February 12, 2015

Cuban society is full of contradiction, now the people must pick their path of change

Posted in Irish Independent · 44 comments ·

One of the strangest sights on arrival at Jose Marti airport in Havana is a large American Airlines 737 on the tarmac. There it is – stars and stripes on the tail – just beside the huge mural of an impossibly handsome Che Guevara.

Isn’t this supposed to be a country under US sanctions? Aren’t these the citizens who couldn’t leave their country? Cubans once risked their lives in tiny rafts just to get to American land where they were awarded automatic citizenship! Things are changing in Cuba extremely quickly. I last visited this country in 1997. It is still exotic, seductive, fun and relentlessly vibrant, but the thawing of relations with the US is a game changer; not just for Cuba but for the Caribbean in general.

Havana may be falling down but the decrepit architecture is mind blowing, not just the colonial splendour of Old Havana, but the extraordinary range of modernist buildings, surrounded by vast swathes of Art Deco, built in the go-go years before Fidel, Raul and Che fought their way through this amazing country, toppling a powerful dictator with a revolutionary army that began as an original band of only 80 committed fighters.

It is a country with almost no internet access. Indeed, the experience of being in a society that is “off-line” is, initially at least, most disconcerting, underscoring just how much our own lives have changed, as much as how theirs are about to.

As it has been throughout the centuries, whether it was poor Irish women on the streets of New York in the 1840s or Russian girls in Moscow in the 1990s, prostitution is a leading social indicator of an economy in deep, crisis. Prostitution is everywhere and this fact, taken together with two currencies, one for the locals and one for the foreigners, evidences an economy that simply doesn’t deliver for the local people.

Unlike some other Latin American cities, Havana feels pretty safe after dark. In a dingy bar last night, I watched Cuba play Mexico in baseball. (Despite 60 years of US hostility, baseball remains the most loved sport in this sports-mad country, even trumping football.)

Cuba is a place of enormous, sometimes unfathomable, contrasts. The place is coming down with socialist propaganda pointing the finger at the decadence of the rich, yet it lives and breathes with the irreverent capitalism of the poor. Pictures of Fidel are everywhere exalting yet more sacrifices to preserve the revolution, but in truth Fidel’s system is constantly bolstered by modest commercial incentives – appealing less to communal sacrifice and more to individual self-interest.

Strangely, capitalism might actually save the revolution in the same way it is saving the one-party state in China.

Small-scale changes encouraging people to trade, to open up small cafés and bars, to try their hands at commerce, have altered the way this economy works.

In contrast to the insidious propaganda stemming from Cubans in Miami, the people here are extremely proud of what Cuba has achieved and want to preserve lots of it.

People will tell you they want to keep the health system, the education system, even the rickety transport system. They see what is happening in Mexico, where people are disappearing all the time. They value their personal safety and the fact that their kids are safe at night. These are aspects of life that few Latin Americans take for granted. Cubans do.

Political reform is questioned. One guy asked me rhetorically why any society would want a dozen different political parties representing tiny portions of the electorate, constantly bickering with each other?

But deep down the people know that the revolution is over. My friends here say that they can feel a massive change since Obama’s announcement on December 17 that America is changing course on Cuba. Cubans know this is the beginning of the end and all remark that the main impact on the streets is that people are less afraid of Big Brother. They still rarely refer to Fidel in conversation, preferring to make a facial signal of “the bearded one”. When people are afraid to even utter a name, you know unpleasant things have transpired. But then again, the constant harassing of this tiny country by the US has obviously given Fidel stature, almost mythical stature.

There is also a very clear generation gap between the young who want to leave and the older people who still feel a certain pride in having been the country that stood up to the Yanks.

It is a country full of potential. It is the giant of the region, dwarfing all the other islands. Tourism is growing rapidly. There were 3.4 million visitors last year and that is without any real traffic from the US. It only represents 10pc of the economy, so the potential for growth is huge.

