By Regina Coyula, Translating Cuba
Comments on the recent speech by General-President Raul Castro can be heard in a pharmacy line as well as in an almendrón.* People in general are pleased that the country’s top leadership is finally acknowledging the presence of the invasive social weed that until now seems to have been growing unnoticed. Cubans, with our ability to adapt and to forget, are happy that the government is now taking steps, as any recently elected government would, to address the problems inherited from its predecessors.
Many claim that the deterioration in our social values is no worse than in other countries, which probably is true. But they forget this laboratory was supposed to be the breeding ground for the “New Man” — someone who would be generous, honest and hard-working. By now, several generations should have given birth to this New Man, of whom so much was expected. But as in the Michael Keaton comedy Multiplicity, each new version was even worse than the last.
As we have seen, experimenting with cows can leave you without cattle, but when you experiment with instruction, the repercussions for society can be quite profound, as is evident today. The family itself has been a tragic protagonist in the Cuban social experiment as well. Nevertheless, neither official acknowledgement of the litany of social transgressions nor popular enthusiasm are enough to resolve a problem that has done nothing but grow.
More than fifty years ago a grassroots organization was created, which later evolved into a non-governmental organization (though we all know this distinction is merely one of semantics): the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDR. Its nation-wide framework stretched across the island’s geographic confines. It was designed from the ground up to “deal with” issues that encompassed, among other things, healthcare, education, sanitation, beautification, raw materials and, most importantly, surveillance. Inevitably, one has to ask: Where were the activists of this enormous organization — one which just concluded a nation-wide conference whose conclusions were overwhelmingly positive — while the bad behavior and criminal activity recently outlined by General-President Castro were proliferating?
In spite of many years of efforts, the CDR guards, the “My Happy Pretty House” activities, the Parents for Education movement, the anti-malarial campaign, the Clic Patrol and the drives to collect raw material have not been successful at molding the social clay we needed to create the twenty-first century man.
An apt example of something where we are instructed but not educated is the party to celebrate the anniversary of this mass organization. On the eve of September 28, surrounded by smoke and rum, people set up makeshift wooden stoves in the street to cook a hodgepodge broth with a lot of ingredients but little substance (usually provided by a pig’s head) which is eaten at midnight from plastic cups. Shirtless men, their tongues loosened by the alcohol, listen to reggaeton music at full blast while people feel forced to socialize so as not to appear apathetic. This celebration of “popular support” offers an all too obvious example, which often ends with neighbors feeling disgusted.
To control social disorder the government is faced with a dilemma. It can enforce the law with strong disciplinary measures by extending its repression beyond dissidents, white-collar criminals and petty thieves caught in the act. Or it can leave it to others — to fate, the church or the family perhaps — to eventually restore lost values.
If we are to rescue good social conduct (as we should) and favor education and good behavior, erroneously deemed bourgeois rather than correct, there is no reason to keep the CDR alive. It has become synonymous with filth and environmental contamination, with theft and embezzlement, with illegal construction, with alarmingly high crime rates and other problems which I leave for the reader to recall.
This has led to a decline in its prestige, a lack of interest from citizens, and a sense of resignation with which the corralled members of the Juventud (the Youth) and the Party accept their appointments. It is the natural result of placing the interests of the government over those of society, rendering the CDR obsolete and burdening the state budget with a bloated bureaucracy which is only partially self-supporting.
Social organizations that arise in a natural way and with natural leaders respond to the interests of their environment, they are the ones who should address these problems. And above all (and when we say all we mean all) the law, with a Defender of the People and a Court of Constitutional Guarantees that citizens can turn to with the confidence of not finding themselves unprotected.
Regina Coyula | La Habana | 20 Jul 2013
*Translator’s note: Cuban slang for a type of large, antiquated American car used as a private taxi.
Translated from Diario de Cuba