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Why Are Cubans Pissed Off?

By Servando Gonzalez (2008)

“Cubans Are Talking,” a recent report by Mark Potter, NBC News Correspondent in Havana, has brought to the attention of the American public the existence of a popular Cuban musical group, Moneda Dura (Hard Currency). The report mentions how one of the group’s music videos, became an instant hit in the Island until the Castro government banned it. It also mentions how some Cuban in exile put it in YouTube video, and thousands in the Cuban underground have managed to watch it.

Another report by NBC producer Mary Murray, “Cuban Band Battles Censorship,” tells how Moneda Dura is in trouble with government censors because of its latest music video Mala Leche.

But Murray erroneously translates the title of the song as “Evil Intentions”. Actually, mala leche (literally bad milk) is Cuban slang for “bad mood” or “pissed off.”

The lyrics of the song expose a litany of complaints about things that are not right in Castro’s Cuba. And, after every stanza in which the singer describes a Cuban facing a particular problem -- like the lack of adequate transportation, food, clothing, health care, and daily blackouts, as well as why Cubans do not enjoy the most elementary freedoms--, he asks the viewer, ¿Cuál es tu mala leche? (Why are you pissed off?) The instant success of the video among the Cuban people evidences their agreement with the song’s lyrics.

For decades, Castro-friendly Americans visiting the Island have mentioned their opinion that, despite the scarcities and the difficulties of daily life, Cubans are a happy people. But Moneda Dura’s video shows a very different thing: The Cubans who are experiencing close up and personal the marvels of Castroism are not happy at all. Actually, they are in a bad mood. They are pissed off.

Blinded by their ideological biases, American self-proclaimed “progressives” (I rather call them “regressives”, but that’s another story) see Castro’s Cuba as a paradise on earth. It is true, they claim, that there are scarcities in Cuba, but it is because of the U.S. embargo. It is true that Cubans lack the bare essentials of civilized life, like food, clothing, freedom of expression, and access to information, but they have plenty of free health care, and education. It is true that the Castro regime is repressive, but Cubans are proud of not being any more pawns of American imperialism. It is true that food is scarce, but it is produced organically. It is true that there are scarcities, but Castro’s Cuba is an egalitarian society, and the leaders face the same problems as the rest of the people. It is true that Cubans cannot access the beaches, or the good hotels, or the stores in which only hard currency is accepted, but this has the positive side that this way they are no corrupted by the evils of capitalism and consumerism.

It seems, however, that Cubans have a different opinion. Far from being happy, Cubans are angry. They are in a perennial bad mood. As “Mala leche” graphically puts it, they are pissed off, and their anger is centered in none other than Fidel Castro, the tyrant American “progressives” love so much. According to most Cubans, Castro is the only one to blame for Cuba’s never ending economic and social problems.

The Misery Specialist

I remember that, in the mid-sixties, a small group of writers and actors used to go to the Caballero funeral home in Havana’s Vedado district to have a wee-hours cup of coffee after waiting in line for several hours (which had nothing to do with Cuban surrealism, but with coffee shortages). One of them, playwright Alfredo Pons, in order to help our waiting time go faster, developed, tongue-in cheek, an interesting theory: the “misery specialists.”

Everywhere you go in this country, reasoned Pons, people treat you like dirt. Bus drivers, office clerks, restaurant waiters, hotel staff, deliberately do all kinds of things to annoy you, and they have become experts in their profession. Therefore, continued Pons, there should be some special schools where they get their training in the misery trade. Graduates from those schools become certified “misery specialists,” and they land good government jobs.

Pons and the rest of us loved the joke, and continued developing the concept for several weeks.

But one day, almost unanimously, we arrived at the same conclusion. We were dead wrong. There were no such people as “misery specialists.” As a matter of fact, there was only one misery specialist in Cuba: Fidel Castro!

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that our conclusion was not far-fetched at all. Castro is a true misery specialist. Out of pure envy, he has always managed to destroy anything that gives the people around him any pleasure or makes them happy, from food for their stomachs to nourishment for their souls. One of his main purposes in life has been to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible on any people he can reach, and he has accomplished it to a remarkable extent.

Singer Carlos Puebla, a strong supporter of Castro, never guessed how right he was when he used to sing in the early 1960s: “Se acabó la diversión / Llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar.” (The enjoyment has finished / The Comandante arrived and ordered a stop to it.) Gabriel García Márquez commented that Castro “is one of the rare Cubans who neither sings nor dances,” adding that as soon as Fidel arrives to a party, “Inevitably the dancing is interrupted, the music stops, the dinner is put off.”

Carlos Franqui believes that,

What Fidel has done is to impose in Cuba all the punishments he suffered as a boy in his Jesuit school: censure, separation of the sexes, discipline, thought control, a Spartan mentality. He hates culture, liberty, and any kind of literary or scientific brilliance. All sensuality, of course, is anathema to him.