Interesting research carried out by economist Marla Dukharan of the Royal Bank of Canada indicates that remittances of Cubans now allowed to travel and work more freely will double to over $3.5bn in the next two years.

Will Cuba after Fidel become an island version of China – a one-party state bolstered by hyper-capitalism; or a Caribbean Russia – a post-communist oligarchy dominated by a tiny elite? As the sun catches the refection of Che in the tail-fin of the American Airlines 737, the contrasts facing Cuba couldn’t be more stark.

  1. michaelcoughlan

    First in am I?

    • Hopefully Cuba will not degrade into another sick US Satelite with a US installed dictator. Hopefully the local Cubans will not end up in an austerity rape program to finance US arms dealers and end up paying for the weapons to be used to slaughter them. Hopefully the corporate poisoned food monoculture corporates will not enslave local Cuban farmers to debt and suicide as they done to farmers in India and many other countries. Hopefully the cola industries will not poison the school children with their poison muck to make way for the corporate drug companies selling their brands of diabetes drugs.
      Hopefully Cuba will not end up with a huge prison population like the US. Hopefully Cubans will not end up with a huge obese population of overweight sugar addicted waddlers deprived of vitamins and severely under nourished. Hope fully Cuba will not end up with a huge percentage of the population depressed and dependant on street drugs and proscribed drugs to cope with a sick American type culture. Hopefully Cuba will not end up with methadone clinics and drug addicts everywhere on their board walks. Hopefully Cuba will degrade to having an Irish or US type sick health service which drugs and patches over the problems caused by living in a sick society designed to serve the interest of 1% of the population by raping the other 99%.
      Hopefully Cuba will not end up with the high cancer rates of the western kleptocracies like Ireland, the US and many more countries who are slave to the US banker run dictatorships.

      • michaelcoughlan

        Hi Scania,

        I couldn’t agree with you more. The cubans have now a real opportunity to show the world there are alternatives to central planning and provide real leadership.

        Such alternatives include following the example of the mondragon corporation in Spain which blends the rights of workers, society, and capital in a much better relationship than the amoral Psychopaths in Charge in the US or Atheist central planning ideologues present else where.



      • mcsean2163

        Great comment, wish there was a thumbs up button!

        Also, hopefully young people will be better able to pursue their dreams, hospitals with have medicine as well as doctors and and there will be democratic elections.

      • ross81

        great comment Scania. Sadly it seems most (if not all) societies eventually succumb to those malevolent forces you listed above. Maybe the Cuban government can forge some sort of new path that brings in the good things about American capitalism whilst simultaneously rejecting the brutality and toxicity of its healthcare, arms and food industries. A naïve hope maybe, but a hope nonetheless.

    • Colin

      I notice you didn’t subscribe Michael.

  2. Praetorian

    A pity when Cuba is talked about (the poverty, the prostitution, the crumbling buildings in the Caribbean sun) the economic embargo of the island is either lightly touched on or not commented on at all.

    The 54 year economic blockade of Cuban, the only historic parallel possibly being the Roman onslaught of Carthage in its final years, it is estimated to have cost the Cuban economy enormous sums ($1.1 trillion a recently quoted figure). Also lack of access to critical medical supplies/knowledge has cost the lives of innumerable Cubans – and yes, the Cuban people have been caught in the midst of an epic political and socioeconomic struggle, as the old adage goes “when elephants fight the grass gets trampled”.

    The embargo has been consistently voted down in the 193 country UN General Assembly, in 2014 188 countries voted in support of the nonbinding resolution, titled “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

    It is good to finally see progress being made on both sides and yes, there are challenges in Cuba which have to be addressed, given the country was largely on a war footing with the most powerful country in the world, it is all the more astonishing that they have been able to pursue their goals in education and health care:

    1 – lowest Aids rate in the Americas
    2 – 36,700 family doctors located throughout the island – including in the most remote and rural areas (source Irish times, 2012)
    3 – free medical education for students from Africa, Latin America and the US
    4 – support of 34,000 health professionals in 52 poor countries
    5 – very low crime rates especially when compared to similar countries in Latin America.

