Iván García, 9 January 2019 — Already the roasted pig begins to smell and the kitchen is all hustle and bustle. In the background, against the wishes the younger ones who are asking to dance reggaeton with Chocolate MC singing Bajanda, the Brazilian Roberto Carlos is heard performing Details.
The men drink rum in the patio and play dominoes, slapping their tiles down on a wooden board. Rosalía, a housewife of 78, acts as an orchestra director giving orders and ensuring that the kids don’t steal the sweets and pieces of pork from the oven.
“You have to give the yucca more time, mi’ja. These sour oranges are shit, they barely have juice,” she tells one of her daughters-in-law. Behind her, the children zoom like airplanes, eating cracklings or spoonfuls of the cold tuna salad that rests on a kitchen shelf.
“This December 24, remember Rosalia, my three children, five grandchildren and their wives slept at home with us. December is the happiest month of the year. The whole family gathers to eat, dance and drink rum until dawn. On the upcoming 31st, the giant party will be even bigger, because two of my sisters are coming from the United States join us.”
Like all Cubans, Rosalía complains about the daily hardships, the long lines and high prices of food. “Forget what comes out in the [TV] Noticiero and [newspaper] Granma. The cane is “three pieces.” Thank God that my children have good jobs and my family in the United States sends me some dollars. The government has no solution to our problems. Sixty years with the same deficit as always. If this revolution lasts a hundred years, those who are saved will be crazy,” she says with a smile.
Niurka, a nurse, does not expect anything new for 2019. “The same old same old. Lines, shortages and the price of food through the roof. In sixty years we have healthcare for all, but the truth is that we lead an existence full of scarcities and discomforts. When there is bread, there are no eggs. Or vice versa. Or both are missing,” she complains while waiting at the stop for the P-6 bus to take her to her home in Reparto Eléctrico, south of Havana.
I asked eleven Cubans born after Fidel Castro’s coming to power about their impressions of the event and how the extravagant tropical socialism affects their daily lives.
Eight agree that every year that passes they live worse. Three have managed to prosper thanks to their work in the private sector. The list of positive facts is short. Education, public health, access to culture and sports and “a Civil Defense that works when there are cyclones; Cuba is one of the countries where fewer people die,” said one of the respondents.
The inventory of negative situations is wide. The eleven people categorize the public services from regular to lousy and agree that getting food is the most serious of the problems. And they consider the housing shortage and the low salaries that condemn Cubans to live precariously, along with the lack of a future, as oppressive.
Jimmy, a high school student, believes that “the good things of the system such as education and healthcare have lost quality. The government has stayed connected with these achievements and does not look at the number of unresolved problems. Sixty years later, poverty is still present in a high segment of the population, salaries are not enough to live with dignity and state services are very bad. I believe that there will be another revolution or the system we have will be changed.”
Pepe, a private taxi driver, is convinced that “Cuba’s biggest problems are of an economic and social nature, although politically there could be more democracy. But if there is something I’m sure about it is that the system is the one that does not work, compadre.”
The ruling caste thinks differently. They draw up plans for 2030 and in the future Constitution they have mortgaged the future, condemning the Cuban people to carry on for life with the inefficient socialist system.
Diego, 78, confesses that “until recently I trusted that the government could solve our difficulties. I recognize the harmful effects of the Yankee blockade, but it is inadmissible that in sixty years the State has not been able to guarantee a decent salary and enough food. Many of those who govern have spent sixty years living off “the story” and telling lies. Asking people for more sacrifice, after what we have gone through, sounds like a mockery.”
Clara, a teacher at a primary school, has heard that if the production does not grow, “the country could enter a new Special Period. And Cubans know what that implies.”
A Communist Party militant, who opts for anonymity, does not believe that “we can go back to those hard years with blackouts of twelve hours a day and great scarcity of food. There are situations such as shortages, because there will be a reduction of 400 million dollars for the purchase of supplies in hard currency stores. But it is planned to guarantee what is a priority. The government knows that if the blackouts start, many people could throw themselves in the street. The most probable thing is that in the short term, economic matters will precipitate changes.”
Six decades after Fidel Castro took office at gunpoint, most of his promises have been broken. From access to a home, decent salaries, to being self-sufficient in food production.
In his extensive speeches, the comandante en jefe repeated that Cuba was going to produce so much beef, milk and cheese that the country would become a nation that exported those products.
Sixty years later, Antonio, sitting at the entrance of a tenement in Centro Habana, while collecting the bets of his customers who play la bolita, a sort of illegal lottery that is practiced on the island, smiles sarcastically recalling those times. “Now nobody wants to remember the pile of lies that the bearded man blew at us. There were always two Cubas. The one belonging to the officials, where they had everything, and the one belonging to the people where there was nothing.”
When you ask n ordinary Cuban ask how long he believes the process initiated by Fidel Castro in 1959 can last, he chooses to shrug his shoulders and repeat hackneyed phrases sculpted by citizen indifference, such as, “no one can stand it, but nor can anyone knock it down.”
If a miracle does not happen, in 2059 one hundred years of the Castro regime will be celebrated. A number so round it is terrifying.