Sunday, 25 October 2009

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." G. K. Chesterton

One of the many misconceptions people have about Cubans living abroad is the political views we hold once we settle in a foreign land. After all, having been born and raised – as in my case – under a totalitarian regime, our default position should be ideally in favour of small government, individuality over collectiveness and little financial regulation. In short, laissez-faire, Latin-style.

What a surprise it is then for some of my British and non-British acquaintances when they find out that there are many Cubans currently living in the UK who could be considered to be moderately centre-of-left, or even leftwing (I know a couple of them) and the way they have come to adopting these positions is not through imposition but through choice. What is also less known is that once this political cat’s out of the bag, the consequences are somewhat dangerous.

The main hazard is that the only reference most westerners have of Cubans abroad is that of the exiles in Miami. This is the blueprint that has been passed down for decades. However, generational confrontations in recent years have shown that even this species is facing extinction, as we know it. Right now there’s a large group of younger Cubans, born and bred in Florida and other cities and states of the US who want an immediate stop to the embargo imposed on the Caribbean nation almost four decades ago. This third generation of Cubans (or Cuban-Americans as they style themselves sometimes) want to have the opportunity to walk the streets and sit in the parks their grandparents and parents walked and sat in decades before. And they are doing their utmost to urge the Obama administration to open up the gates, whilst at the same time attempting to talk their own folks and grandparents into changing their mindset in relation to the Cuban government.

So, it should not be surprising that some of us choose to move away from this mêlée taking place in the Sunshine State and opt for more viable, democratic and less partisan positions abroad, as it happened to me, once I got over the shock that beans on toast was the staple of the British diet. Besides, with so many political parties, an august – albeit deeply flawed if the current situation is anything to go by – parliament and a judiciary that still applies the law effectively, I personally felt that involvement in politics was less daunting over here than in my country of origin.

And yet a brief look at the political spectrum in the UK nowadays would put that view to shame. Whereas the roles of the three main political parties were better defined, or at least better shaped, when I arrived in London in 1997, it is harder now to tell them apart. And this puts a voter like me, interested in social issues, in limbo. Policies on matters such as: the minimum wage, small/medium enterprises and their role in the economy, minorities’ rights and the rich/poor divide have been part of my everyday work for the last six years and my approach to them has usually been from a liberal point of view. I would like to keep – and increase eventually - the minimum wage that the Labour government brought in straight after they came to power, I favour low taxation on small and medium businesses (and the incentive to create more social enterprises), I lean towards granting more rights to minority group such as: women, gays, blacks, disabled, amongst others - although the fact that women make up roughly half the labour force in Britain contradicts that 'minority' role. And I would like higher taxes to be levied on the rich and using that surplus to level the playing field in employability and job creation for those in pecuniary difficulties. But you would be hard pressed to find a political party whose policies address these issues in a cogent and coherent manner. Labour’s recent conference was all about damage limitation. And their proposed centralisation won’t do. Not whilst the Iraq issue still hangs over the party’s head like the famous sword of Damocles. Not, whilst MPs continue to moan about the money they are being asked to give back. And above all, not, now that the Prince of Darkness, Peter Mandelson, has been allowed back into government: thrown out of parliament twice, bounced back the same number of times.

The Tories, on the other hand, are the party-elect. Theirs is the next general election to lose. Cameron’s suave character has won him many new advocates. But when it comes to walking the talk, his box of magic tricks is empty. His plans to cut spending are too simplistic, to put it mildly, and they risk alienating the same voters who will be rooting for him come May or June 2010. Plus, last time I checked, Cameron was trying to market his party as the ‘compassionate’ option. Fat chance if the likes of Michael Gove have their way once they are in power. Gove recently outraged the dance world when he said that by encouraging young people to take ‘soft subjects, such as A Level Dance, we are damaging their future chances of being accepted at university (Dance UK News, Issue 74, Winter 2009). And did I mention his proposal to recruit ex-army personnel and involve them in the running of schools? Will they distribute berets to students, too, I wonder?

So, Labour on one hand is target-obsessed whilst the Tories on the other hand are happy to let the economy set sail onto unknown waters. What’s a person, who insists on exercising his democratic right to vote, to do? You’ve probably noticed that I did not include the Liberal Democrats. Well, parliamentary fence-sitters have never struck a strong chord with me. And the Greens are a single-issue party.

That's why I have slowly been changing my mind over the last few years and begun to think that maybe, just maybe, this is a sign of our modern political times. Form over content, presentation over substance. Focus groups and marketing strategies in lieu de the great idea. Gone are the days when the combined efforts of Attlee and Bevan gave the UK its rightly cherished NHS. And love it or loathe it, Thatcher's free market approach was fresh at a time when the Keynesian method of the Callaghan government had apparently failed. This blurring of political lines nowadays and the absence of 'The Bold Concept' has turned Westminster into a place for thinktanks to get together as opposed to being the seat of the British government. Suddenly there's no red (Labour) or blue (Tories) anymore. We're all magenta now.

