Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Reese Erlich (reeseerlich) Tue 27 Jan 09 15:05
Some on the left, although by no means all, idealize Cuba as a model of socialism. Others, particularly during the heyday of the Soviet Union, hailed the alliance between Cuba and the USSR as a model of international cooperation. Cuba is hardly a model for socialism. Chronic shortages of food and other basics have plagued the country for years. Cuba is far better off than many third world countries because of its free services (medicine, education, etc.) but it's hardly a model. Cuba depended far too much on the USSR with tragic results as we saw in the 1990s. Rightists exaggerate Cuba's problems, denounce the "totalitarian dictatorship" and basically want to see a return of US domination under the guise of "democracy and free markets." Luckily such forces have no popular support in Cuba. The US should end its embargo and other hostile actions. Cubans themselves will then be able to resolve their problems.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 27 Jan 09 18:47
How likely is it that the embargo would be lifted? What would have to be in place for it to be considered?
Reese Erlich (reeseerlich) Wed 28 Jan 09 17:38
I consider myself a sober optimist. I'm optimistic about change but look at Washington quite soberly. Obama will lift the restrictions on Cuban American family visits and sending of remittances, as he promised in his campaign. But otherwise I think he won't do a lot related to Cuba. The administration has ordered a policy review about Cuba, but that could take many months and then get buried. For US policy to change I think we'll need to see three factors: 1. grassroots activists will have to put a lot more pressure on the administration. Groups such as the Venceremos Brigade, Pastors for Peace and others break the embargo and publicize its inequities. Academics, artists, local politicians will all have to be a lot more active. 2. There's an interesting coming together of views about the embargo among Congressional Democratic party liberals/progressives and libertarians/pro- business Republicans. In the early 2000s, the House actually voted to abolish the embargo, but it never reached a vote in the Senate. Those same folks are still in the House. 3. Business interests in the US will have to see Cuba as a more important issue. Midwest and western agribusiness men and their political allies strongly oppose the embargo. US oil companies might come on board if they're convinced that Cuban government claims of 20 billion barrels offshore prove correct. A combination of those three factors could push the Obama administration to change Cuba policy. After all, no one can really explain why the US has normal diplomatic and trade relations with China and Vietnam, but not Cuba.
Steven McGarity (sundog) Wed 28 Jan 09 18:04
Hello Reese. Thank you for the continuing discussion. Politically I believe you mentioned several times the problems that must be overcome with the coming transition from Castro rule. Is your sense that there is a skilled mid tier level of folks ready to step forward and lead, much as President Obama represents a new generation for the United States? It was not a very attractive picture you painted of a sustained struggle over Cuban leadership especially if the Miami Cubans get involved in the fray. I do certainly wonder why communist rule becomes dictatorship for life given the democratic socialism basis of the political movement. Is this trouble with the U.S. merely waiting until the current leaders die out. Socially, I would like to delve further into your comments on social factors where the U.S. may indeed learn from Cuba. Education seems so very strong in Cuba. Is it true that education for Cubans is free and guaranteed through the university level? I was recently looking over some high school graduation statistics for the U.S. and they appear dismal. While in Cuba doesn't the graduation rate hover around 98%. I know Cuba has certainly produced an awesome number of teachers and doctors which have consistently been used to help further the undeveloped nations, particularly in the Americas. What is the difference? Is education compelled or merely made attractive. Are students prepared for skills in the workplace or like here is a high school diploma based on going to college with no real marketable skills trained, leading to a nation of young people working at McDonalds.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Wed 28 Jan 09 19:38