There are some indications that perhaps Franqui is not too off the mark. For example, in mid 1998, just a few years after Castro reluctantly gave orders again to loosen some economic controls to allow the people to do limited business, he soon became envious of their economic success. In a long address to Cuba’s National Assembly, aired by state television, Castro criticized the appearance of local “millionaires” in Cuban society, accusing them of amassing private wealth while state teachers, doctors and police had to survive on low salaries. He made clear he deeply disliked the socially divisive effects of the cautious, market-leaning economic reforms introduced by his government since 1993.

Some of the new private entrepreneurs, Castro said, were earning as much as 1,000 U.S. dollars a month, equivalent to around 20,000 Cuban pesos, a small fortune by Cuban standards. (Cuban workers average about 20 to 40 U.S. dollars a month.)

The idea that simple Cubans might be able to buy their own cars appeared distasteful to the ever envious Fidel. “If we start selling cars to all those who have dollars . . . [we will have] a whole class of rich people driving around Havana,” he said. Lately, Castro is blaming the enormous increase in street crime on the success of capitalist-style economic reforms. Consequently, he is seeking a crackdown on drug trafficking and criminals—and probably on state-approved market-oriented reforms. On December, 2000, Carlos Lage, executive secretary of Castro’s Council of Ministers, announced government plans to end most private economic activities by mid-2001.

While the Cuban people lack adequate food supplies, Castro has been exporting food to finance his military adventures and terrorism abroad. Just a few years after Castro took power in Cuba, a strict system of food rationing was imposed, and is still in force. The daily diet to which most Cubans have been restricted for almost 37 years of rationing -- the rationing book was implemented in 1962, and it is still in force -- is not only inferior to the diet of the 1950s, but also to the nutritional ration normally allocated to slaves in the colonial Cuba of 1842. A final example will provide an indication that the true reason for food scarcities in Cuba is not the American embargo.

One can understand that, because of the embargo, Cubans cannot drink Coca-Cola or eat Burger King’s hamburgers. But Cuba is a big Island with plenty of fertile soil, and a climate that supports four crops a year. Since the fifties, Cuba was self-sufficient in the production of basic foods for self-consumption, including beef, poultry, fish, vegetables, rice, beans, etc. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s accept that because of the embargo Cuban farmers lack the adequate machinery, fertilizers, and the like to produce enough food from agriculture and beef from cattle. But how about fish? Cuba is a long, narrow island with miles and miles of seacoast where fish and seafood are varied and plentiful. Why, one may ask, Cubans don’t fish to supplement their meager food rations?

The answer is very simple. Cubans don’t fish because Fidel Castro strictly prohibits it, the same way he prohibits them to engage in almost any productive activity he cannot fully control.

Just casting a fishhook on a line over the Malecón, Havana’s promenade facing the sea, would allow a Cuban to bring home a red snapper or some other nutritious fish and have a wonderful dinner almost free. But, although that would make him and his family very happy, it would make Fidel Castro very angry, because other people’s happiness is the worst offense one can inflict on Cuba’s major misery specialist.

Some neighbors of the Castro family who were familiar with the Castro house in Birán say that it was indescribable filthy. Although there was a stream nearby, the Castros had no running water or toilets and they seldom washed or bathed. Visitors reported that chickens had the run of the dirty interior, sometimes roosting on the beds. Gustavo Hevia, a friend of the Castros, related that on a visit he once made to the Birán estate to stay overnight a garden sprinkling can had been hung up for him in a corner of a room to serve as a shower. The only bed in the house which had sheets and a pillowcase was his own.

An American journalist, who visited Cuba before 1959, wrote: “Havana was once the most cheerful city in the Americas, possibly the world. The colors blazing forth from the most delicious Spanish architecture anywhere, including Spain, made a tourist in pre-Castro Cuba feel that just looking around was worth the admission.” When he visited Havana again more than forty years later he only found deterioration and decrepit facades. After forty-five years in power, Fidel Castro has turned Havana into a larger version of the Birán estate.

On December 9, 2000, the Castro government announced that it would cut phone communications between Cuba and the U.S. by December 16. According to a brief note that appeared in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, the cause for the drastic measure was that U.S. companies had failed to pay a 10 percent surcharge that became effective at the end of October. But the timing for the cut gives an indication that perhaps the true motives are not exactly the ones stated in Granma.

In the first place, no one but Castro himself has the power in the Cuban government to order such a measure. Secondly, despite the Island’s proximity to the U.S. the rate charging to callers to Cuba averaged 80 to 90 cents a minute, of which the companies were paying 60 cents a minute to the Castro government. Finally, Castro made a conscious decision to cut service during the Christmas holidays, one of the most important times of the year for families who have been apart for decades.

