Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cuba: myths and reality


Teresa Dovalpage. Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban family. Mountain View, California. Floricanto Press. 2010.

Cuba: myths and reality


by Servando González
(para el blog Gaspar, El Lugareño)





In 1984, a prophetic novel about a dystopic future, George Orwell asserts: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Granted, all societies create their own myths. But totalitarian societies impose them through constant brainwashing and censorship. Court historians contribute to the creation and maintenance of the official myths through repetition instead of the analysis of the historical facts. In contrast, it is fiction writers who, perhaps unknowingly, play the role of clarifying history through the characters that inhabit their fictionalized stories. Teresa Dovalpage’s Habanera is one of these works.

Through the avid eyes of Longina, a girl with a keen intellect who is changing into a teenager, the reader experiences first hand a social phenomenon that has been taking place just ninety miles from America’s shores: the Castroist revolution.

Through Longina’s thoughts we live not only the normal problems of an average Cuban family, but also the social and economic problems the Cuban people face. What Dovalpage describes is the systematic destruction of Cuba’s middle class.

Before Castro took power in 1959, Cuba, like all countries in the world, had rich and poor people. But, in between, Cuba had the largest middle class in America outside the U.S. Now only two classes remain: the very poor, composed by 95 percent of the population, and the very rich, exclusively composed by Castro, his relatives and the nomenklatura.

Reading Habanera, one discovers that Castro’s Cuba is a society where people have become totally dependent on the government as the only source of acquiring the most elementary goods. To Cubans, food, clothes, and other material things are not bought; they “come” from an abstract place nobody knows. But we also learn how buying some pork, rice and beans in the black market —the only source of quality food after the Comandante arbitrarily ordered the closing of the popular farmers’ markets— turns into an odyssey which most of the time ends in failure.

Longina’s description of the Ho Chi Minh Elementary School she attended, with its building in disrepair, lack of textbooks, and teachers physically punishing students seems a far cry from the marvels of the Castroist education system American “progressives” love so much.

But some people do not agree with Longina’s first hand vision. In February 2001, a high-level delegation of the Council on Foreign Relations led by David Rockefeller visited Cuba and held a long meeting with Castro. After the meeting, CFR chairman Peter Peterson praised the Cuban leadership’s passionate commitment to providing high education and health standards for its people. “I suspect that Cuba is among the best educated countries in the entire hemisphere,” he added.

Some globalists see workforce training (school-to-work), similar to the one Castro implemented in Cuba, as an essential part of their plan for a global economy. This plan not only puts a wedge between the children and their families, but also short-circuits the children’s future career plans and opportunities and provides a slave-like workforce. It also guarantees dumbed down citizens incapable of fighting for their rights. The plan, under the name “la escuela al campo,” (school-to-work in the countryside) has been successfully tested in Cuba.

As soon as they reach the middle-school level, Cuban children are sent to schools in the countryside where, totally separated from parental supervision and guidance, not only work from morning to evening cultivating products for export, but are also exposed to all types of bad influences. Venereal diseases are rampant among Cuban teenagers, and abortions are a common experience for Cuban girls attending the school-to-work mandatory programs. Most of the time in school is dedicated to political indoctrination and military instruction. Time devoted to true instruction is kept at a minimum.

One summer, while riding the dilapidated, smelly bus on their way to the Pioneer’s camp at Tarará beach, some of the students sing Carlos Puebla’s popular son: “Llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar. Se acabó la diversión.” (The Comandante came and ordered to stop. No more fun.) Listening to the song Longina asks herself: Why did el Comandante hate fun so much?

But Longina is not the first one to notice it. Writer Gabriel García Márquez commented that Castro “is one of the rare Cubans who neither sings nor dances,” adding that as soon as Fidel arrives to a party, “Inevitably the dancing is interrupted, the music stops, the dinner is put off.”

Cuban author Carlos Franqui seems to share García Márquez’ opinion. Franqui believes that,

What Fidel has done is to impose in Cuba all the punishments he suffered as a boy in his Jesuit school: censure, separation of the sexes, discipline, thought control, a Spartan mentality. He hates culture, liberty, and any kind of literary or scientific brilliance. All sensuality, of course, is anathema to him.