I reach for https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ USA Infant mortality rate: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world total: 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births male: 6.95 deaths/1,000 live births female: 5.62 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.) Literacy: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 99% male: 99% female: 99% (2003 est.) School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order total: 16 years male: 15 years female: 16 years (2006) Education expenditures: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world 5.3% of GDP (2005) CUBA nfant mortality rate: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world total: 5.93 deaths/1,000 live births male: 6.64 deaths/1,000 live births female: 5.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.) Literacy: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 99.8% male: 99.8% female: 99.8% (2002 census) School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order total: 16 years male: 15 years female: 17 years (2006) Education expenditures: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world 9.1% of GDP (2006 SWEDEN ==================== Infant mortality rate: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world total: 2.75 deaths/1,000 live births male: 2.91 deaths/1,000 live births female: 2.58 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.) Literacy: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 99% male: 99% female: 99% (2003 est.) School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order total: 16 years male: 15 years female: 17 years (2006) Education expenditures: Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order Comparison to the rest of the world 7.1% of GDP (2005)
Dude called (gerry) Wed 28 Jan 09 19:48
Reese, thanks very much for your <26>. I was surprised to see that your response coincides closely with opinions I've held for many years. I also strongly favor ending the embargo, and I have for many years, though my reasons are probably rather different than those of most other people who want to end it. I think the embargo doesn't amount to a hill of beans. It's total bullshit. Cuba enjoys good relations with practically every country on earth, except the US. You can buy a Cuban cigar in Canada, or Mexico, or England, or probably most other places in the world. So what? The fundamental problem, in my view, is that the Cuban economic system simply does not work. It looked splendid while it was being propped up by the Soviets, but those days have long since passed. The US embargo against Cuba has very clearly failed in its main objective. That alone is reason enough to end it. Furthermore, the embargo has provided a convenient excuse for Cuba's economic dysfunction. Today, all of Cuba's problems can be blamed on the embargo, and many people - even many Americans - are just gullible enough believe it. Take away the embargo and the real underlying problem would quickly become self-evident; the truth would stand naked for all to see. I am not suggesting that Cuba needs to roll over and let McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks take over the country. I sincerely hope that Cuba will not sell out its hard fought social values (and for what it's worth, I don't think Cuba will do so). But I am suggesting that the Cuban leadership needs to learn the lessons that are easily accessible by observing what has worked and what has not worked in other former "third world" nations, or as development economists prefer to call them, nations of the global South. In 1960, Marxist socialism still looked pretty good on paper, and the state of econometrics being what it was at the time, there really wasn't a whole lot of solid data to go on. One can sympathize with Fidel for what he attempted to do back then. But technology has come a long way since then and we now have the benefit of a lot of history and historical data. One can easily excuse Castro for whatever misguided policy decisions he made in 1960. But by 1990, it's difficult to come up with an excuse (other than the embargo). The Soviets gave it their best shot. The Chinese gave it their best shot. It just doesn't work. In 1960, Cuba and South Korea were in approximately the same boat, in terms of their respective aggregate economic situations. Thirty years later, South Korea emerged as one of economic miracles of the developing world, while Cuba continued to be an economic basket-case. Oh, sure, it's absolutely praiseworthy that Cuba has provided education and healthcare for all of its people. It looks absolutely stellar compared to other nations of the South. But, guess what? South Korea has provided BETTER education and BETTER healthcare to all of its people than has Cuba, and with some semblance of liberty to go with it. Yes, Cubans are better off than Haitians. But they're not better off than Swedes or Danes or Norwegians. If you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with comparisons that make Cuba look good, I really don't think it says much for Cuba.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Wed 28 Jan 09 19:59
the easiest way to end Cuban communism would be end the embago tourist dollars would soon corrupt the economy
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Thu 29 Jan 09 23:37
Reese, I have a question about popular artist earnings. Musicians like Chucho Valdés make a darned good living outside Cuba and I assume are equivalent to "rich" in Cuba. What do they do with their money or are allowed to do with it? Do they have multiple houses and live a "rich" life? I don't mean to disparage against them. In my case I'm a heavy duty Irakere fan. Just curious about the potential conflict of being rich in a socialist state.