And it is a similar fate that has befallen the Cuban community abroad. No longer are the lines divided between those who hate Castro and those who feel sympathetic to his regime. In Miami, a city I have never visited but where I have a few acquaintances, the climate has been transformed drastically. This third generation of Cubans who are now in their early-to-mid twenties want less of the confrontational language that permeated earlier Cuban immigrants' mindset and a healthier approach to the island. All of a sudden it's OK to say that one is liberal, centre-of-left, or even leftwing, without being called a Chavez stooge of an apologist for Evo Morales's government.

But whereas the Cuban diaspora has benefited greatly from this panoply of political attitudes, the upshot of the absence of clear, audacious and defined social and economic policies in the British parliament is to risk losing voters. And we all know what happens when you lose voters, don't we? C'mon, guys, be brave, give us that Big Idea, we know you have it.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'What Makes a Good Writer?' to be published on Tuesday 27th October at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Mitico gruppo i Beatles!!

    Buon song per una domenica mattina :)

    Saluti da Colonia,


  2. Fantastic article on the political scene in the UK, Cubano. My husband (who as you know is British), is as puzzled as you are. Nobody seems to have a clear "political manifesto", like political parties used to have in the past, living voters, like you say, in a complete ideological limbo. The UK is going through an interesting and critical phase, politically and economically. It will be interesting to see what directions things will take in the next few years.

    I have a good friend who is an MP for the Conservatives, but personally, I have never quite understood or subscribed to the Conservatives, and I am not a big fan of Cameron myself.

  3. An interesting piece about Cubans in the U.K. and America, and about the U.K. political scene. While you feel that you are becoming more "magenta" in the U.K., sometimes I feel like in America we're becoming so red or so blue the nation is divided (figuratively, of course) amidst almost nationalistic frenzies over which party is "correct". I don't know which is better and which is worse? To be so in the middle there's no definition of separateness, or to be so far left or so far right as to not be able to see any middle ground. Cuban, you've got me thinking heavy issues on Sunday morning. I think I'll go make me some tea, now (I'm not a coffee person.) But really, thanks for sharing that. It's a great way for us to make our world smaller, or to use the current jargon, more "flat".


  4. Excellent, insightful post, Mr. Cuban.

    Love-love-love The Beatles.

    Hope you and yours are enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon.

  5. Interesting combination – the Beatles and a discussion of those caught between political extremes. Would those middle dwellers be called the politically frayed? Are the political extremes in danger of “losing that girl?”

    Love those Beatles. What a joy to see and hear them so purely at an early stage.

  6. I totally agree with you.. I was living in Australia in 1997 and threw a huge party to welcome Labour and Blair back...things have got very murky since that clear cut day... and what a sad image to think of you eating beans on toast (something I loathe incidentally) trying to chart the murky waters of British politics... I couldn't bear to return to a Cameron govt - far too smarmy for me... and the Army running schools??? smacks of bring back National Service for descipline. However I also agree that things may be more optimistic for Cuba - interesting to read about the changes in the younger generation.. and let's hope Obama handles it all effectively...incidentally what is your opinion on the recent Nick Griffin debacle - free speech for all/??? Greetings from Mexico where the politics are even murkier!!

  7. insightful post...i've always been a bit of an anglophile. I wold love Cuba to be open to Americans but I also fear it...we always seem to ruin EVERYTHING...thinking "our" way (whatever that is) is the only way. It is exhausting.

    much love

  8. Hello London,

    The blurring of the political lines is also the case in France and Canada (I can't speak with any knowledge about anywhere else) although in the case of Nicolas Sarkozy, his policy of inclusion has meant a less combative political scene, although it has also had the effect of leaving the opposition in disarray. In Canada, we have long been accustomed to a sameness in our two-party politics - one ever so slightly left of centre, and the other ever so slightly right, although of late, the right is moving further along.

    I'm a bit of a political naif, but it seems to me that the notion of a clearly defined left and right, with its roots in opposition and confrontation, is running out of steam. And I think that's a good thing. Not to say that there should not be dynamic discussion and a wide spectrum of views.

    I'll be watching the British scene with more interest thanks to this post.

