Celebration and ground beef

To mark the half century since the first of January 1959, we Cubans could buy, through the ration system, half a pound of ground beef.  The sense of humor that frequently saves us from neurosis did not spare the unexpected delicacy which was baptized as “the picadillo sent by Chavez,” an allusion to the obvious economic shoring-up that comes from Venezuela.

A political process of the magnitude of a socialist revolution should aspire, for its fiftieth anniversary, to more ambitious results and more pompous parties, but there is not much to give.  Although it seems a frivolity, for many Cubans the sale of that beef was the most significant event that happened lately.  Its flavor will be the memory we will keep of a gray December and a January equally haggard, where there were not even promises of possible improvements and reforms.

71 thoughts on “Celebration and ground beef

  1. Yoani,ante todo mis saludos,me gustaria tener contacto contigo sobre todo de CINE,VEO que has cambiado algo del formato,por ejemplo ya no veo REFRANES CUBANOS Y TODO EL MUNDO HABLA,DEJAME SABER.ABRAZOS

  2. Hi Yoarky,

    I don’t know enough about Cuban history to know whether there is any past government that could be used as a model. What I do know is that Latin America and the Carribean has transformed itself in the past 50 years while Cuba – despite calling it a revolution – has made little progress. In 1959, Latin America was mostly governed by dictatorships and military juntas. Today, with the exception of Cuba, all Latin American and Carribean countries are – despite their imperfections – multiparty democracies.

    I mentioned Costa Rica because it was one of the first countries in the region to embrace democracy. Many others have followed, and hopefully some day so will Cuba.

  3. I want to make a comment in response to an earlier discussion about China and Saudi Arabia….China is very successful because it completely exdploits its people. It has the worse record for children in the world working in factories; it has the worse statistiics for people being killed in its mines and they shoot hundreds each year for crimminal offences and sell their body parts….this is a country that does not have democracy and Ray says is very successful! What do you think?

  4. YOARKY —
    I know there are a few mistakes in grammar in your sentences, and a word here or there that is misspelled or maybe just a typo, and I thank you for your kind words about how I express myself… but I think your words are so much more eloquent, so much stronger and more powerful… they really touch my heart. Like Yoani touches my heart, you touch my heart.

    Because my words about Cuba… they come from so little experience and from someone who lives a completely different life, so different I can hardly imagine. I can imagine not having enough money, I myself have stood in line at a food bank for free food, I can imagine a life with many painful and difficult things in it because like most people I have had painful and difficult things. What I can’t imagine is not having hope. Not being able to think about and plan and to try to make my own future. I can’t imagine myself back in the line at that food bank (where they gave me about five pounds of delicious cheese! It was great! We ate that cheese for a long time), I cannot imagine standing in line at that food bank and thinking “this is my life now”… “I will always have to depend on others to help me”… “I will never be in a better condition than I am today.”

    That’s not what I was thinking when I stood in that line. I was thinking, “Thank god we have this food bank… this is going to be so nice to have some extra food… I’m glad this is here for people like me who aren’t working.” But I was also thinking, “I probably won’t have to come back here… I think that job I applied for, I will probably get it, and in a few weeks I’ll be making money again. And once I get a few bills paid and things are going better… I think things are going to be good for me again. I’m sure I’ll do fine because I’m smart, I work hard, I do good work… everything is going to work out great. Maybe when I get more settled I’ll spend some time volunteering at this food bank and helping other people who are where I am today….”

    It seems to me, in Cuba, there is no hope, no future to plan for. What do the young people look forward to? What can they make of their lives?

    In one of Yoani’s articles I remember she was talking to a young person (another young person, she herself is young!) and he said something about comparing the span of history and the span of one individual’s life, 10 years, 20 years, 100 years, it’s nothing in the history of man. But in one human life, ten or twenty years, that’s the time you have to find a partner and start having children, if you miss that chance it’s gone forever. When you are young, and you are strong and healthy and still have your mind (!!!), that is the time to become educated and try things and see what you can do. If you miss it, you can’t get it back. Maybe someone in the future can have that time but you never will again, for your life, it is gone.

    Anyway… when I read your words, you say this better than I ever can. And it really touches me. You don’t need anyone else to speak for you. You speak very well for yourself.

  5. Hi John 2,

    Thanks for your reply. Your example is good, but I spoke about cuban experience, other governments or times in Cuba, though about Costa Rica, I don´t think they know either. Instead of investigating about those things…they waste their time controlling.
    On the other side, Costa Rica and Cuba have a lot of differences, specially because they have a lot more resources.
    We have some natural resources we don´t take profit on.
    Cubans in charge of the economy do not know anything about economy, and those who know, are not alloud to offer alternatives to the situation.

  6. Hi Yoarky,

    I think you expressed yourself in English very well. Thanks for sharing your views to this blog’s English language readers.

    If you are looking for a model for Cuba to emulate, I would suggest Costa Rica. Despite being in a politically unstable part of the world, Costa Rica in 2009 is celebrating 60 years of uninterrupted multiparty democracy. Costa Rica has one of the strongest economies in Latin America, and also ranks very highly (not only in the region but in the world) in terms of its health and educational achievements, low levels of poverty and inequality, and strong record of environmental protection.