Reese Erlich (reeseerlich) Fri 30 Jan 09 15:21
Responding to your posts: 1. Yes, theres a group of highly intelligent, experienced leaders in their 50s and 60s who will step forward after Rauls death. (Hes 77) I predict there will be sharp debates about the nature of economic reforms. 2. Yes, Cuban education is completely free from K to PhD. That includes tuition, books, dorms with food, etc. Cuba is personnel rich and resource poor. The teachers are very good. But they lack modern equipment in most cases, including computers. Class rooms may be falling apart, textbooks are old and the college dorms are barely habitable. Nevertheless, when Cuban students migrate to Florida, they are generally 1-2 years ahead of their US counterparts in math and similar studies. 3. Cuban life expectancy, health, and infant mortality statistics are very impressive, sometimes exceeding those in the US. Cuba ranks #54 of 193 countries in the world, according to UN stats. (life expectancy, health and education) 4. We can debate the relative merits of socialism all day. I express my views in several chapters in Dateline Havana. I hope we can all agree, however, that Cubans themselves must control their own future. US interference whether through terrorist attacks or the embargo only makes matters worse. 5. I dont think ending the embargo and normalizing diplomatic relations will lead to a flood of capitalist depravity in Cuba. Cuba has been open to Canadian and European investment and tourism since 1991. The Cuban government forms joint ventures with foreigners, retaining 51% ownership. If tourists get too rowdy, the government can cancel the contracts with tour agencies and refuse visas. There are no Starbucks or MacDonalds (or their European counterparts) likely to pop up anytime soon. Spring Break crazies will have to find some other vacation locale. 6. Successful musicians such as Chucho Valdes live a very privileged life in Cuba. They can travel freely. They can buy multiple houses, including buying abroad. Eliades Ochoa, the cowboy hat wearing singer from Buena Vista Social Club fame, told me he owns 3 houses: Santiago, Havana, Madrid. But wealth in Cuba is nothing like wealth in the US or Europe. There are no limos, private jets, and drug-infused parties. Musicians often help out family and friends financially. There are also no Ponzi schemes and financially collapsing investments.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Sun 1 Feb 09 11:19
> I hope we can all agree, however, that Cubans themselves must > control their own future. Absolutely. Reese, a while back there was a story in the press reporting that among an upsurge of Cuban doctors in Venezuela was also an upsurge of Cuban _babalaos_ (basically priests of lucumí santería) proliferating the practice of the Yoruba-based religion and, more disturbingly, it's dark side, known as _palo_. (See, for example: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/05/world/fg-blackmagic5) It led me to wonder if the practice of santería has played any role, even informally or covertly, in Cuba's political system. What is your take on that?
(nanlev) Sun 1 Feb 09 13:56
Thanks for participating in the discussion, Reese. Can you comment on the currency system in effect for tourists versus citizens and residents of Cuba ? When I was there in 1989 (long ago, I know) that was one of the more interesting and vexing practises. Three tiered: tourist money, some intermediate currency, and then actual Cuban pesos. Is that still in operation ? Who does it benefit and what are the consequences of it, intended or not ?
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Sun 1 Feb 09 23:56
<gerry>, that's an interesting question. I'd like to know, too, though I strongly suspect there's little to no influence on the political side. I think the government doesn't really having people believing in and celebrating that stuff but they put up with it. The son of my godmother is a babalao. When I got to see her and met him (and his wife as well), my godmother was celebrating 'el cumpleaños del santo' (San Lázaro, I think). The foyer had 2 life size statues, one of San Lázaro and the other I think was Santa Bárbara. On the floor was a substantial array of flowers and plants and a big birthday cake. The cake was Cuban style, lot's of fancy frosting. It was a sight. They raised pigs on the side in a small back yard. They lived in a colorful neighborhood called Fábrica which my parents have talked to me about. Babalaos make pretty good money from all this initiation stuff. I'm sure there're no receipts...
Steven McGarity (sundog) Mon 2 Feb 09 06:12
Politically that's an issue for me as well, what <nanlev> said and <miguel> alluded to in a way I think. Special Money. Resse said, "But the economic gap in Cuba is not between the parasitic petire bourgeoisie and the working class. It was between Cubans with access to hard currency and those that don't have it. A taxi driver or a hotel waiter legally earning Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC's) might take home twice the monthly salary of a cancer surgeon. That situation won't change until the Cuban economy produces more domestic products and is able to raise people's real wages." And if I understood correctly, this dollar currency is largely supplemented from Miami as well. An elite based on outside currency or resources defeats the worker collective ideal. The health care transition when the free market economy arrives seems like another important issue. Once it becomes money driven the prospect of large numbers falling outside the system becomes a danger. I think the States could learn a great deal about health care from the Cubans or even our own military. In our military health care is assumed, a basic right, and clinics are available for every person. Care is done at the lowest effective level but a system exists to pass more critical cases up the system to a hospital or even more specialized treatment center. If you could Reese maybe talk a little more about the Cuban health system as it effects everyday people. Great discussion. Thanks.
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Mon 2 Feb 09 06:29
I don't think you could call relatives that get money from family in Miami 'elite'. They're much better off than many, that's for sure. I don't know how difficult it would be but it would be interesting to know what percentage of the population in Cuba has access to dollars via their job or other activities vs. those that receive dollars from family outside Cuba. Can such a number be reasonably calculated, Reese? When I think 'elite' in Cuba, I think of that relatively restricted class that has political clout and access to things most Cubans don't, a car, Internet access, connections but not those that receive remittances.