  9. Muy bueno, compadre.
    El reto está en concentrase en el tema y dejar a un lado el sistema de valores de cada cual, para transgredir las agendas ideológicas y llegar a consensos.
    Abrazon, tony

  10. I agree that the younger Cuban-Americans (that's the way it is here) population, in Miami, and elsewhere, are loosening the ties to the mindset of those who originally fled Cuba. My ex son-in-law, one of the younger New Jersey born Cubanos, definitely would love to seek the opportunity to visit his parent's homeland. Politically, no matter what has been hoped for, I doubt if even the Obama administration will make a change for this to happen. Thank you for this post.

  11. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Yes, Catheirne, free speech for all. Nick Griffin came across as the idiot he is. What do we have to fear? Most newspapers reported yesterday that the BNP had said that as a consequence of Question Time their popularity had risen. B******s! The BNP would say, wouldn't they? But why do you have to report it? That would be my question to the editors. As for Griffin, he was the straw man. Because really, what he is doing is just amplifying the message that the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Express and all the other rabid tabloids spread so efficiently. And does anyone take Murdoch or Dacre to task? No. So, it's a bit hypocritical.

    Thank you very much for your kind feedback. Much appreciated.

    Greetings from London.

  12. true what you say abotu westerners mostly only referencing cubans in miami. at least among many people i know. i do what i can to enlighten them on the matter whenever i'm able.

    thanks for sharing your reflections.

  13. There's so much to think about in this post -- and not just about the UK, but about the US as well. When I begin to get a little crazy about government and business and corporate shit, I go back to Voltaire's Candide and set my mind to tending my garden. Or maybe just listening to the Beatles.

  14. I wish that I could remember where I heard it -- somewhere on the radio, I think -- but some pundit was saying that the Labour party are so busy worrying about how they are coming across that THAT is all that counts. The impression; the perception.

    I know a lot of people who are with you, Cuban friend. On the fence. Not much to choose from is there? I would say, "better the devil you know," but the devil DOES keep letting us down.

  15. Hi CIL, thank you for writing this post.
    I've learn so much I would not have learned

  16. Qué tal, Cuban! Rato que no pasaba a escribir... :-( pero ab und zu a leer y a oir buena música, sí.
    Liebe Grüße aus Berlin!!

  17. (stopping by to say I smiled at your comment on the "when did food become ...enemy.." post --*smiling*)

  18. Magenta is a hard color to wear. ;-) The hyphen joining/separating Cuban and American can be a very perilous place to hang. Me personally, I've often found life on the hyphen a bit suffocating--can't get much further away from the sunshine state than the evergreen state. But I do think that things have changed in the last decade or so in Miami--death of Mas Canosa in '97, Posada Carriles and Bosch Avila are in their 80's. As the extremists fade, the wider spectrum of voices can more easily be heard. As for el bloqueo, it's the longest standing embargo in modern history, and yet, the US is currently the 5th largest exporter to Cuba. What color is that? Some shade of green, would be my guess.

  19. Well put Cuban.

    The middle ground/balance, if only that were even possible.

    Love Renee xoxo

  20. Very interesting the views of Cubans and in fact all immigrants on the political situation in their new countries. I couldn't even imagine it all even though I've lived in foreign countries it is not the same. P.S. I have not been on the computer so much lately so I forgot to get my Sunday music. I very much enjoyed the Beatles today.

  21. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  22. Very insightful post. It is indeed a difficult situation for immigrants in a new country. My Cuban firends range in all directions in regards to politics, depending on the generation and education. I have a journalist friend just returning from living in Cuba for 2 years and I'm eager to hear her newly developed political viewpoint. I'll let you know what it is.

  23. I think you would love living near Washington D.C., where we do. The politics here are every bit as confusing!

  24. Fantastic post! Thank you so much. I now suddenly feel like I have a sense of UK politics. You are so articulate, outlining the situation in a way that both insiders and outsiders can understand. Wow!

  25. This is an excellent article, Cuban. From my personal experiences on this side of the big fishpond, I have found that we Cubans cover the whole spectrum in our political views. Most folks, of course, just worry about putting bread on their tables, and buying whatever toys they want in the new found capitalism. I personally try to keep myself objective, since the right wing does not want any changes whatsoever, and the left sometimes looses perspective on the realities of totalitarian countries like Cuba. Social Health Care is one of the things I like to see happening in the US. The defense against it looks very lame to me. Does that make me a liberal? The welfare system on the other hand needs to change. Too many people are abusing it, and others that really need it cannot get it.

    Un abrazon. Albert

  26. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  27. London, te habia puesto hace unos dias un comentario, y resulta que no salio, no se por que. no recuerdo ya, pero este post esta buenisimo. a mi me pasa mas o menos como a Albert, ni de un lado ni de otro, y tambien me gustaria ver cambios grandes en la salud aqui. siempre tiendo un poco mas a lo liberal, realmente, no me gustan la gente conservadora, ni de un lado ni de otro. Los extremos me repelen.



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