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February 2012
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Harsh realities of life in Cuba

February 16, 2012 2:11 am

Harsh realities of life in Cuba
From Mr Paul Nabavi.

Sir, Having lived in Cuba for more than six years to 2007, I take issue
with Michael Redwood's romantic vision of life in contemporary Cuba
(Letters, February 13) and his assertion that it provides pointers to
"the more sustainable society" our world needs.

Like an impressionable , Mr Redwood cites the use of "bicycle
rickshaws" for getting round narrow streets and says the stock of
pre-1959 private cars is perhaps no worse than our own "over-extended
car ownership". He makes the unsubstantiated claim that Cuba is
"realising its potential to create a infrastructure which does
not follow the errors of the west". I recommend he joins ordinary Cubans
as they stand for hours in the tropical sun waiting for scarce buses or
simply for someone to stop and give them a lift just so they can get to

I agree that Cuba provides its citizens with valuable public goods
(healthcare, and basic nutrition) absent in many countries of
similar income levels, but surely Mr Redwood goes too far in saying that
in education and (and organic market gardening!) the Cubans "beat
most of the rest of the world hands down". People have commented on
original research in Cuban medicine, and I am great admirer of the
skills and dedication of Cuban doctors. However, if you talk privately
to Cubans who actually use public services, they will tell you of
slipping standards in basic care in hospitals and in schools. Most
shockingly, I was told of the need for Cubans to give presents and make
payments under the table to get many of the basic services they require.

I share Mr Redwood's regard for the resilience and creativity of the
Cuban people. They are admirable in surviving in a dysfunctional system
in which many manage against the odds to live with decency and dignity.
However, one must acknowledge the darker side of Cuban society, namely
the widespread petty corruption and pilfering. If Mr Redwood spent some
time talking with Cuban people, he would understand some of the daily
realities they face in making ends meet, getting access to basic
services and in putting on the table (what they call resolver).

Mr Redwood describes a people "who appear amazingly content despite
their many deprivations". It is, of course, hard to other people's
happiness but I would point out that many Cuban families are split
between those members who live in Cuba and those whose frustrations have
led them to emigrate in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The
resulting family separations cause much heartache and distress.

After decades of underinvestment in physical infrastructure, Cuba
requires significant capital and significant institutional reforms. Mr
Redwood warns against a rush to globalisation, which he trivialises as
having "German luxury goods and American fast food outlets". He
underestimates the challenges faced by Cuba as much as he presents a
romantic view of the present reality.

Paul Nabavi, Stonegate, E Sussex, UK

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