Ability to Sacrifice, Inability to Judge / Reinaldo Escobar

Ricardo Alarcón, National Assembly President. (REUTERS)

A recent revelation from Wikileaks has exposed conversations among diplomats accredited to Cuba in which they made gloomy predictions about the future of the Island, particularly because of the expected economic setbacks. These speculations are not new; I dare say they are cyclical in nature and never correct in their conclusions, although they start from known budgets.

I will not pretend to describe here “how the water gets into the coconut” nor to give the definitive explanation of why the current social model prevailing in Cuba endures against all odds. I am going to limit myself to mentioning one of the sources of error in the analyses that set a fixed date for “the twilight of the Castro regime.”

I offer a parable: A tobacco farmer in Pinar de Rio showed up on my balcony one day and, looking at the tomato seedling a neighbor had in his patio, said to me, “Tell the gentleman that in these conditions he won’t get results. The tomatoes there won’t grow big enough for even a tube of puree.” Based on his deep knowledge and extensive experience, the tobacco farmer explained many things to me about the consequences of irrigating vegetables with chlorinated city water, the urgent need to protect the crop from insects, and many more details I’ll omit so as not to overwhelm my readers. More than two years have passed and my neighbor Felipe continues to cultivate and sell tomatoes to the people of the neighborhood, indifferent to the advice of the man who grows the best tobacco in the world for the richest people on the planet.

The lesson that can be derived from this example is that those who set a very high standard in calculating the demands of their customers are not capable of understanding what happens when the recipient of what is produced is the kind of person who has never eaten a decent tomato, nor smoked export-quality tobacco.

When we analyze Cuba we do so within an environment where the government calculations used to plan for production and services begin with an extra-economic factor which, in metaphoric terms, can be expressed as “the people’s infinite capacity for sacrifice.” Because of this, until today, socialist companies do not declare bankruptcy. Because of this Cuba was until very recently a world power in sports, even though boxers who left the training center with yogurt for their children in their bags were punished. Because of this we are one of the countries that sends the most doctors to the third world, although the waiting list for a gallbladder operation has become an agony and service has been suspended in a dental clinic because there is no paper to wrap the instruments in the sterilizer.

Those diplomats who calculate the imminent disaster come mostly from nations where the workers go on strike against extending the retirement age, and students burn buses because public transport fares go up a few cents. They can never understand how it is possible, after the layoffs of half a million workers, the plaza is full on May Day with people singing an anthem that says, in one of its verses, “What does the worker care about the sacrifice? United we will overcome any aggressor.”

This article originally appeared in Diario de Cuba, December 13, 2010.