The Kindness of the Cuban Aristocracy? / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 20, 2013
While in Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil the outraged people
flooded the streets to protest the increase in transportation prices,
rampant corruption and the millions in public expenditures for the World
Cup and the Olympic Games, in Cuba the men garbed in olive-green govern
at their pleasure, supported by a hard autocratic staff and a
Constitution that prohibits strikes and anti-government marches.
Because of a twenty cents increase in public transportation, the
Brazilian people took the streets. The Castros’ ability to perform
ideological somersaults is indisputable. And they are masters in selling
a discourse of effort, honest and sacrifice, while living like
The power of the autocracy cannot be quantified. Or can it? A magnate
like Bill Gates could be a ruthless monopolist and evade taxes, but he
does not control the strings of foreign policy making or with just a
simple phone call send a dissident to jail.
The Cuban autocrats do have real power. They control the State in an
absolute manner thanks to a network of special services, informers,
neighborhood organizations that with a simple order can start an act of
repudiation or provoke the beating of any opponent.
Even in former communist countries like East Germany, Czechoslovakia or
Hungary, there were workers striking and mass demonstrations, crushed by
the treads of Russian tanks and bursts from Kalashnikovs. In 54 years of
the Cuban regime there has never been a general strike in the island.
One of the few exceptions was the rebellion of August 5, 1994 in the
largely poor and majority black neighborhoods of Cayo Hueso and San
Leopoldo in Central Havana. The detonator for the protest — known as “el
Maleconazo” — was the desire of people to leave the country. They
weren’t asking for political changes, better wages nor demanding that
the government hold free elections.
Due to the scientific repression, many Cubans are devious pretenders. If
the gate of an embassy opens, as with the Peruvian embassy in April
1980, those same people would leave their red Party card at the door.
Or they would play the game of mirrors learned over decades. They take
cover behind political speeches, revolutionary jingles, raise their
hands in unanimous consent at a union meeting or respond to a call from
the intelligence services and shout vulgarities at the Ladies in White.
The majority of the Cuban population is peaceful. Too much so. Some
prefer to take a rubber raft and risk their life crossing the dangerous
Florida Straits rather than to become affiliated with a dissident group.
With harsh words they criticize the government in public buses or
private taxis or maybe while drinking the cheapest rum with their
friends or in living rooms in their homes; but that’s it.
If we compare ourselves with Brazil, Cuban could have seen several
strikes and lots of massive protests of the outrages. The minimum salary
in Brazil is $678 reales or $326 dollars. In Cuba it is $20 dollars.
If you need to buy a home appliance, you have to have access to
convertible currency or CUC, a currency in which workers or retired
people do not get paid. The products sold in stores for that currency
and are taxed between 240% and 300%.
A jar of mayonnaise, made in Cuba, is one-third of the median salary. A
bag of frozen potatoes is pretty much the same. From 2003 to date many
items sold in hard currency have increased between 40% to 90%.
One hundred dollars in 2003 represents forty-five dollars in 2013, due
to the 13% tax levied on the US dollar, decreed by Fidel Castro in 2005,
along with the silent price increases for staple products.
In contrast, wages have barely grown in the last twenty years. The
sending of remittances by family members from the “other side of the
pond” is what supports the basic needs of their family in the island.
It is predicted that in 2013 the regime will receive more than $2.6
million dollars from these remittances. At the same time, the registers
at the stores are happily chirping and the subsidies from the State are
decreasing. The message from the rulers is loud and clear. Make ends
meet however you can, establish a small place to refill lighters or fix
The bus fare in Cuba, the genesis of the riots in Brazil, have risen
from five cents in 1989 to forty cents in 2013. However, due to the
tremendous scarcity of twenty-cent coins, people are paying one peso. To
travel in an overflowing bus and with a horrific service.
Nobody has taken the streets to protest. The mute revenge of Cuban
workers is to work little and poorly and to steak what they can from the
jobs. Fidel Castro never liked democracies. The strikes, protests and
free elections give him allergies.
One afternoon during the 1990’s, it is said that someone whispered in
the Nicaraguan politician Daniel Ortega’s ear, after his loss in the
referendum: you don’t hold elections to lose. Ortega and the compatriots
of the PSUV in Venezuela took note.
Cuba, which economically speaking is a failure, has shown that only an
autocracy can keep popular discontent in the dark.
If anyone wants some advice as to how to run a country without
disturbances, please come by Havana.
Translated by: LYD
18 September 2013
Source: “The Kindness of the Cuban Aristocracy? / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba” –