If one is to believe the arguments offered by Cuban officials, the rationale for the cut was simply money. But Cubans know better. Listening to their relatives’ voices is a major source of happiness for Cuban families and friends on both sides of the Florida Straits, and this is something the misery specialist cannot tolerate, even if it costs him money. No wonder Cubans created a new nickname for Fidel Castro: el castrasueños (lit. the castrator of dreams).

Pissed Off Cubans vs. Hypocrite “Progressives”

Granted, happiness is a very personal state of mind, and serious studies have shown that it is not the result of the accumulation of money, material things or power. As proof of it I would like to advance my theory that perhaps the most unhappy of all Cubans has been none other that the Misery Specialist himself. But pervasive unhappiness among the Cuban people, undoubtedly the result of a constant state of frustration and lack of hope in a better future, is by far above the average in most countries in this planet.

The fact that Cubans are pissed off should come as no surprise, because for decades they have been expressing their anger and frustration, voting with their feet by escaping in masse from the control of the Misery Specialist in anything that floats, flies or jumps. Cuba, traditionally a country of immigrants, now has close to 20 percent of its population living in exile all around the world. And the problem is not the Cubans, but their government, because most Cubans in exile are doing well.

One may argue that visitors to the Island have been duped. They are shown a Potemkin village; a sort of TV set that has nothing to do with the real Cuba. It is also true that Cubans are famous for their hospitality and openness to foreigners. But just a cursory look at the way they live should have been enough proof that, despite their smiles to tourists carrying moneda dura (hard currency), Cubans are not a happy people.

The fact that American “progressives” have ignored the obvious, tells not only about a willful blindness but also a lack of sensitive for the suffering of the Cuban people. As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons why Cubans are pissed off is because most hotels, restaurants, stores, and other services only accept hard currency, while they earn their miserable salaries, (averaging US $60 a month) in worthless Cuban pesos.

American “progressives” tell of the high level of education of Cubans. They don’t mention, however, that many engineers, physicians, economists, and Ph. D’s end up as hotel receptionists, bell boys, taxi drivers, and jineteras (street hookers), catering to tourists as the only way to get moneda dura. No wonder they are pissed off.

American “progressives” mention the wonders of Cuban free public health, but Cubans know better. The few excellent hospitals are for tourists paying in moneda dura and for the Castroist nomenklatura. But the hospitals and clinics assigned to give health care to the Cuban people are worse than the ones one can expect in a country like Haiti.

Moreover, thanks to the Internet, most Cubans now know that, while they live in the most abject misery, the Cuban leaders, including the billionaire Fidel Castro, live in opulence enjoying all the material goods of corrupt capitalism. Cubans know that the Castroist egalitarian revolution is an urban myth, and they are pissed off.

And I have the feeling that in the last weeks they have gotten even more pissed off than normal, after knowing the brouhaha the American mainstream media has created by the non-news of Fidel Castro passing the torch to his brother Raúl. Cubans know that there has been no change, and are convinced that there will be no change in Cuba while the Castroist mafia is still in power. Another good reason for being “de mala leche”.

In another NBC report, Moneda Dura’s bandleader Nassiry Lugo explains his motives for writing the song. According to Lugo, exposing the bad things is the first step to correct them. In the same report, Juanito Camacho, a Cuban DJ, expresses his opinion that the reason why Mala leche was banned is because it is too critical of the Cuban system: there is nothing positive about the system in Moneda Dura’s song.

The DJ is right. But if Moneda Dura’s Mala leche doesn’t see anything positive in the Castroist comuno-fascist system it is because, despite the opinion of many American “progressives”, there is nothing positive about Castroism. Actually, most of the very few positive things that occurred in the first years of the Castroist “revolution” happened not because of, but despite of Fidel Castro, who was too busy killing enemies and friends in order to consolidate his power. Once Castro felt secure in his position as for life Cuban tyrant, he rushed to disassemble these few positive things. Today, the unavoidable conclusion is that Castroism has been a total economic, environmental, social and cultural disaster for Cuba and its people.

What is puzzling, however, is that some senior members of the Council on Foreign Relations and the United Nations have publicly praised the Castroist regime, and claimed that it is the model to follow. This explains why they are frantically conspiring behind the curtains to guarantee the continuation of a sustainable tyranny in Cuba.

If the CFR conspirators really meant it, it seems that their idea of the New World Order they want to impose over the whole American continent is very similar to Cuba after almost half a century of Castroism. But, as in Cuba, I see growing symptoms that Americans are beginning to get pissed off. And I hope that implementing the Castroist version of the New World Order in the United States will not be as easy as it was in Cuba.


Note: The section about the Misery Specialist is from my book The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol.



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