Cogito, Ergo Spero (robertflink) Mon 2 Feb 09 06:54
Some of my friends take pleasure in talking politics. If politics is discussed in Cuba, what is the discussion like? Are there debates about such things as policy, people, program effectiveness, reality versus the constitution, who has the ear of the powerful, fairness, mistakes, revisionist history, etc.? Do people seem to enjoy such discussion? Every country has a gray and/or a black market. What are such like in Cuba.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Mon 2 Feb 09 09:06
In response to Miguel's <37>, what first got me wondering about it was the PBS documentary, _The Roots of Rhythm_, from which I gathered that the practice of santería in Cuba was not only alive and well, but thriving at the grass roots level. It had been my understanding that religion, in general, had been frowned upon and, to varying degrees, suppressed by the Cuban Revolution. But this documentary, along with other Cuban works I've observed, indicated that santería was out in the open and unimpeded. From that I got a hunch that either Castro indulged it because it helped keep the common folk pacified, or else he encouraged it because it was somehow useful for him, or both. I've known many santeros and I can certainly appreciate how their way of life was shaped historically. After all, if you were African and the people who were teaching you about Jesus Christ were the same people who were selling your family members into slavery, you would have good cause to be suspicious of Christianity and hold onto your own people's spiritual traditions. And that's what they did. San Lázaro is code for Babalú Ayé. Santa Barbara is code for Changó. Still, most of the santeros I've known seemed to have to worry a lot about spiritual protections from curses, things like _ojo malo_ (evil eye), _mala lengua_ (bad tongue), and what not, as well as the recurring need to _despojar_ (ritual cleansing). Given all that, IF (and it's a big if, and why I asked the question) santeros could somehow be led to conflate anti-revolutionary thoughts or actions with other things to be feared, it could be an effective tool of empire. Or admittedly, that could be one heck of a stretch on my part. "Sometimes you will read that santería is a mixture of African and Catholic religions. This requires some comment. Santería, as I use the term in this book, is a version of the Yoruba religion with a veneer of Catholicism, incorporating the conqueror's forms, symbols, and rituals as it pleases, or as necessary." -- Ned Sublette _Cuba and Its Music: From the Firt Drums to the Mambo_ (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2004), p. 213.
Reese Erlich (reeseerlich) Mon 2 Feb 09 09:38
Folks are raising some really interesting issues. Ive been speaking about Dateline Havana all over the country, and this chat group goes into the greatest depth. I dont know a lot about Santeria except that the government supports it as a legitimate religion. People fervently believe in its practices. Its myths and absurdities are no greater than that of Catholics and other religions (virgin birth?) Now, have I pissed everyone off? Regarding currency. The government prohibited Cubans from possessing dollars before the early 1990s, but legalized it in the midst of the economic crisis following the collapse of the USSR. For many years, the US dollar was the legal hard currency in Cuba and freely exchangeable for Cuban pesos. Then in the early 2000s, Cuba was losing money because of the devaluation of the dollar against the Euro. So it printed the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is the hard currency in Cuba today. It was worth about 25 pesos when I was last in Cuba, or about US $1.10. The government charges an extra 10% premium to exchange US dollars, so anyone planning to travel to Cuba should bring Euros or Canadian dollars, which are exchanged without the penalty. Cubans can earn CUCs by working in the tourism industry (waiters, cab drivers, etc.), by getting remittances from abroad or by black market activity (selling stolen goods, prostitution, illegally renting out a room in your house to tourists, etc.) As noted earlier, theres a huge gap between those who have regular access to CUCs and those who dont. Those with access certainly arent an elite. Theyre just fortunate. Cubans living abroad send about $1 billion a year to their relatives, a sizeable chunk of the countrys GDP. But this shouldnt be surprising, as the same situation exists for El Salvador and other countries with sizeable immigrant populations in the US. Cubans are angry at the two-tiered currency system and want to see it abolished. But if the government suddenly doubled the income of surgeons and other underpaid workers, the country would have massive inflation. Cuba has to increase its output of food, nickel, sugar cane and other goods before the disparities can be corrected. And, so far, the government hasnt figured out how to do that. I predict there will be a lot more debate and struggle around economic reforms after Fidels death, and particularly after Raul dies (hes 77).
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Mon 2 Feb 09 10:04
Reese, you've been reporting on Cuba for a very long time - about 40 years or so, if I understood correctly. I'm curious to know what are the most significant changes you've witnessed in Cuba during all of those years? I'm also interested in your response to the questions posed in <40>.
