martes, 3 de octubre de 2017

Cuba, the land of happy children

In light of the apprehensive reform efforts by the Castro government after the last plenary meeting of the Communist Party in 2011, major discrepancy is seen between these policies which determine the nation’s economic course and the people’s needs and interests. Among other problems, we find ourselves before the irrefutable reality that for many these policies are at least insufficient to create an appropriate environment for the true and tangible development of a human being as an individual, beyond the mass and the control mechanisms, the new man and the worn out leftist speeches, a social being that manages enough economic solvency to allow him to fulfill a life project, create a family, properly enjoying each stage.

Summer is practically over, or at least the vacation stage, when many of us have our little ones for almost two months. As usual, recreational options are increasingly difficult to find each season. Emblematic places such as the Acuario Nacional (National Aquarium), the Parque Zoológico (Zoological Park), el Rodeo de Rancho Boyeros (Boyeros Ranch Rodeo) or popular camoping sites are in outright decadence. The same happens with other municipal sports areas, let alone the practically-disappeared neighborhood movie theaters, which were our parents’ and grandparents’ Sunday afternoon delight.

An interesting issue is the hazardous trip to beaches east of Havana, such as El Mégano, Mar Azul, Santa María or Guanabo, which requires admirable character, because boarding a 400 route (the A40, as Transporte Habana –Havana Transport- now calls it) in the afternoon or in the morning could turn out dangerous in the midst of major crowds and the swimmers’ many excess drinks, while other, those who can, pay the 30 or 50 pesos national currency per passenger charged by an almendrón (1950’s US made car) taxi on the Havana-Guanabo route, and the most privileged take rented cars which for 25 or 30 CUC leave at the door of your house almost as soon as you come out of the water.

For a Cuban family today, at the bottom and on foot, vacation time is particularly difficult. As parents, we want the best for our children. But we deal with that feeling of frustration, of impotence, when we cannot give our children the due amusement time they need, as we also do, because those are the memories we will treasure forever, the ones they will keep when they are older and we are not anymore, they ones that will be inspirational when they hold their future children’s or grandchildren’s little hands, and as we did with them, go on a walk and teach them, among smiles, that daily wisdom, those values we need so much as individuals and as a society.

So, how do explain an 8 or 11 year-old child that, although you spend weeks and months working, to the extent that sometimes we do not have time to play a while with them or check their school homework, during a stroll there are so many things they will have no access to, so many candies or toys you will not be able to buy them, clothes or shoes they will not even think of wearing, technologies they will only be able to dream of, how to take them on a walk without later putting at risk the purchase of weekly goods. How can you manage to avoid the embarrassment a child puts you in when, in front of everyone and in the middle of a store, he asks you to buy some candy when in your wallet you barely carry enough for a liter of oil or a bag of detergent. Without mention of how complicated the situation becomes when the children grow up, reach adolescence and, with it, being in fashion, group acceptance and paying private teachers to reduce the education system’s deficiencies, and the youngster managing to somehow reach the university.

Nowadays, the prices of clothing and toys children buy are constantly higher. That although, to make this assertion, we use official prices, those that you find on products in any state installation, usually in currency.

Thus, for example, a pair of shoes for a 2 or 3 year-old could cost you from 15 to even 30 CUC (same in dollars), for children who are 8 and 12 always more than 25 CUC, a short and t-shirt set some 12 to 15 CUC, a shirt 12 CUC, and a pair of jeans 18 CUC, a baby carriage between 45b and 120 CUC, a crib more than 150 CUC (at TRD stores I have not seen them, but if they sell them it is above 200 CUC. Disposable diapers range between 6 and 15 CUC, depending on size and brand. Some products are assigned through canastillas (baby stores) or national currency stores with subsidized prices, but where quality and variety are lacking and where you have to stand in long lines to buy them.

The high price the government puts on toys is an insult, a joke to the average citizen, the proletariat which supposedly is the reason for the Revolution’s existence.

