La Habana, Cuba – The revolution never came for the common people that call the island home.
Parts of the city remain in ruins and the people line the autopista este-oeste waiting for common rides from brothers that rent cars for $50 cuc a day and charge the locals $5 CUC to cram in between the major commerce destinations where they must go to fill out forms in what is now Cuba libre.
Tourists, White, Black, Chicano, Russian and Chinese and Korean mingle on a plan that has to bring their own ground crew to work the tarmac in Havana since Alaska flies to Cuba only once or twice a day.
As Jamaica Kincaid in A Small Place, marveling at the trinkets that their dollars can buy, the return trip filled to the brim more with bottles and bottles of rum and cases of cigars, and a green field cap that has a red star in the middle. Unbeknownst to the tourists, many who do not speak Spanish, the mark up for their hotels and transportation and the trinkets they buy is five times higher than what it would be if one just walked down the block.
Instead of one revolution, 1959 marked only one capitalist crisis of many capitalist crises to come, that spiraled into the reality of what the Cuban people have suffered all these years. After all, it is not the Cuban people who benefit most from this awkward contradiction, it is Cuba’s capitalist petty bourgeoisie and lumpen proletariat and the state itself that reaps the most reward from their suffering.
Now, Donald Trump imagines he brings a new crisis to Cuba’s newly formed tourism, development and marketing venture.
a professor of the University of Pinar del Rio proclaims,
“the Cuban people are not afraid of any crisis.”
Perhaps it is because Cuba has lived through so many at the hands of foreign powers.
As an anti-capitalist from the belly of the beast, I keep such things as tourism, marketing, and development at an arms-length, knowing full well that they are the preferred tools of Neoliberal capitalism as it wreaks havoc on unsuspecting cities and their populations back home. In the United States, tourism breeds a type of property speculation that displaces entire populations at a time, one needs only to look at New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle to see case studies of the same phenomenon. It is an international phenomenon, as one can look to Vancouver, Toronto, London, Paris and so on to see the damage of such symptoms of gentrification, such as AirBNB. Cuba’s urban centers are not an exception. Donald Trump, though it sounds unreasonable for him to re-impose sanctions, does so with a precision that reeks of prior planning. For, it is not just the AirBNB’s or the private Taxi cabs that rip you off, charging 5 times the rate of transportation, lodging, but the state also has a claim on the business. Trump’s new policies give the renewed-capitalists the exclusive right to rip off American tourists.
According to the local people, increased tourism is causing Hotels to be booked solid enough that the common person in Cuba cannot schedule let alone afford to stay in them. Those same people, turn around and let out their homes, even when they are left without a bed, because it brings in money, especially for the elderly to improve their homes little by little. The professor assures me, at least in Cuba, they cannot sell their homes to foreign nationals, but even so, she cautions, it does not mean that Cuba is not immune to displacement, she says,
“this is not a country where nothing happens.”
The Professor, now retired explained that in the 1990s Cuba entered a new economic plan following an economic collapse, she reports that this was only the latest that has had lasting effects. It is so, she says, because the solutions that the Cuban people came up with then, worked for that specific moment, she says,
“I learned very much from this.”
“back then we did surveys and diagnostics for the state, in those days with the idea for people to work more.”
“we are still working on it,”
she cites the example of a hybrid experiment between private enterprises, the state and cooperatives in the development of Pinar del Rio, one of Cuba’s urban centers as an example.
She looks at me with menacing eyes above her lenses,
“As academics, we tend to be stuck in ideals.”
“we have come to find, that knowledge and know how is embedded in the artisinal practices of the people.”
“So how do we produce new ideals?”
In recognition that when we work on a solution for a given moment, as human beings our ideals change between now and the end of the year. She offered to unify the layers of the needs and ideals of the individual, the group, the community and society. She admits,
“These are all relative to the moment.”
“What happens is based on who is at the table.”
By 1971, the Cuban revolution was 11 years old, the Profé, she was in her prime as an academic. She remembered,
“People talk about fear, but it was such a wonderful epoch in Cuba.”
Today, she claimed, Cuba is seeing the consequences of the actions that they took back then. The 1971 campaign included youth, 12, 13, and 14 years old going out to the sugar cane fields to learn, she said,
“We were without teachers in Cuba, they left.”
Most of Cuba’s teacher’s before the Revolution taught in private schools, many were nuns and priests who left.
“We had 7th graders becoming primary school teachers,”
“The Cuban Revolution is maintained by the Cuban people, they are the ones that come up with the solutions.”
Cuba’s beauty and charm is in its countryside, not in it’s cities or urban areas. La Profé tells me that is also true of it’s wealth. In Cuba, everyone recieves an equal share in subsistance support that includes three bags of rice, eight eggs, and half a poultry to contribute to whatever it is that they are able to earn by their own means, be it work, retirement funds, private enterprise, or farms. Alongside those huertos familiares and their subsistence crops, are state run dairies, tabacco, sugar cane and banana plantations. Industrial level meat packing factories, owned by the state.
La Profé reiterates, that what Cuba lacks is a distribution infrastructure that would support peasant farming operations deliver their product more efficiently to the urban centers across Cuba. Their distribution remains, like most small farmers, within a local vicinity.
Unfortunately, beyond two presentations at the conference, we weren’t talking about campesinos. No, we were talking about a growing tourism, development and marketing industry that sought to reduce the contradictions between the interests of the state, cooperatives and private enterpises.
I shared with the professor my concern about what appeared to be a capitalist tendency to turn a profit through these mechanisms, tourism, development and marketing. The trio, I shared often led the path of neoliberal capitalism to the ends of displacement and gentrification. She retorted,
“I have heard about gentrification, the type that is happening in Oakland, where people are being displaced when the taxes go up and they can no longer afford the higher rent. Cuba is different.”
“In Cuba, you can’t sell your house to a foreign national.”
I countered that Neoliberalism was alive and well in Cuba. You can see it in the music videos playing in the hotel, you can see it the way the youth dress, the practice of overcharging tourists for transportation, hospitality and gastronomic activities is rampant in cities like Havana.
The profé understood that these things were happening, she understood my warning and stand offishness, but she insisted that Cuba would be different based on what she knew and lived.
The difference is that those who blackmail are those set to benefit most from Donald Trump’s announced policies that were designed to punish the Cuban government. The goal is to make these sharks in Havana, bolder, to subsidize their enterprises to be more profitable than their counterpart in the state, to make them, people who already hated the Cuban government and were making plans and aspirations to come to “America” and publically voiced this ideal, into rebels.
With all of this, it is the working poor, the honest masses of the Cuban people, who will suffer the most under laws that are made “in their interests” by governments outside of their mundane lives.
I had the privilege of meeting and listening to these people and their mundane issues those times that I was where I was not supposed to be. Catching a maquina collectiva to Pinar del Rio, or catching a street cab to Havana, with a bad paint job, no air conditioning and a broken door in the Barrio where I stayed my final night.
These comrades, like me, are anti-capitalists. With them, I shared stories of the war back home, our battles on the labor, prison, and racial frontlines and they shared with me the trials and tribulations of debt, raising children, their hopes and dreams that were tied to our common liberation on the continent.
The maquina collectiva driver said he got goosebumps when I shared news about the Congreso Nacional Indigena, they too still have the drive and dream to be free.