Vodka Ain't Good for Cuba Libre
What the Cubans had before the tyrant came
We hear so much propaganda about what the “revolution” has brought to the Cuban people that we get sick. First of all, the people, with the usual popular savvy, started calling it the “robolucion”, which is a play on the letters to make the word sound like revolution but with a very caustic twist. “Robo” in Spanish means theft, robbery and plunder, very appropriate epithets to describe what the people in the street perceived as the so-called “revolution”. The term did not refer only to the material possessions that were taken away across the board from everybody without any consideration. They took everything even very far out of the limits and condition set forth in their own “laws”, nicely written but never applied as they were supposed to. It also referred to the rights, liberties and entitlements Cubans had before this gang took over the country. Lets briefly review them so that you may compare the “logros de la revolucion”, as they call the benefits (sic) they claim the people of Cuba have derived from it with what the Cubans had before.
Liberties, rights, etc.
Freedom of speech, association and mobility. There were absolutely no restrictions whatsoever before Batista. Under the latter there were some restrictions applied to the media. Regarding the right to associate and congregate there were some restrictions dealing with public display of protest against the government, but this type of protest was practically non existing any how. Mobility was not curtailed in any way form or shape under Batista.
Under the tyranny all media, with no exceptions, were taken over and suppressed. The media became the mouthpiece of the tyranny with no way for anybody else to express anything. Anyone venturing into some form of underground expression was, and still is, severely punished, even with physical violence incited against them to make it look like the “people” abhors the criticism to the tyranny. (A very old trick still very much alive in Cuba).
The freedom of association disappeared too. Even the several existing churches were under pressure for a long while. They still are in a very subtle way. All of them had to register as “clubs” to be able to function, albeit with a lot of limitations and under stressful vigilance from the “rapid response” groups. (We shall talk about them later).
The freedom to move about the country was also curtailed. Eventually, to move your household, even within the same city, you had to have “permission”. In some cases to move from one city to the other there were “papers” required. Something called “comite de defensa de la revolucion” (committee for the defense of the revolution) was organized by the tyranny very early in the game to keep an eye on all the neighbors, one in each block. They are still in place. The people say that the “comite” even knows when you go to the bathroom. The committees have been functioning ever since. They are like mini Gestapos that do not miss anything that is going on in the neighborhood. They watch their block like a hawk. Anything that looks suspicious to them is thoroughly investigated by “Seguridad del Estado”, the Gestapo-like force of the tyranny that is everywhere. When we say suspicious it does not mean acts like our Crime Watch would keep an eye for. For these committees suspicious is anything and everything that might smell like “contra revolucion” (counter revolution). In English we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; under the tyranny counter revolutionary acts are in the eyes of the committees. For the tyranny everybody is guilty all the time until they decide whether to think different and maybe be nice about it and consider you “innocent” for the time being.
Translate this into the American way of life and ponder for a few minutes how you would feel if this would take place here. We are so used to all these liberties here that most people take them for granted. We also had them in Cuba like we do in America. We also made the mistake of taking those precious liberties for granted. But they can vanish in a flash if we are not alert and vigilant. We were, or at least some were, gullible and did not listen to those who know danger when they see it. The consequences are there for you to see in the living hell of the enslaved island of Cuba.
That is something that you would have to explain to the average Cuban today just like you would explain the dinosaurs to a child. They existed and were guaranteed under the Constitution we had but they are extinct. The one now in effect (second one the tyrant dictated to his clerks) mentions a lot of these things, but they are window dressing for the world to see, not for local consumption, like many others items in Cuba. Anyhow they are set forth in that piece of crap they call constitution today. Nevertheless, whenever they have any type of elections, the candidates are those “appointed by the tyranny” and the “winners” already decided before hand as you can imagine. Bear in mind that the tyrant is the Party (Communist), the Asamblea del Poder Popular (Popular Power Assembly, a body that is not popular and has no power) and the Supreme Court and the Commander in Chief all rolled into one.
