the lives of the Cuban people for the better, and has succeeded on a number of fronts, to a remarkable degree. It’s not my fault, or his, that you can’t acknowledge this solid fact.

        His failing has been to buy into the personality cult of Marxism, and think that socialism means making the land and all productive enterprise the property of the state. This was utterly incorrect, as a programmatic experiment, and has led the socialist transformation into a blind alley.

        The anecdote of the one-legged beggar in Yusimi’s article shows in–miniature that state monopoly socialism cannot solve all the problems of society, because it is an unnatural system that tries to bring a central feature of a theoretical future society–absence of private productive property–into the present day, where it cannot possibly work.

        But this seemingly-moronic programmatic mistake is a long way from a grasping dictator who only wants personal wealth and power, as you seem unreasonably to rant.