We are talking about, first, the shortage in the vast majority of currency stores themselves, but if you lead your steps toward select stores at hotels such as Havana Libre, Tritón or Comodoro you will find toy shelves overflowing with products, but you will also need pockets overflowing with money, because prices are, in many cases, exceed 40 and 60 CUC, which is more than 1500 national currency –some three monthly salaries, approximately, to buy your son or daughter a fire engine or a kitchen set or a doll.

Are these phenomena perhaps the cause, since the en on the 1990’s, of the ongoing, fast decline in fertility levels, thus negatively affecting population growth? An unfavorable situation leading the nation to population aging which, together with the complex phenomenon of the youth exodus ton other countries, poses a serious problem which threatens the generational and productive succession, thus irreversibly jeopardizing the nation’s economic and social future.

As part of the initial dilemma, we primarily find the absence of one’s own space to develop the necessary space to create a new family. In Cuban homes we find, in a single house, a certain generational mix which even counters couples’ essential privacy. Convivencia becomes then irresistible when economic limitations come together with something as daily as television and kitchen tastes, different habits and even time for personal hygiene (imagine the routine of any dawn in an apartment originally meant for persons and usually with a single bathroom, occupied by a family made up of three, different-generation couples including three school-age children, and the inconveniences implied merely in getting ready to leave each morning). Such stories repeat themselves behind the doors of thousands of Cuban homes.

Let us not fool ourselves with the statement that “four fit where to fit.” It may perhaps sound well to the ear, but not to the stomach, neither does it respond to the most elementary notion of comfort. Apparently, the government prefers to ignore this situation, one of the many afflict the Cuban population, which apparently will be solved by the work and grace of the revolutionary process’s mythical saints.

Allowing or justifying positions seeking to ignore or to distract us from the issue will never bring a solution that will revert this complex and serious process. Differing are the phenomenon’s causes, most of the related to the incompetence and apathy of a government unable to implement a program to promote and turn into a real and feasible solution something as natural and inherent to humanity itself as maternity, and above all to help normal psychological, spiritual and material development.

How to face these daily challenges with a poor salary, being honest, and without our legs shaking by only imagining it?

It could seem just banal, things that happen, but when you have to choose between buying your child a pair of shoes to go as decently as possible to school and avoid scorn, buying a toy or buying the monthly milk for breakfast, you see these small states from a different angle. And then, on official news casts or a prime time program they tell you about altruism, austerity and solidarity, more they try to convince you that all is well in Cuba and that problems only happen beyond our borders, that the country’s economy is growing and that the embargo is to blame for whatever is missing –as cynical as that.

So, how do explain to a child who is 8 or 11 years old that all the education he will receive is based on lies, on fear, distortion of history and repression, that Cuban society has degenerated into a servile mass at the mercy of the whims of a mediocre and incompetent bureaucrats mob that kidnapped the nation to simply turn it into an extension of their paddock?

That the image of the enemy is a key actor for totalitarian dictatorships’’ stage presentation, that the new man is a major scam, that populism “loves” the poor so much that it multiplies them and that we still live in a bubble that has a lot of Macondo and of Orwell’s 1984, that it is not possible to treacherously watch The Life of Others and that if someday he manages to leave Cuba he will have to face the lack of efficiency we were educated with, but that even so, he will discover that beyond the steel curtain there is a real world, rich in shades, which with its lights and darknesses is not perfect, true, but where at least he will find the possibility to choose for himself and to know the real meaning of the words liberty and democracy.

If the government leadership were really conscious of all this and implemented measures to promote and benefit the flourishing of the individual over the mass, of the private sector without seeing it as a threat to its ideology but as useful tool to facilitate a solution to the compelling need to create a growth and change process  so the Cuban population may improve their life quality, it would show that way, in a clear and simple manner, without so many slogans and words, that it really respects the people it is duty-bound to.

Winston Churchill said it, and history has proved its validity: “socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the preaching of envy, its inherent virtue being the fair distribution of destitution.”

By Steve Maikel Pardo Valdés, Defensor del Pueblo (People’s Defender) and CID activist in the 10 de Octubre municipality.

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