Morbid Individualism Invades Cuba
orbid Individualism Invades Cuba
June 15, 2012
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — In straightforward language, understandable by Muzhiks
and Cossacks alike, Lenin noted that a revolutionary situation occurred
when those above can no longer govern as before, and those below can no
longer bear their government as before.
This is an image that always reminded me of a failed rape attempt, but
that in its essence aims to describe a historical tipping point that
changes the correlation of political forces in a particular society.
Obviously, there's nothing like this in Cuba. Although it's true that
those above can't do things like they always did, they still have the
energy to keep themselves on top. At the same time, though those down
below don't seem to want those on top, they're not sure what they want.
When this happens, Italian communist Antonio Gramsci said society is
faced with an organic crisis characterized by the emergence of "morbid
phenomena of the most varied kind."
Our society is experiencing this. An example is the emergence of
unhealthy individualism, where people have no sense of responsibly for
what happens beyond their familiar circle, which is complemented by a no
less irresponsible technocratic line that speaks of winners and losers.
This is a paradoxical situation in a system that has worked hard to
present the collective above everything else, crushing the individual.
In this, individuals have wound up escaping forced collectivism but are
unable to build voluntary associations, even the most basic ones.
This is not a random or unexpected result. As part of their strategy of
social dominance, the post-revolutionary elite charged itself with
instilling in Cubans the dreadful idea that collectives only serve to
respond to a superior level and that those below only exist to the
extent that they are part of a vertical command and control structure.
Nothing outside of this top-down structure is of any worth, and nothing
outside can exist that is not exposed to repression.
The possibilities for horizontal interaction, for there to be
initiatives outside the official environment — even if it's a
pro-workers slogan on May Day — and for people to freely associate were
(and are) considered disruptive and punishable.
The most genuine public settings in Havana (those in which people
interact freely, socialize and form communities for certain purposes)
are little more than tolerated and controlled ghettos along the Malecon
seawall or on the wide avenues of the Vedado district or in public parks.
Therefore these anomalous covens of "weirdoes" — gays, freakies,
gothics, lesbians, emos, dissidents, critics, artists and free thinkers
— are separated from "normal people" by a perimeter guarded by
"friendly" police officers.
The other settings, the official public ones, are actually "non-places"
where people go for something specific and leave as soon as they can,
like one does from a bus station. This applies to the inhospitable
Revolution Square and the "Protestodromo" (a downright macabre site
built on the ruins of an exquisite complex designed by Jean-Claude
Nicolas Forestier nearly a century ago).
It is a problem that not only concerns the possibility of engaging in
politics, but it is also related to questions of everyday life.
A few days ago I received information from a friend (an almost "winner"
who has joined the emerging middleclass) about the distressing situation
of water in her apartment building located on the edge of the upscale
The situation begins with the poor supply capacity but is exacerbated by
the fact that the building's residents, unable to meet and come to an
agreement, have been installing "water thieves" (individual pumps) in
their apartments, resulting in a situation in which half of the
residents are often deprived of any water.
This same friend of mine, with a young daughter, is already preparing
her budget to pay for a tutor as the only way to compensate for the
decline of the Cuban educational system.
Later I saw an article in Havana Times by the astute Erasmo Calzadilla
concerning a young disabled woman (Mercedes), who has to live and raise
her son on the equivalent of $10 USD, which the government gives her as
Though she has a technical school degree, she can't find work because of
her physical condition, and therefore lives in a hovel with 16 other
people. What's more, her orthopedic boots (essential for her being able
to move around) cost $40 or a four-year wait.
Mercedes — a typical "loser" to our beloved technocrats — doesn't see a
way out of her situation, especially since she says that there is
corruption in the management of the Housing Department.
As an example, she cites the fact that though they are required to
supply two homes per year to disabled people, they have never fulfilled
that obligation – instead they sell the units under the table.
This is something that the Cuban Association of Persons with Physical
Disabilities (ACLIFIM) should protest, but instead they do nothing.
I live in a liberal country (the Dominican Republic), among whose many
virtues is neither a high level of democratic civility or sociability.
Nonetheless, in the building where I live there's a neighborhood council
that makes decisions that affect all the residents, and it functions
Society has taken in its hands a constant struggle for the improvement
of education, and when problems are presented at any school it is normal
for parents and students to mobilized around the issue.
They will form coalitions of parents, students, teachers and activists
who demand better education by demonstrating in the street or picketing
outside of parliament. But my friend and many other disappointed parents
could never do that in Cuba.
Just recently I read about hundreds of people with disabilities who took
over a downtown public square in one South American capital and forced
the government to revise its social assistance policies.
They simply converted their physical weaknesses into strengths in a
But Mercedes — and hundreds of people in her same situation — cannot
protest because ACLIFIM is a vertically controlled social welfare
organization whose leadership would never consider taking over a public
square (if they even thought about such an action they would be removed
from their positions ipso facto).
So when — in the greatest act of cynicism — the Cuban leaders and their
poorly paid bloggers began to denounce paternalism and
nestlings-with-their-beaks-wide-open, Cubans had no choice but to begin
dealing with all of their problems individually, purely on their own.
This includes even those basic problems that require a minimum degree of
cooperation. It's like a society in retreat where the notion of
collective action smells of imposition and obligation.
It is a circumstance where those who are able rush to get on the train —
like my friend who has already installed her own personal "water thief"
— while those who are unable, like Mercedes, die while living in shacks
with 16 other people.
I sincerely believe that among the historical responsibilities for which
the post-revolutionary political elite will have to answer is having
dissolved the sense of association as the basic element of citizenship.
They destroyed the wealth of a civil society that organized all kinds of
associations and went back to this drama of atomization and banality.
For this same reason, reconstructing that fabric should be a priority
for Cuba's democratic future.
*Published originally in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com