    According to Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organisation: “Cuba’s approach gives the world a model for transforming health systems towards the noble ideals of equity and social justice . . . illustrating well that societies that have the least inequality have the best health outcomes, regardless of the levels of spending on health” (2012).

    Not bad for a country with an apparent soap and toothpaste shortage.

    • michaelcoughlan

      “Not bad for a country with an apparent soap and toothpaste shortage”

      No shortage of hookers desperate to feed their kids.

      “free medical education”. There is no such thing as free. It’s obviously paid for by the state so some one some where is getting the short end of the stick.

      Regarding the embargo; The whole world is full of countries the Cuban’s could trade with. From wikipedia;

      “Despite the Spanish term bloqueo (blockade), there has been no physical, naval blockade of the country by the United States after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.[4] The United States does not block Cuba’s trade with third parties: other countries are not under the jurisdiction of U.S. domestic laws”

      So the Yanks alone are responsible for 1.1trn worth of arrested development of the Cuban economy are they?

      Regarding the blockade and David’s article it seems there was also a blockade imposed by the Cuban Government on Cubans leaving the island like there was in east berlin by the government there but NO blockaded stopping Cubans entering the US if they survived the sharks and the straffing.

      I hope david that the Cuban’s go down the Chinese route if that is their prefference.



      • Praetorian

        Wikipedia reference is laughable. No blockade/embargo, so why the annual vote in the UN General Assembly?

        There have been small deals done over the years, with the Canadians and Chinese for example but the country is subject to an embargo (Obama announced that this is to change, time will tell).

        I was touched by one Irishman’s efforts – 88 Keys for Cuba (took Al Jazeera to cover it)

        • michaelcoughlan

          If only the Cuban’s could eat their pianos.

          “Wikipedia reference is laughable”.

          Instead of throwing a ball of shit explain why.

          “so why the annual vote in the UN General Assembly?”

          America has many enemies so a plausible alternative explanation would be that other countries were trying to gain a leverage over the US by engaging in such tactics.


          • Praetorian

            Michael, 188 out of 193 countries including Ireland seeking leverage over the US?

            LOL, so by your logic virtually the entire world outside of Israel and a few islands in the Pacific are ‘enemies of the US’, with US military expenditure dwarfing so many competitors/enemies, and pushing up to 55% of the total US annual spend on budget items, I suspect there may be something else going on like a possible injustice?

          • michaelcoughlan

            Hello Praetorian.

            Like Oscar and the bonbon’s your responses are always full of nonsensical gibberish. I didn’t say “the entire world outside of Israel and a few islands in the Pacific are ‘enemies of the US” YOU DID.

            You talk about injustice and no mention of the injustice of a regime forcing so unworkable a policy on the Cubans the women in that country have to fuck their way out of their problems?

            Your Hypocrisy is nauseating and damages no one but your self. like Oscar and Bonbon et al the more often you post the more you demonstrate that very hypocrisy.

            Most importantly however and once again, you engage in the standard trite response of someone so nonsensical; You focus on a single issue and quote it out of context in an idiotic attempt to divert peoples attention from the fact that your own dialogue is so idiotic in the first instance. In so doing you draw peoples attention to that very fact and you are too blind ignorant to see it.

            Therefore I am going to suggest the same thing to you as Oscar and Bonbon.

            Keep responding Praetorian;

            The more you do the more you damage yourself.

          • mcsean2163

            Hi Praetorian,

            Michael seems to be having a tantrum , fair play for bowing out.

            It think any sane reader would deduce as you deduced, that Michael was implying that a high proportion of the votes were due to countries seeking leverage over the US. In fact, one can see that even the allies of the US were voting against it.

            How would Ireland fare if the UK had a similar historical embargo?

