Category: History

Vodka Ain't Good for Cuba Libre
by Dr. Robert A. Galloso

Chapter 5

The daily grind
(24 hours in the life of the average Cuban)

“Good morning ‘compañeros’ This is Radio (any one in the enslave island would do) speaking, coming to you from Havana, Capital of “El Territorio Libre de America” (Free territory of the American Continent, a long time slogan of the Robolucion). Today we will have the Maximo Lider (one of the many names used by the tyrant) speaking about the need to conserve water because we haven’t had any rain lately due to the American embargo. “El Comandante en Jefe”(another name he uses) shall explain to you every little detail so that you be as well informed as usual on the important matters of the country. But now, remember that black beans will be available at the corner market today from 10 AM to 12 Noon. (the beans are normally gone about 10.10). Peas will be available Wednesday at the same time. If you bring your own container you will be able to receive cooking oil that will be also available that day.”

So begins another day for the typical, average or whatever you want to call it, citizen of the “Paradise”. We call him “Liborio”, a mythical character created by a Cuban cartoonist a long time ago to represent the Cubans, just like Uncle Sam represents the government of America. If Liborio was lucky yesterday he did not have to march before the American Interests Section or the Mexican Embassy or whatever, so he may be rested from a good night sleep, if that is possible in Cuba today. There are many factors that may play havoc with that. Bugs, leaks in your roof (most of the times there are no supplies to fix it), a noisy “compañero” next door, or even next room if you live in one of the multifamily housings, playing loud music or propaganda in his radio, etc., etc. Let us explain that multifamily may mean something very different in Paradise. Multifamily could be a large house that was taken away from its legitimate owners and partitioned to accommodate a number of families. (This is an old tradition imported from where else, Communist Soviet Union. If you have seen an oldie film with Greta Garbo titled “Ninotchka”, you got the idea already. If you haven’t, try to catch it in one of the cable or dish channels. The ones in Cuba right now are a carbon copy of the one depicted in the film. NO KIDDING!

Liborio tries to catch some “transportation”. It may be a run down bus, or cart, or a truck with some planks that serve as benches for the passengers, or, if he is “rich enough” a bike taxi, sort of an oriental rickshaw. He may have a bicycle, or a very old car (50 years old normally). Either way, he will try to get to the market to line up (“hacer la cola”) as soon as possible. Items available there do not last too long. It is not uncommon to find out that the stock was depleted after just a few citizens received their allotted ration. Beef, among other things, is unknown to the young generation. So are ham and many other items. Fish is available some times. Normally beans, especially peas, are always available. Bread is also available but not very much of it. Wrappings are whatever is available, including newspapers. Sometimes you have to take the items handed to you in a box or other container you bring in. Oil and other liquids are strictly BYOB (bring your own bottle). In the land that once produced sugar to export to the world, that was always available and cheap, it is now rationed too. Cuba produced a record 7.5 million tons in the 1950-51 season. Today, 50 years later, the Robolucion produces much less than half of that. Liborio is prepared for all this and, with great patience, resignation is a better word, goes to see what he can get to feed the family. And now he is asked to conserve water for the reasons explained by the official radio, the only one available of course, unless he is able to tune in to the Miami radio stations. All Cubans who can, those who live in Northern coastal area particularly, listen as much as possible to the Miami radio stations. Some have devised antennas for their TVs using wire cloth hangers or whatever is available. They know that it is the only way to really know what’s going on in Paradise.

If everything goes well in the market (an euphemism mind you), he will go home to bring whatever he has been able to get. For those things that he is missing he has to resort to what the Robolucion has taught him to do: steal. It could be from his employer or somebody else. Or he could barter with another “compañero” to obtain something that, in turn, he has also taken from his employer. (Remember that there is only one employer: the tyranny. There are a few private employers too but their number is negligible). So, maybe he steals a light bulb for his house or to trade for maybe some pens or pencils or writing paper or whatever.

If he has a car, he would have to “scavenge” for fuel. He may buy some (fat chance, but if he does, it would be very little) or he may have to concoct his own. Sometimes castor oil mixed with maybe kerosene or a little bit of gasoline or some other concoction that he knows would make the car run. The car starts with loud explosions and spitting smoke through the muffler but, if it runs, well that’s all that matters. Cubans were always ingenious (pardon the lack of modesty but this is true) but now, making good the saying that “Need is the mother of invention” they have come up with a myriad of solutions to daily problems. Here again, bear in mind that in any normal society your daily life has some problems, but they are the exception. In Paradise the “normal” is the exception. The problem is ever present anywhere, everywhere, anytime, all the time. Of course, most if not all are blamed on the American embargo.

If he wants his children to go beyond elementary school, he has to be a model revolutionary, Che Guevara style. Any deviation and the kids find the High School and college doors shut tight for them. They are “not worth”, according to the tyranny, of “wasting the cost of education on them”. In school they are indoctrinated from day one. The alphabet has been re-written for them, as well as History and other social studies. The alphabet tells the kids that G is for “Guerrillero”, F is for the name of tyrant of course, C is for Che and so on. Cuban History has been changed to give the impression that the country did not gain independence until this mob arrived and took over. They even had the cynicism of saying that Jose Marti, Apostle of our Independence, a man that is to Cuba what George Washington is to the USA, was the intellectual author of the treacherous and murderous attack on “El Cuartel Moncada”. If the children go to HS they are forced to work the fields, or whatever the tyranny assigns them to do to “pay for their education”. In times of the Soviet Union, those who were from a very “loyal family” would receive scholarships to go to Russia, Poland or Czechoslovakia to study at the universities there. Of course, you had to have a “revolutionary pedigree” (be an abject and unconditional servant of the tyranny, or descendant, that is).

We once watched a Cuban woman on an American TV talk show. She was talking about her life in Cuba. She said that she never was a believing Communist and that she hated the system. But, she had some little children and in order to obtain the necessary food for them she had to become a member of the “Comite de Defensa de la Revolucion”. It is worth repeating that a Cuban could easily lose his/her job for failing to appear at a march or a rally. Maybe you get away with a severe reprimand and losing some of the “benefits” (like food) you now have. By the same token, doing or failing to do other “things” could deprive you of the measly rations you were supposed to receive.

We realize how hard it is for the reader to begin to imagine what is being said here. Even for some of us who left the country over 40 years ago, it is difficult, but it is a flattening reality. Here we have presented some highlights to be brief and concise, but this subject alone could easily be turned into a fairly good size book.

In the daily life of the Cuban today there is never a dull moment, whether he is marching, demonstrating, listening to the tyrant longwinded speeches or “working the streets” scavenging for the bare necessities. That’s exactly what this mob had in mind for the Cubans, so that nobody has the mind on “politics” or “counterrevolution”. Satisfying, or trying to satisfy their most basic necessities occupies their minds all the time.

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