  7. Hey Andy, I wouldn’t worry too much about what av2ts has to say. It’s interesting how he can talk from his comfortable home in California where he’s got his own computer connection and can say whatever he likes about Cuba or the country he lives in. He has no idea apparently what it’s like NOT TO BE ABLE TO DO JUST THAT.

  8. I wish someone could translate this discussion into spanish or publish it for the world. Most of cuban people who emigrated think like you Andy, but unfortunately cannot explain it as good as you do…. at least it that´s my case.
    I think your opinion is important above all, for all those who naively believe cubans emigrate because of greed so to speak, or lost of moral values. Some people do not seem to understand that material needs condition peoples´s psychological state and therefore their personality and identity.
    If you spend months and years only struggling with problems: looking for money to buy the same food everyday, clothes and shoes and things of a very bad quality at incredibly high prices, trying to repair all things which actually do not work anymore, and hearing and seing everywhere difficulties, carring the responsability for the whole family if you are young, without having expectations of a better future (no plans of having your own nice small place for a family, a good job, and sometimes a retribution for your work), then it is very difficult to experience any satisfaction in your dayly life. At large, get everybody just tired of frustrations. Frustrations make you decide someday that nothing is important anymore, you decide to quit fighting with the dayly nonsense. Then there is only one way, you just want to scape at least in a song, or to live the life of a book you could´t have.

    On the other side, we all human beings have a goal in life. We are like boats and we need a direction. If you don´t know that goal, where to go, then you are lost and could only arrive nowhere. Which is the goal of the comunist government? To survive at any cost. Which are the strategies from the government to improve? Waiting for someone to help us… Great expectations ! This is the same that happens in personal dimensions.
    Maybe another very important aspect to mention is that cuban people never experienced anything really better. Before revolution, Cuban looked great but that´s it. So, cuban doesn´t have a modell which is also very important in life.

    Andy, if you could help me, please…I cannot explain myself that good… I try.

  9. @ av2ts, re your post 55 above.

    I’m curious as to why you choose to ignore the UN Human Rights Commission report on Cuban “elections” that I quoted from in post 28 above, choosing instead to regurgitate propaganda from the Castro regime in #55? I even helpfully provided a link to the full report in #28.

    Oh, and a specific question. Can you name the other political parties in Cuba (other than the Communist Party) and explain what you mean by the phrase “many others are tolerated to exist”?

  10. @ Yoarky – PS
    A LOT of us here can READ spanish but, like you, it’s much harder to write in another language than to read it… so you should feel free to comment in spanish. Some won’t be able to read it but a lot will!

  11. @ YOARKY
    “Can someone explain to me which their main problem is, please? Maybe Andy or avt2ts themselves? ”

    HI Yoarky — nice to see you here. Well like most discussions on Gen Y you have to work back through the comments on multiple posts — so I will give my view and avt2ts can respond or not as he/she pleases.

    To me, and I think many others, but I can’t speak for everybody, avt2ts is a “true believer”… Fidel is good, communism is good, the system in Cuba is great, people live well in Cuba, they have excellent health care, no one is homeless, no one is hungry, and it really IS a democracy because everyone gets to vote!!!!

    From my point of view, Fidel is a fundamentally evil man who has enslaved a nation for 50 years — evil and of course psychotic — what kind of human being thinks 11 million other human beings should be his personal slaves — his huge cast for his own “fantasy island” — where everything good is a direct result of how wonderful he is and everything bad is the fault of the evil empire 90 miles across the waves.

    So… we get into the arguments of comparison… all about things we can count. And should Cuba be compared to the US or Ecuador or Germany or North Korea?

    In an earlier post, as you can read here — I said why does Cuba compare itself to what it says is the worst country in the world — the U.S.? Why doesn’t it strive to be like the “best” country in the world, whatever country that may be?

    But in this latest post I was just making the point that I don’t think comparing one country to another — and only on things that can be counted — is necessarily a good way to measure what we value as human beings. To me, yes, it is important that people have a decent standard of living. It’s not just that in Cuba ‘everything’ is falling down (ok not everything… but certainly the buildings in Havana are crumbling every day)… but the amount of TIME and EFFORT people have to spend to meet their basic daily needs is enormous. I know in other countries people WORK long hours to make the money to buy what they need and want and we can compare lives looking at being at work versus working all day standing in line and making deals and so on… But I am not interested in say comparing the lives of Cubans to the lives of the poor people who cling to the hillsides in shacks in other countries. That should not be a good measure of economic success.

    And… I think we also need to expand our definitions… to me… freedom of speech… freedom of the press (and it is not ‘freedom of the press’ to tell me that the writers of the only papers allowed… those controlled by the government… can and do write what they want… first of all because it’s not true and second of all because having only government owned papers is not press freedom)… freedom of association… freedom to demonstrate and demand the redress of grievances… freedom to travel… to LEAVE one’s country and to RETURN to it without losing your citizenship after 11 months… all these freedoms are the MOST important.