Demonstrations, parades and political acts
These are very frequent today at the local, national and even place of work levels. Hundreds, even thousands, show up. And they better do when they are requested to appear or they lose their right to work (get fired) or to receive rations (everything is rationed) or both. The boss at work has a list to check that everybody is present and accounted for at the act, whatever it is. Each “committee” has a list of its own too, covering those who do not work, etc. Of course, there are only “government sponsored” demonstrations, parades, etc. There are no others and anybody who tries anything like that faces the wrath of the “Rapid Response” gang. Protesters, (never mind that the demonstrations are peaceful) are kicked, stoned, hit with sticks, you name it. Remember the Brown Shirts in Nazi Germany? These are worse. Eventually the police show up to “stop” the “justified attack from the enraged citizens” and arrest (you guessed it) those who made the demonstrations, not the attackers.
So, whenever you see thousands upon thousands in an endless parade or demonstration you now know how they “decided to go and show their support for the tyranny” and why they had to do it or else. Maybe this is hard to imagine for you, average American citizen, but this is a reality, an everyday reality in Cuba today. And it has been like that for over four decades. There is a joke going around about this. The tyrant decides one day to see for himself how his “popularity” is holding. So, he goes incognito into a movie theater to watch a short that he knows is going to show him making one of his never ending speeches. When it comes on, everybody deliriously applauds him. He is so deeply moved that he remains ecstatic. The person next to him touches him and says: “Hey old man, you better get up and applaud too or they will take you away for doing counterrevolution”.
Other “logros” (benefits gained) under the “revolution”
Education was always free in Cuba. We had excellent teachers and schools, public and private. We had the normal K-6, 7-8, 9-12 and a 5th year in High School for those who wanted to go to college. You could elect to take that year in Sciences or in Arts, depending on where you were heading for at the University. It was the equivalent of a Junior College here in the USA. We had scores of private schools that were excellent. We had a School for Teachers in every capital of province. We had a school for home economic teachers in every capital of province. We had one for learning practical professions (Escuela de Artes y Oficios) like eletrician, plumbers, etc. We had a Business Schools at a lower level than the School of Business Administration at the University of Havana. Book-keepers were formed in the former, CPAs in the latter. We had other special schools too. The University of Havana, founded in 1728, was a renowned center of higher education that formed many professionals in all the fields. There was no tuition in any of the above mentioned or any of the others. Only the University had tuition. It was, up to the year we graduated, 1956, $6.00 Cuban pesos per year, total. When the tyrant took over we already had other universities throughout the island, private and public. There was no obligation to work for the government in whatever they would assign you to do, like crops picking, etc., as they do today, to “pay for your tuition”. You were not rejected and refused an education because your parents did not belong to the ruling party or had displayed some “undesirable civic conduct” like protesting against the government, etc. Only your mental ability and physical condition could limit or preclude the possibility to attend school. We could devote a full book to the education in Cuba before and after. But we are only highlighting the situation in an overview that should suffice to allow the average American to comprehend what Cuba was and what is has become under the tyranny. The forced labor for tuition and the refusal of education for political reasons are, most definitively, “logros de la revolucion” (gains of the revolution).
There is always the litany that the “revolution” brought free education and health to the people. Now that you know about education, let us review the health issue.
Before the tyranny arrived we had free hospitals and medical treatment for the people who could not pay. We also had medications and drugs available for them. There were some limitations but they were available. We had a large number of private clinics (HMOs) with very low monthly payment and excellent medical services. Our MDs were top notch, fact that has been proven with those who defected and took the exams here and are practicing in this country. Now they have a lot of doctors (we had enough before so we were not lacking there) but there are no drugs or other things like sheets and blankets, needles and gauze, anesthetics, etc. in the hospitals to take care of the people. Most of the Cubans call a friend or relative in the States to get what is prescribed by the doctors or needed at hospitals to have an operation performed. Glasses and all kinds of crutches, canes, etc. are sent from here or someplace else by the “hard liners, intolerant exiles” as we are called by the tyranny. Of course, if you belong to the ruling elite, or are a member of their families, you have everything and anything. Some churches have small dispensaries supplied from here or other places to respond to the need of their people. It has been known that the tyranny has taken away from them anywhere from 20 to 30 % of what they have received. The tyranny uses to take care of tourists or some privileged people (party members that is). Even charities do not escape the voracity of the “Robolucion” (remember the name given to it by the people? Now you know even better why they call it that).
