TAKEAWAY:A special report in The Economist gives us reason to think that capitalism could be making a slow, but sure footed, return in Cuba. Dreaming of that Cuban media project?
Coming tomorrow: Progress report on EyeTrack for iPad project at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies
Cuba. Even its name evokes the memories of something sweet. A perfect four-letter word, if you ask me.
For me, Cuba is sort of dormant—always there, a half century apart, yet so near.
So, whenever I see the word Cuba in a book, newspaper or magazine, I gear into my curious Mario mode and plunge right into it.
This week, The Economist, devotes one of its robust Special Reports segments to the country where I was born, and which I left in 1962.
Titled, Revolution in Retreat, the piece mixes some optimistic notes with more of the reality of the island’s economy and politics.
On the positive side, the one I am most interested in, is the Cuba that I ponder if I will ever have a chance to visit someday before my time comes. My parents and grandparents died in the United States longing to return to Cuba. Obviously, I don’t have their homesickness, as I grew up in America and consider the US my home, as well as that of my children and grandchildren.
To say that I miss Cuba would be dishonest.
To say that I think of it often is a fact.
The ties that bind
I have daily email contact with my first cousin, Mary. She is a psychologist and psychology professor, married to one of Cuba’s most distinguished painters, whose works, inspired by Cuba’s ecological systems, is exhibited worldwide.
As my parents and grandparents are no longer here, it is my cousin Mary who keeps me “attached” to anything about the island. Her correspondence is the perfect diary about a Cuban’s daily hardship to do the simplest things in life. Our code word to refer to Cuba is Macondo, the fictitious town made famous by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In recent weeks Mary has sent me these notes:
”I have had severe a tooth ache, so tomorrow I need to meet a friend of a friend who has good connections with the best dentist in town. But it is not easy here in Macondo.”
“Planning a dinner for our guests coming from Canada to visit the gallery here. In Macondo it takes me about two months to get all that I need: already secured fresh fish from a guy who goes fishing three times a week; would like to get some meat too, but it is 6 of them coming, so I doubt I can find that much; and, if I am lucky, I will get some pasta to make lasagna, a favorite.”
“My grandchild gets bigger each day, and we figure he will be walking soon, please see if you can send him his first pair of shoes, as this will not be an easy task here.”
(By the way, in what I see as part of positive change, Mary’s grandchild is named Kevin Brian, and her niece is Aileen, a dramatic move from Russian names and for strange sounding ones starting with the letter Y, which became popular in the 80s)
And when I recently sent her a package with clothes and shoes, some of the shoes did not fit her perfectly well:
“Don’t worry about the shoes not fitting me. All I have to do is tell the neighborhood’s beautician, Consuelo, and she spreads the word, then other people whose relatives abroad sent them shoes that did not fit, make the connection with other people to exchange shoes, through Consuelo. It is the Macondo solution.”
The Economist: what’s positive?
Here are the hopeful signs for a new Cuba, perhaps, according to The Economist:
Under Raul Castro, Cuba has begun the journey towards capitalism.
Across Cuba, small businesses are proliferating. A woman quoted in the piece is proud of her new events catering business in Havana (but complains that she must buy most products from the state-operated vendors), a fruit vendor south of Havana is happy that he can now sell his papayas and pineapples from a roadside kiosk, and another woman now sells ice cream from her home. Small and significant steps, for sure. Not enough.
Although Cuba still has political prisoners, there is hope of change, as exemplified by the now internationally known blogger, Yoani Sanchez, whose Generation Y blog is read world wide. She has 200,000 followers on Twitter. Although the government obviously does not like Yoani Sanchez, and constantly denies her the visa to travel abroad, she is still posting her blog with topics that have led the Cuban government to label her as a “cyber-terrorist”.
Religion is beginning to become important to the island’s Cubans again. The Pope visited Cuba last week, denouncing the benefits of Marxism and communism, and urging Cubans to seek religion again. Since his visit, now Good Friday will be considered a holiday, something that was abandoned by Castro decades ago.
What’s not so good
This list could be slightly longer, and it begins with a basic lack of freedom of speech, or freedom to travel abroad, and the difficulty of getting the most basic daily needs.
It will take a decade and a big political battle to complete the turnaround to a more capitalistic society.
Even though the openings described above represent big progress, the state still controls most businesses and services, making it difficult for entrepeneurs to flourish on their own.
Worst of all, the old Castro, Fidel, created a paternalistic society, where there was no incentive to work. So, today, this is a malady that cripples Cuba’s ability to move forward. The so called Generation Y, of which blogger Yoani is a member, has no clue as what it is to dream big, to work hard and to advance on their own merits, without the government’s intervention at every step.
The Economist article mentions that one disadvantage for the new Cuban entrepeneurs is that advertising i s banned, but, alas, Raul Castro allowed Cubans to own mobile phones a year ago, and that is how a lot of “advertising” is spread.
Most interestingly about The Economist’s piece: possible scenarios for Cuba after the Castros. One possible scenario is the emergence of a leader, like Vladimir Putin in Russia, coming out of the military or the state security services.
Maybe not, as the article ends with a reminder that it is up to the Cuban people in Cuba to come up with ideas that will take them out of shadows and into the light.
Reinventing the Cuban media
From time to time I wonder what it would be like to be present when the next chapter opens for a free Cuba. It would be so absolutely grand for me to take part in the remaking of media in a new Cuba, a suitable grand finale, or completion of the full circle for someone who was born in the tiny island but has had the privilege of working in over 100 countries worldwide.
Reading this report in The Economist has given me the quiet hope that perhaps this is not so far fetched. However, I am not packing my suitcase just yet.
Reinventing La Prensa de Macondo should be the ultimate challenge. This is what I call “dreaming in Cuban”.
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