|Havana waking up|
In 2009, however, when talking to these four or five young people, I realised that none of them saw the solution to their problems by relocating abroad. Whatever they were thinking of, leaving Cuba for good was not – at the moment – the immediate step for them. I remember them questioning me thoroughly on my job, what I earned (I didn’t disclose my salary, and told them that was private information), what my wife and I used our wages for and the cost of living in the UK. Each one of these late-teenagers of early-twenty-something gave me the same answer with variations: I want the same, mulato, and I want it now. I don’t want to have it when I’m sixty or seventy. I want to have the right to travel if I want to, to set up a business if I want to, and to send my child to school if I want to. The determination in their eyes (I spoke to each youngster separately) made me shudder a bit. What if they couldn’t have what they wanted? Would they rebel?
|Che for sale|
No. Four years down the line, one of those young people is in the States now. He didn’t want to wait, so he left for a country in which he won’t have free healthcare. But, I can hear him asking me, what’s the point of free healthcare when you don’t fall ill very often? What happens the rest of the time when you’re healthy?
This is the dilemma that the Cuban government hasn’t cracked for more than fifty years. It was OK when we had free subsidies from the former Soviet Union, but now that we are in a “normal period” (I’m fed up with the whole “special period” label. “Special” was when we had the full support of the old socialist bloc. This is what “normal” would have looked like since 1959) the state hasn’t got a clue as to what to do with the economy. In the meantime, though, it is haemorrhaging generations who are either leaving the country in droves or drinking themselves to an early death. Raúl and co. think that by conjuring the (very real) spectre of the US embargo, shout out a few revolutionary slogans and go on demonstrations people will be satisfied. That might have been the reality when I was a child, but it hasn’t been the reality for the last twenty-five years. That’s a quarter of a century, a generation lost to political incompetence and narrow-mindedness. The average salary of a Cuban nowadays doesn’t amount to more than ten pounds per month. Even those in higher wages, say, 800 pesos, struggle to make ends meet because erstwhile community spirit has given way to a dog-eat-dog type of society. It’s hard for a foreigner, regardless of where s/he sits on the political spectrum, to understand Cuba without living the life of a Cuban. It’s not a black-and-white issue like that affecting someone else in another developing country. Nevertheless, it’s a life whose complexity ought to be accepted and not condemned or patronised. Sadly, these are the default positions of those who opine on my country. And they won’t, unfortunately, contribute anything towards the elimination of that feeling of shame my interlocutor mentioned at the beginning.
Photos by the blog author
Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 8th May at 11:59pm (GMT)