            There is a lot wrong with Cuba, certainly the prostitution seems shocking. I suppose one thing worthy of mention is that it is blatant in Cuba, e.g. old tourist with young Cuban in a restaurant.

            But there is a considerable level of prostitution in the US too and it is the home of the pornographic industry where people are paid to copulate. So the US with no free education has it’s problems too.

      • Irish PI

        Well said.If the Cubans wanted anything American they could just as easily trade with Mexico or Canada,but it suited the bearded butcher of Havana to keep up this pretence to keep the people dumb and el revloucion alive and well.Not to mind there has been US Cuban trade for over the last decade,but it is never mentioned as it wouldnt suit either govts agenda.Next time you hear of a war in Mozambique or Angola thank Fidel for expoerting Cuban mercenaries ,and landmines and war material to these countries to forward the glorious revoloution in Africa under the hammer and sickle from the 1960s to 90s.

    • @Praetorian, ask him how the Titanic sank. That story is priceless. Here’s a hint: it wasn’t an iceberg.

      You’re doing great there Micheal! Exactly like we discussed. Now just keep going and Eyes on the Prize. You probably don’t realise it yet but you’re blowing the field apart. You’re on course for almost certain victory. My money is on you.

      • michaelcoughlan

        Thanks for posting again Oscar.

        If a drunk driver crashes his car into an oncoming freezer truck full of ice etc was it his own arrogance to drive while drunk or was the truck in the wrong place at the wrong time?

        Please Please keep posting Oscar.


        • Gee Michael, that’s so profound. I never thought of it that way.

          Say, I was listening to Eamon Dunphy giving his opinion the other day and he was saying that Fidel Castro is a GOOD communist dictator but not a GREAT communist dictator. What’s your view?

          • michaelcoughlan

            Post a link to the interview if you can.

            Dunphy is appalling in my view. Just another ape employed in RTE Pravda. There is no such thing as a good or great dictatorship of any kind in my view. The Cubans have an enormous part to play if they play their cards right in offering a real alternative to the type of society now so prevalent in so much of the US as outlined by Scania above.


          • Yeah Michael, I’ll do just that, if I can remember where I heard it. It was a Russian station if I recall. A website was mentioned. Was it urnotverybrite.ru ?!

          • michaelcoughlan

            Hi Oscar,


            Maybe I am or maybe I am not. However Oscar anyone who has been reading my posts will know that I don’t attempt to undermine other peoples discourse by throwing balls of shit at them unlike you.

            I keep telling you Oscar the more you try to disparage me the more you damage yourself by drawing attention to the fact that you are so brainwashed so;

            Please Please keep posting and PLease Please keep trying to disparage me and insult me because;

            You got it Oscar;

            The more you do the more you damage yourself.



          • Wesley McEvoy


            The fat sheriff is simply clueless


          • Yeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haw to that Wesley. And Micheal, keep on rockin’ in the free world.

    • jaysus

      David, any chance you could block that bore Michael Coughlan from posting comments here? What with his “balls of shite” and his lack of debating ability you would be doing a lot of your readers a BIG favour….

      • michaelcoughlan

        Hi Jasus.

        If David did that he would be using the same tactic as the Cuban Government basically preventing people from speaking their minds. He may well agree with you that I might be boring, lack ability in debate, be ignorant or foul mouthed etc but because he has a very important attribute called tolerance (another attribute absent in the Cuban government) he can choose to ignore me. So can you.

        Even though you have posted An insult about me unlike the Cuban Government I am very happy to support your right to do so and wouldn’t dream of lobbying David to block you in any shape or form.

        Best regards,


  3. I was expecting more . Did David not find the Big Fellas relatives ? I would love to have seen a cartoon with long legged DeValera smoking Cuban Cigars on the side walks .

    What a missed opportunity .

  4. Assuming I can squeeze in here, between the juvenile bickering, I’d like to post this:

    “Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I weren’t scared, I’d be awfully dangerous’”


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