Capitalism in Castro’s Island / Iván García

Photo: Robin Thom, Flickr. Bar at the Hotel Melia Cohiba, Paseo and the First Street, Vedado, Havana.

The Cuba of the 21st century is split in two. The islet of the gentleman and the atoll of the comrade. The keys of capitalism are recognizable. Neon lights, fresh paint, large windows and air conditioning.
In its stores, hotels, cabarets, nightclubs, bars and restaurants charging in hard currency (with New York prices), its employees, uniformed and smiling, calling you Sir or Madam and allowing you to order them around.

It is the capitalism of the Castros. There, there are no revolutionary slogans nor murals featuring the faces of the five spies imprisoned in the U.S..

What is left is for the Cuban of the comrade. The bodegas, farmer’s markets, paperwork and municipal housing offices, lines to collect pensions and low-class bars.

People are treated badly and rarely laugh. Cheap watered rum in dirty hot places. In this slice of  tropical socialism if you say Sir or Madam they sneer at you. The appellation is compañero or compañera

Since 1993, when the enemy’s dollar was legalized, Cuba has operated at two speeds. It’s not that things are efficient in the pockets of capitalism, but one notices the difference.

In addition to Chinese goods, as everywhere in the world, there are Japanese clocks, music equipment from Germany, South Korean plasma televisions, and unrestrainedly, shoddy goods that say Made in USA, haughtily mocking the embargo fence.

If you want to live better in the Marxist capitalism of the Castro brothers, you must have dollars, euros, Swiss francs, or pounds sterling. Any first-world currency is worth its weight in gold in Cuba.

The national currency, the Cinderella, with which you are paid once a month in factories, state agencies and checkbooks of retirees, only serves to buy food, a few pounds of pork and pay the electricity bills, water and telephone, if you have one.

The death of Castro socialism began without fanfare on July 26, 1993, with the legalization of the dollar. Although the slogan of Socialism or Death and continued to be heard at the November 7th celebrations of the triumph Bolshevik Soviet Union. And cyclically, the comrades and those who have always lived like gentlemen, are seen uniformed with their AKM rifles, preparing for war against the ‘evil empire’.

Fidel Castro has been a real political contortionist. The Taliban discourse, the dictatorship of the proletariat, national sovereignty, permanent mobilizations, unlimited sacrifice, and a bright future. But behind the scenes the entrepreneurs or businessmen passing through Havana fall in love.

Their olive green revolution needs dollars for the carburetor. And many. Let them come. They are the lifeline of the last bastion of communism in the Western world.

‘Prostitutes’ by any means.  With Revolutionary and abusive taxes of 240% for consumer products sold in hard currency. Storming the pockets of tourists and Cuban-Americans with first world prices in a nation with a third world infrastructure.

The commander has only been a strategist for survival. To stay in power, anything goes. He once said that if he had not had the support of the USSR, he would have allied himself with the native bourgeoisie. They wouldn’t have packed their bags and headed north. With gifts and sophistry he paid for his revolution.

This is what is happening, with the millions that will come by way of remittances. The Brothers of Biran are a kind of Caribbean Robin Hood. Apparently, they take the money from those who have more to “give to the poor.”

The reality is that neither the poor nor the capital nor the  provinces of the island — including the vaunted social achievements such as education and public health — benefit from the billions in hard currency coming into the country annually.

Worst of all is that you cannot ask uncomfortable questions. You have to blindly trust “our leaders.” They know what they are doing. They are the “Saviors of the Fatherland.”

Now, have patience and trust in Comrade Raul. Or, the Lord? These high levels in the exotic Cuban social process, and I swear I do not understand.

September 21 2011