(Deze post is Engelstalig, omdat ik hem in Cuba Engelstalig heb geschreven. Het is meteen ook het begin van tweetaligheid op dit blog. Als ik van mening ben dat een artikel beter in het Engels gesteld kan worden, doe ik dat.)
Two weeks ago, we (my girlfriend and I) travelled through Cuba, for the period of three weeks. We just booked a ticket and arranged everything else over there. Travelling that way is our preferred method and this way you leave all the options open. During that three week visit, I started to create a view on communism, Fidel Castro and freedom. This of course also made me re-think everything I though to know about my own country, my own continent. In the diary we kept, I wrote my “notes on Cuban society”, which I will give here.
Notes on Cuban society
Are they lazy? Are they stupid? Or are all the hot countries just not able to “fix” it? Let’s face it, Cuban communism on the whole sucks ass. People are locked up physically and mentally. They may only swallow what dr. Castro1 prescribes. And cursed is the one who says it has a bitter taste. There are some good sides, but even a turd can have a nice colour.
The so-hailed education system and healthcare are supposed to be the revolution’s gains and pride, but hearing how English classes are taught2 and how the pharmacies are stocked3, makes your heart cry.
Yes, the healthcare is free, but so is the sunshine and the beach. Yes, everybody can read and write, but only to read Fidel’s scriptures and write positive theses about them. Yes, they live to live until 76, but only to stay in a small room with five other family members, with your mouth shut.
As they say, every people gets the government they deserve. In Cuba this seems to be right. They may have a history of oppression and exploitation and every 100 years or so somebody (Hatuey, Martí, Castro) steps up and screams. However, it is not in the hearts of the people. It is not the people that step up, it’s the next demagogue, the next self-proclaimed “leader of the masses”. Not one of them, however, has stood up against fair democratic elections and survived. That’s one thing they all have in common.
Perhaps Cubans are lazy or stupid. I don’t think I can agree with the latter; saying that a people “is” anything, is usually nonsense. That being said, the laziness strikes me as all-around, as people just sit on their porches and on the streets. Probably this has to do with the fact that Cubans have zero-to-none opportunities to start a business or even to earn an extra peso legally. Whether you work hard or not, you are a doctor or a bar keeper, everybody earns the same. That’s not motivating.
Still, there are all kinds of entrepreneurs and hustlers and they will be on the front row when the free market (experiment) opens. It will probably open China-styled. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba started looking for a new comrade and now pragmatist Raúl is president, those things might accelerate. First slowly, and after Fidel’s death, with more power and vigour. Fidel might not be the president any more but I think Raúl will consult him still.
My ‘notes’ were written after two weeks travelling in Cuba, waiting for a plane from Santiago to Habana that was four hours late. They are not intended to be an accurate analysis of Cuban society, merely a braindump of my thoughts at the time. History has passed a little already and the first news of the ‘new Cuba’ are already emerging. Looks like Raúl is already changing things. What will happen in the future, nobody can say. We just have to keep an eye on the news and hope better times will arrive for the Cuban people.
Travelling through Cuba and seeing how people live a strict communist country, made me realise that freedom is important. It is important to be able to travel around; not just in your own country, but also through the world. It is important to be free to read anything you can find4 and create your own opinion on things. The current discussion is mostly about freedom of speech (the Wilders movie5, the Danish cartoons6), but freedom consists of so much more. For me personally, freedom of speech is just one of the freedoms people must have and not the most important one. Freedom to create an opinion based on multiple sources (be it books, discussions, travel), before publishing it, may be even more important.
- Fidel Castro is a doctor of law. [↩]
- By using an old and worn-out videotape. There is no actual ‘teaching’ in the sense that we know it. [↩]
- Pretty empty, mostly filled with brown bottles. No synthetic or ‘high tech’ drugs, mostly because of the US embargo. [↩]
- In Cuba, book shops are not particularly full and even slightly critical books are forbidden, even though I found an English translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. [↩]
- Or will it be an April fools joke? [↩]
- Which weren’t so funny in the first place. Re-publishing them seemed more like a provocation than the fight for freedom of speech. [↩]