    Without freedom people are simply serfs. We are back to the 12th century and before — where there were rulers/owners and ruled/owned. That to me is what the Castros are… the rulers and owners. Everyone else is ruled and owned. They are treated like small children… worse than small children. ok rant rant rant my fingers are tired!

  12. I like this discussion from Andy and avt2ts but I don´t really see these views as counterpoints…

    Can someone explain to me which their main problem is, please? Maybe Andy or avt2ts themselves?

    Thank you in advanced and greatings!

  13. @av2ts SAID
    After all, no good, proud American is going to want to be beaten by Cuba at anything.


    I am not advocating any particular comparison at all and I’m not sure there are any that are valid. I was asking the question about those who do compare. And I think the idea of beating or being beaten by is destructive of our worth as human beings. Regardless of where I was born or live, I want all the world’s people to prosper and to enjoy basic human rights and freedom. My gain is not someone else’s loss. All of us on this planet sink or swim together.

    As for valuing only things we can count, to quote someone who was no friend of Fidel’s… so you can toss it out on that basis if you like:

    “Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge [insert name of any country you like here] by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

    “Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about [insert name of any country you like here] except why we are proud that we are [insert name applied to citizens of any country you like here].”

  14. Andy, Cuba ought not to be compared to the US or Europe. They ought to be compared with the Carribean and Latin America. Using the 2 most important statistics to health care analysts (infant mortality and life expentency) Cuba’s health care is indeed tops in the region. I think when people (like Michael Moore) compre the US’ terrible system to Cuba they are doing so to prove a point that even a poor “basket case” (the popular conception) of country can achieve better results than is. It is meant to shame the US into much needed action. After all, no good, proud American is going to want to be beaten by Cuba at anything.

  15. Dice — well this blog might have 45 million readers but I don’t know how many of them live in the USofA and how many have and don’t have health insurance. (ok… solo una chiste pequena!)

    But seriously — the 45 million people in the US without healthcare are probably about like the 11 million people in Cuba who do have health care. All of them can go to the doctor…. in the US it might be a free clinic or an emergency room…. and all of them can sit there and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, sometimes all day… and then… well some will get good care, and some will get bad care, and some might die while they are waiting.

    But my question to you is, why is Cuba’s healthcare system always compared to the United States which only has government care for some children and old people. Why isn’t it compared to the wonderful systems that exist in other countries like Norway and Sweden? Why does the government of Cuba say, on the one hand, “America is the evil empire… the horrible imperialists… everything about it is bad,” and then brag that it is not as bad as the “worst in the world” at something? If the system in Cuba is so wonderful, why don’t they compare themselves to the best in the world? Like some of the European countries where people live very well, with all their human rights and personal freedom intact, and there is much less stratification of society — fewer very rich and fewer very poor. Why does Cuba only aspire to not be as bad as the worst? Why doesn’t it aspire to be as good as the best?

  16. Thanks Andy to welcoming me to this blog/free country. I’m interested in healthcare, and was wondering if this blog like America with 45 million plus uninsured or like Cuba? Just curious, cheers!

  17. Anonimo, you are right about Tracey Eaton. My apologies. I had just looked at the thumbnail photo and thought I was looking at a woman (plus the name)…

    Sickboy, I appreciate your response. Here’s mine.

    First I would argue Bolivia’s recent election of Evo shows they are, in many profound ways, more democratic than the US. Bolivia and the US system have proufound differences. And I am not advocating on behalf of Cuba’s exact political system either. It has its faults, yes in regards to not encouraging a diversity of opinion. As I said, it is my opinion that the challenges from the US recessitated such a priority placed on unity. Yet, the system is far from Dictatorial and its positive features are not at all well understood by most in the West.

    Re: term limits, I see we agree on that too. But it looks like you do not understand that (national) Cuban elected officials DO have to be elected every 5 years. No, there are no direct elections of the President and other members of the Council of State, who are chosen by the legislature. But everyone must get elected to the national legislature… ‘

    Yes, the Communist Party is the only Party legally allowed, though many others are tolerated to exist. The CP, however, has little to no direct role in the elections. Many non-party members are elected every election. High participation is encouraged by community members who knock on doors and provide assistance to those needed to get to the polls. This is not a bad thing. What is more significant is that, once in a secure polling booth, Cubans everwhelmingly do not choose to defile or reface their ballots, or vote against the selected candidates. Bya a huge majority (85%), they choose the State’s preferred slate. These are secret ballots. No one has ever been harmed for thir anti-State vote. Yet, they choose to go along with the system. This says something profound that people need to acknowledge.

  18. Hola!

    First, congratulations on this AMAZING blog & on the accolades that were so justly earned!

    I am a fan & freelance type from NYC and am heading down your way in mid-February – I wondered if we might be able to meet?
    My email address is di_atplay@yahoo.com … please le me know if you might have time to have a coffee or some such…


  19. HELLO TO ALL THE VISITORS from “the other side” — YOU ARE WELCOME HERE… IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU. Feel free to carry on your discussion in Spanish, English or any other language you like… because this blog IS A FREE COUNTRY and you can say whatever you like!

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