There are some indications that perhaps Franqui is not too off the mark. For example, in mid 1998, just a few years after Castro reluctantly gave orders again to loosen some economic controls to allow the people do limited business, he soon became envious of their economic success. In a long address to Cuba’s National Assembly, aired by state television, Castro criticized the appearance of local “millionaires” in Cuban society, accusing them of amassing private wealth while state teachers, doctors and police had to survive on low salaries. He made clear he deeply disliked the socially divisive effects of the cautious, market-leaning economic reforms introduced by his government since 1993.

In Habanera, we see how a great part of the people’s time is invested in standing long hours in line waiting for the meager rations obtainable through ration cards in government stores. But, while the Cuban people lack adequate food supplies, Castro has been exporting food to finance his military adventures and terrorism abroad. Just a few years after Castro took power in Cuba, a strict system of food rationing was imposed, and is still in effect. The daily diet to which most Cubans have been restricted for almost 45 years of rationing is not only inferior to the diet of the 1950s, but also to the nutritional ration normally allocated to slaves in the colonial Cuba of 1842.

Of course, pro-Castroites all around the world and Castro himself claim that the U.S. embargo is the reason for economic problems. But there are indications that the true reason for food scarcities in Cuba is not the American embargo.

For example, one can understand that, because of the U.S. embargo, Cubans cannot drink Coca-Cola or eat McDonalds’ hamburgers. But Cuba is a big Island with plenty of fertile soil, and a climate that supports four crops a year. Since the fifties, Cuba was self-sufficient in the production of basic foods for self-consumption, including beef, poultry, fish, vegetables, rice, beans, etc. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s accept that because of the embargo Cuban farmers lack the adequate machinery, fertilizers, and the like to produce enough food. But how about fish? Cuba is a long, narrow island with miles and miles of seacoast where fish and seafood are varied and plentiful. Why, one may ask, don’t Cubans fish to supplement their meager food rations? The answer is very simple. Because Fidel Castro strictly prohibits it, the same way he prohibits Cubans to engage in almost any productive activity.

Just casting a fish hook on a line over the Malecón, Havana’s promenade facing the sea, would allow a Cuban to bring home a red snapper or some other nutritious fish and have a wonderful dinner almost free. But, although that would make him and his family very happy, it would make Fidel Castro very angry, because other people’s happiness is the worst offense one can inflict on Cuba’s major misery specialist.

Through the pages of Habanera we also learn that, despite decades of official anti-American rhetoric, most people dream of leaving the Island for good and moving to La Yuma (the U.S.). But, despite the fact that the Castro government claims that Cubans can leave the Island legally, the ones who express their intention to do it are fired from their government jobs (in Cuba the government is the only employer). For that reason, Longina’s mother is fired from her job as a magazine editor and transferred to a clothing factory and her father is sent to built latrines at a labor camp. Moreover, to the government’s eyes they become gusanos (vermin), which in Cuba means third class citizens open to all types of discrimination and harassment.

In the novel we learn how in Castro’s Cuba, a country American gays love so much, Luisito, a young homosexual friend of Longina’s family, is constantly harassed and openly called maricón (fag). Finally he is expelled from the small ballet company he works for. So, he tries to become a teacher, but he can’t because of his homosexuality.

What is really troubling about Dovalpage’s Habanera is that, unless there is a dramatic change in this country’s direction, what she describes as Cuba’s recent history might soon become America’s future. After the fall of the Soviet Union Castro imposed on Cubans some measures of economic austerity he called “the special period.” The measures are eerily similar to the “shock treatment” imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on many countries.

Is that what Obama’s masters have in mind when their puppet talks about a coming period of “austerity” in America? Let’s hope it is not.

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Servando González is the author of The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol and La madre de todas las conspiraciones: Una novela de ideas subversivas. His new book, Psychological Warfare and the New World Order: The Secret War Against the American People will appear this fall.

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