Another book could be written about the health issue before and under the tyranny, including how these doctors are sent to different places in the world to work for other countries that pay the tyrant in dollars while the doctors and their families see nothing of that money. Others are assigned to spying and similar activities in the host countries. But we shall leave that for another occasion. This statement is based on confessions of doctors who have defected and spilled their guts once they were out of hell. Some have written books about this, others have been on radio and television talk shows. They all independently coincide in their statements. The tyrant once visited with Saddam Hussein and learned of a problem he had with his back. The tyrant offered to send his own specialist to take care of that for him. He did and the doctor, excellent specialist in the field, healed the other tyrant. Hussein wanted to give the doctor $30,000 US dollars cash in appreciation of the service rendered. The doctor refused (he had to) and told him that anything he wanted to pay had to go directly to “El Comandante Supremo” (the Cuban tyrant).
The Cuban worker enjoyed one of the most advanced labor legislation in the continent, including the USA and Europe. Beginning in the early 30s and steadily progressing until the tyranny took over, a stream of rights, benefits and entitlements kept the Cuban worker ahead of the world pack.
In 1933 the 8-hour working day, 40-hour week, became law. Child labor and pregnant women work were regulated. The former was forbidden while the latter received special protection. Pregnant women were entitled to maternity leave with pay: six weeks before due date and six weeks after delivery. If the wife of a worker was pregnant but she was not employed, the husband received a maternity bonus to help pay for expenses. The workers were granted the right to unionize and unions began to sprout all over the country. The right to strike and negotiate labor contracts became law. The employers were granted the right to lockout, but it was rarely if ever used as far as we know.
In 1938 the Labor Code was promulgated. It brought together under one legal body all pieces of legislation already in effect in the area of labor relations, adding new benefits and rights. It was a model for many countries in the world to follow. Here is a highlight. New hires were subject to a six months probationary period. After that they were considered permanent in their positions and could only be dismissed for justified reasons (outlined in the code) and following a very strict procedure, giving them protection under the law that they will receive a fair treatment during the process. All employees already on payroll became permanent if they had six months with the employer. Vacation was established as one month for every eleven months of work. It was earned from the very first moment the worker began employment. Sick leave with pay was 9 days per calendar year. In some cases, depending on the employer or labor contract, the workers received payment for those not used. Overtime was paid at l50% or 200% of normal wages. Workmen Compensation covered employees from the time they left home to the time they returned, provided they would travel the normal, direct route both ways. Any accident going to or coming from the workplace was covered.
Cuba was a member of the International Labor Office, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. All recommendations emanating from that body were incorporated to Cuban labor legislation as soon as possible. These recommendations, in case you are not familiar with the ILO, covered several aspects in the labor field including training, safety and working conditions.
We had a national confederation of workers called “Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba – (CTC)” . There were federations of unions that were part of a particular field of work, thus we had the Sugar Industry Workers Federation and so on. These federations integrated the National Confederation of Workers. Some of the unions had schemes to cover health insurance and other benefits not contemplated in the law or the labor contract.
After the “Robolucion” took over all these rights and entitlements virtually disappeared. There is only one employer, the tyranny, which is akin to a slave system. What the workers used to call “conquistas” and “reivindicaciones”, that is, extra benefits and concessions granted by the employers in labor contracts have vanished. To mention anything like that is “committing counter revolutionary acts” and can get the workers into very hot water. The unions, federations and the national confederation are mere puppets of the tyranny, a mockery of what they used to be.
Today, when foreign companies “make a deal” with the tyranny to establish any kind of business in Cuba, the salaries of the workers are negotiated with the government and set in US dollars. The salaries and wages are extremely low to begin with. The workers are paid a fraction of that amount in worthless Cuban pesos. The workers are mere pawns of the tyranny. The employers may sack the workers at any time for any reason. Working conditions, etc., are what they want them to be. Nobody controls them. The workers are expendable and replaceable.
In what it is supposed to be a workers’ paradise “Marx’s way”, the workers are slaves of the tyranny, working for peanuts under conditions that had not been seen in the island since colonial times. We could propose a change in Marx’s infamous Manifest and end it with something like: “Workers of the world unite. The only thing you have to lose is your freedom and all the benefits and working conditions you now have.”
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