Headlines

CUBA: Why Some Leave, or Want to, and Others Stay

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Sep 4 2006 (IPS) - Almost every evening, Alina Díaz goes down to the seashore in the Cuban capital to contemplate the deep Caribbean waters that two years ago swallowed up her son Abel. She still cannot understand why the 21-year-old student got involved in the adventure that would take him away from his family and cost him his life.

Almost every evening, Alina Díaz goes down to the sea shore in the Cuban capital to contemplate the deep Caribbean waters which, two years ago, swallowed up her son Abel. She still cannot understand why the 21-year-old student got involved in the adventure that would take him away from his family and cost him his life.

“He had everything: a nice house, a girlfriend, money, his father’s car, but he wanted more and more. Sometimes I think that we were to blame, because ever since he was a boy we worked hard to give him everything he wanted. He began to dream of things he would never have in this country,” his mother, 45, a resident in the central Havana neighbourhood of Vedado, told IPS.

Abel and some friends bought a boat and put to sea one April night in 2004. “Three days later his girlfriend came in desperation to tell me that the relative waiting for them in the United States had had no word from them. It was terrible. We never heard from them again,” she added. Díaz wishes she could go back in time and be able to believe in something.

In a very different neighbourhood, on the banks of a river flowing through the Cuban capital, Gabriel Jiménez’s family lives in a shack made of recycled materials, with a dirt floor, lacking electricity, plumbing or piped water. But not one of his three sons has thought of leaving the country.

When Jiménez was widowed at the age of 37, he decided that the only way to get ahead was to leave his home town and move to Havana. “And here I am. We live in a shantytown, the most extreme form of poverty in this country. Yet two of my sons have already graduated from university, and the other has become a technician,” he said.

Jiménez is waiting for a solution to the serious housing problems facing people on the island. “We ought at least to have the choice of renting somewhere better, pooling my own and my sons’ salaries,” he remarked, while declaring himself to be “a revolutionary to the death.”

Housing is a major cause of dissatisfaction in Cuba, according to a purely qualitative opinion survey carried out by IPS among 200 respondents in Havana, the capital of this country of 11.2 million people. The random poll asked people’s opinions on the results of the Jan. 1, 1959 revolution and the 47 years of Fidel Castro’s government. The most commonly expressed complaints were about low salaries, high prices, inefficiencies in basic services, the dual currency (the Cuban peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso), and restrictions on travel abroad.

Although many people acknowledged that the severe economic crisis of the 1990s had negative repercussions on some social sectors, most of the respondents expressed satisfaction with the health services, and appreciated the free universal education, which has contributed to creating valuable human capital.

Survey respondents also praised the economic and social development of the country’s rural inland areas, employment security with linked pensions and benefits, the new opportunities for women, policies promoting racial equality, and even civilian safety, in spite of increased violence since 1990.

“When the revolution triumphed I was 15 years old. I worked for the literacy campaign, I was freed from the constraints imposed by my family, and I started working and studying. In a word, my life changed, and I saw and felt how this country was changing,” said Marta Díaz, a retired doctor, who at 62 remains a hard-working activist in the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution.

“I do on-call shifts, I distribute polio vaccines, I look for voluntary blood donors and I help the teachers at the nearby school with cases of neglected childrenà I do everything I can. I know we haven’t achieved everything we aspired to in 1959, but there’s a lot more justice in this world than in the one I knew before,” she said.

Now Díaz looks on her granddaughter, a journalism student at the University of Havana, with pride, but she knows there is a difference between them: “What I had to fight for are now her rights.”

For her part, Díaz’s granddaughter remarked: “I know the economic problems cast a shadow over everything, but we should have more access to information, be able to surf the Internet freely, have the choice of visiting another country and the opportunity to spend our holidays at a hotel on the beach. The social differences in society could grow larger (with these changes), but they already exist.”

Apart from wealthy or privileged minorities, which belie the egalitarianism the government has promoted for decades, different generations are living together today, with their different perceptions of the social process begun nearly half a century ago.

The range of views is wide in Cuba, from fervent supporters of Castro’s socialist revolution to diehard opponents, and in the middle a broad group of people in favour of bringing about change within the system, and another large group which remains neither for nor against, but opts for stability and adaptation.

In the last of these categories is a bookseller who has his stall on a plaza in the historic quarter of old Havana. “I do good business and I know how the system works. Tourists come to me because I have books that the state bookshops don’t have. I can count my competitors on the fingers of one hand. Why should I want change?” he told IPS.

In the opinion of a historian, age 32, people leave because they get tired of waiting for an improvement that never arrives. “We spend our lives blaming the U.S. embargo, and it’s true that it has an effect, but most of the problems are our own fault, because of inefficiency and mistaken domestic policies.”

Many people are leaving Cuba or wish to do so; many more remain and want to live here. Then there are cases like that of a 27-year-old Cuban who went to the U.S. city of Miami for two years, then came back to Cuba for a holiday, and stayed here.

His analysis was very clear. “Over there I had to work really hard. Over here, even if you’re poor, you don’t starve. My family has a large house which we rent to tourists, and I get my share of the income. All I have to do is make sure it has all the necessary supplies. Besides, it belongs to me, and I’m doing my thing,” he explained.

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs

CUBA: Why Some Leave, or Want to, and Others Stay

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Sep 4 2006 (IPS) - Almost every evening, Alina Díaz goes down to the sea shore in the Cuban capital to contemplate the deep Caribbean waters which, two years ago, swallowed up her son Abel. She still cannot understand why the 21-year-old student got involved in the adventure that would take him away from his family and cost him his life.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |