Friday, March 28, 2008

Raul's Reign and Revolution

The citizens of Cuba have just entered the digital communication age, and are now poised to go crazy like the rest of the world texting messages using technological developments for social communications; including its attendant impersonal nature and secretive content that retards interpersonal interaction.

Since taking over from his brother Fidel last February, Cuban President Raul Castro's inaugural speech touched on easing some of the policies and restrictions imposed by his predecessor. Two weeks ago, a ban on a wide range of consumer electrical appliances was lifted, and more recently, he has allowed unrestricted use and ownership of cellular phones for Cubans. The service connection however, is to be paid in foreign currency which would limit use to wealthier Cubans.

Raul's daughter, Mariela Castro, who heads the government funded Centre for Sex Education, is attempting to get the Cuban National Assembly to adopt the most liberal gay and transsexual rights law in Latin America. The law recognizes same sex unions, inheritance rights, free sex change operations, and gender switching in their ID cards with or without a sex change operation. While supported by her father, the general attitude among Cubans regarding gays is that of an illness that needs to be cured. Much of Cuba is still homophobic but there is a recognition of the right of an individual to live their own lives. The label that Cubans born after 1959 associate with homosexuality is "ideological deviants", introduced by Fidel during the revolution. Gays and transsexuals have suffered much injustice because of this prevailing notion.

These reforms may remove some of the bitterness in the lives of Cubans, especially in cell phone use, but its cost will still be affordable only to a select few. The gay rights law may revolutionize Cuba's sexual politics but will do little else in addressing the country's economic problems. Cuba's economy is in shambles, a contribution from the US embargo. Its agriculture is a mess. Cubans are paid 400 pesos a month wages, equivalent to US $16, which is inadequate to maintain a decent living standard. Its dual currency (Peso for the Cubans and the Convertible to US Dollar Currency for tourists and foreigners) is an anomaly that must be overhauled. Their wages have to be converted to the tourist currency to be able to purchase goods that are 20 times more expensive.

There are at least 60% of the Cuban population who receive hard currencies through remittances from relatives in the US, or those who work in foreign factories. While cell phone use has been opened, internet use and travel restrictions remain strictly enforced. The changes that affect the daily lives of Cubans may be opening floodgates to a series of freedoms that may be demanded by its citizens. The power of instant communication via cell phones in mobilization for rallies, issue dissemination, breaking developments, news and/or intelligence gathering has been demonstrated several times throughout the world. It is faster and cheaper compared to the old printed manifestos.

Raul Castro must have devised some control for this or else he would be in too much over his head.The one thing that will remain constant and unchanged is the one party state system which will have the power to control everything else. As it is now, the reforms are only skin deep. Until an open Cuba, structured politically as a republican state with democratically elected officials and representatives of the people is in place, these reforms are mere decorations that cannot put more food on the table. These are decisions meant to elicit popularity, but it does nothing to feed its long starving citizens who hunger for freedom, justice, food, a better life, and a better Cuba. A country they can love, build, and be proud of.



The Fitness Diva said...

Hmmmm. One step forward, two steps back?

Zhu said...


I think Cuba will slowly change now... it was bound to. But I don't think the relationship with the USA will change that much for now. The USA have a very precise idea of what democracy should be and how it should work (for sure, Cuba isn't democratic yet though) and surely it will put a strain on the two countries.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

I believe that could sum it up. "Give them a little something but make sure you profit from it and it will reduce tensions we have to deal with" kind of thing.

I'd like to think that they are placating the people so that it can buy them time to make the necessary structural changes in the economy, but the silence on the democratization is really deafening. A one party state is no proponent of truth nor freedom. But I'd give them a little more time, perhaps one year. --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

HI Zhu,

Cuba will have to adopt to some basic changes as it cannot survive much
longer relying on the sacrifices of its people. The expectations of Fidel's retirement and Raul's take over is that reforms that would benefit the people will be initiated.

Food, inflation, commodity prices, energy, trade and investments, labor skills, infrastructure, population growth, education, health care, so many things; and they loosen on cell phones and gay rights laws. I hope the other factors follow sooner than later. The Cubans have no more room to suffer and no more space in their bodies to lodge extra aches. --Durano, done!

Kim said...

$16 a month is appalling Durano....
it seems they have their priorities all wrong !!
it makes Australia look like a lucky country indeed !!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

These are starvation wages Kim. Then they have to contend with highly inflated prices, like a toothbrush is worth US$1.60, roughly two days work!

Most families use makeshift stems of coconut leaves for brushing their teeth. And don't ask what the price of toothpaste is.

As I said to Zhu above, they cannot be made to suffer any more than they already have. They are resilient but there are points where they can snap. The restrictions lifted are not that meaningful. What is important is food and the system of generating production, income, quality of life, and hope for the citizens to make their country strong and proud.

Australia is paradise Kim, compared to this Hell. You can imagine what the refugees in Afghanistan and Iraq have to go through; not to mention Darfur. If only we could bring the Chefs to these places... but then they will eat well for only a day...perhaps they will at least remember it for a month. :-)--Durano, done!

iamsorceress said...

Cliché as it may be, the long journey still begins with a single step---sidewards, broken or forward.

It may not be as appealing to all of us who have basked in freedom for so long but it wasn't always this good for all us and some of us are not even there yet. But hey, change is good, no matter how small or bizarre.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Comrade,

The greater majority of Cubans have gone hungry for a long time, and the reforms initiated are on cell phone use which most of them can ill afford anyway. It cannot put food in their bellies.

I'm with them on the first steps but they have to make rational choices and more meaningful priorities.

I am proud of what they have done and am actually wishing them well, but even a first step that's wrong can lead to more problems, especially in a one party state that is not predisposed to admit an error. :-)--Durano, done!

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