Steven McGarity (sundog) Tue 3 Feb 09 18:29
>I predict there will be a lot more debate and struggle around >economic reforms after Fidels death, and particularly after Raul >dies (hes 77). For one thing it is amazing we have economic and trade ties with Vietnam and not Cuba, or even consider China for that matter. But I assume at some point the States will normalize relations with Cuba. It is going to be interesting to follow how the economics plays out. The dual currency issue erodes at the bedrock of collectivism. Maybe it is not relevant to a money economy. Reese, I was interested to learn that the military is operating effectively creating business entities. Is this sort of the Chinese model? It seems a better possibility than pirhana corporations, foreign or domestic. You painted I thought grim scenarios of conflict once leadership must pass beyond the Castros - out migration explosion, drug cartels, social services collapse. Should the States be involved. What is our role to be. The overthrow of the Cuban political system? Why should we care. Why not just let the market work between the two countries.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Tue 3 Feb 09 19:50
I don't have the benefit of Reese's first-hand knowledge and experience of Cuba itself, but I have known a lot of Cubans here in the US, several hundred of them, to be sure. I've spent countless hours with them in their businesses and in their homes, sitting with them around their tables sipping _café cubano_ (or maybe a Spanish red wine), until all hours of the night. Some of them had been rich and powerful in Cuba before the revolution. Others had just been middle class. Some of them had supported Castro before the revolution, and had even given him money. Others had never been Castro supporters. But one thing that they all had in common was that they all felt betrayed by Castro when he finally came to power, and they all felt bitter about him and his revolution. And they were all INTENSELY nostalgic about Cuba. So there's my bias. I realize that SOME Cubans became better off after the revolution than they were before, but I have never personally met one of them. All the Cubans I've known regard themselves as worse off after the revolution. They're all well educated - very well, in fact - and they're all pretty decent folks. And their numbers are not insignificant. Yes, the bulk of them are in southern Florida, but there are also hundreds of thousands of them in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, etc. If even a significant fraction of those refugees return to Cuba once the current system implodes (and I think it's only a matter of time before it does), it could be very chaotic. I fear, in fact, that it could even lead to civil war.
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Wed 4 Feb 09 00:06
> I realize that SOME Cubans became better off > after the revolution than they were before I am surmising here but, within Cuba, I would say it's much more than SOME. Before we left (Dec 1960) my Dad told me stories about what it was like out in the countryside. Think Haiti, child prostitution, high infant mortality... The exiled community suffered as well, though, given the level of education and, in some cases, the money they were able to take out, it wasn't all bad. I'm not here to justify everything that happened after 1959. I just want to remind everyone that those who suffered from poverty, extreme poverty, lack of education, lack of access to medical resources, in cities and the countryside gained a hell of a lot after 1959.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Wed 4 Feb 09 09:16
You make an important point, Miguel. I don't have numbers available, but if "SOME" should instead be "MOST," then I stand corrected and am not surprised. After all, that was/is the norm for underdeveloped nations living under US-friendly dictatorships. Back in the '70s, I read an article in a Mexican magazine titled, "Vida Sin Medias, Pero Zapatos Para Todos," ('Life without socks/stockings, but shoes for everyone'), in which the author presented a sober before-and-after portrait of life in Cuba, from the point of view of someone who was very poor before the revolution. It was an eye-opener for me because, as I said, I had a biased view from the Cubans I'd known. (I'm sorry I can't recall the name of the author, nor the name of the magazine.)
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Wed 4 Feb 09 09:41
The nostalgia thing with exiled Cubans is something I'm very familiar with. My father suffers from that disease, my mother to a lesser extent, she's been able to forget a lot (I think in no small part because her childhood was tough and poor). If you heard my father talk about Cuba you'd swear that, while it was an unjust society economically and racially, everything else was outstanding. The social life, food, human relations. Many exiles that are angrier about what happened insist Cuba was fabulous in all respects. I'm confident my father is right though those were other times, in Cuba, the US and everywhere else. He complains mostly about the lack of comparable social life in the US. They live in Miami now. I've tried to get my father to snap out of the nostalgia mode but to no avail. The older Cuban generation has proved that it will never get out of that mindset until they're dead and buried.
Reese Erlich (reeseerlich) Wed 4 Feb 09 14:50
I appreciate the lively discussion from all participants. A number of the points raised here (economy, human rights, who supports the revolution/who doesn't, and future US policy) are all discussed in Dateline Havana. I hope people have a chance to buy it. This ends the formal 2 weeks of WELL discussion. I am doing a national speaking tour. Midwest during the last two weeks of Feb; March on the West Coast. See www.reeseerlich.com for more details.
Dana Reeves (dana) Wed 4 Feb 09 14:56
Thank you for joining us, Reese. Feel free to stop back by if you've got time.
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