What they promised us


I wore a red and white uniform, I was ten years old, and the subject of the “blockade” was barely mentioned in the ideological books they gave me at school. Those were optimistic times and we believed that the F1 cows* would give enough milk to flood the streets of the whole country. The future had those golden hues that never showed themselves in our faded reality but we were a too colorblind to notice. We thought we had discovered the formula to be among the most prosperous people on the planet, so that our children would live in a country with opportunities for all.

From the podium a bearded leader defiantly pointed to the North, because he counted on the pole of the Kremlin subsidy to vault over any obstacle to the construction of communism. “Despite the blockade…” we said, with the same conviction that in years past we’d talked about the ten million tons of sugar*, coffee growing all around the cities*, and a supposed industrialization of the country that never came. We had to cut short our dreams when the flow of oil and rubles abruptly stopped. The years came of beginning to explain the setbacks and comparing ourselves to the poorest nations in the region to make us feel, if not happy, at least satisfied.

As I began my adolescence, the issue of trade restrictions was on nearly every billboard in the country. At the political rallies we no longer shouted, “Cuba yes, Yankees no” but a new hard-to-rhyme slogan: “Down with the blockade.” I looked at my nearly empty plate and couldn’t imagine how they had managed to blockade our malangas, orange juice, bananas and lemons. I grew up repudiating the blockade, not because I swallowed the line about the country we could be if the blockade weren’t preventing it, but simply because they tried to explain that everything that wasn’t working was a result of it.

If my friends were leaving the country en masse, it was because of the United States policy of harassment; if the cockroaches were crawling all over the walls at the maternity hospital, it was the fault of the North Americans; even if a meeting at the university expelled a critical colleague, they explained to us that he had fallen under the ideological influence of the enemy. Today, everything begins and ends with the blockade. No one seems to remember the days when they promised us paradise, when they told us that nothing – not even the economic sanctions – would prevent us from leaving behind our underdevelopment.

Translator’s notes

F1 cows: A breed that is a cross of Holstein and Zebu (Cebu) cattle. Fidel believed these cattle would allow Cuba to export beef and dairy products. It didn’t work out; both meat and milk are severely rationed in Cuba.

Ten million tons of sugar: In 1970 Fidel turned the resources of the entire country to a achieving a record ten-million ton sugar harvest, even “rescheduling” Christmas for July so as not to interfere with the work. The target was missed and Cuba’s sugar crop has declined ever since; in 2009 the total was barely over one million tons.

Coffee growing in the cities: Fidel had a plan to grow coffee in Havana despite expert advice that the climate was unfavorable; it didn’t work out.

19 thoughts on “What they promised us

  1. So I came across this blog thanks to the bad news about Yoani being nearly tortured by government spooks who obviously were trying to silence her and the rest og the “anti-patriotic” bloggers, because God forbid, let the word spread and get other fellow Cubans thinking in a different fashion from what the “bearded leader” want his sheep to think.

    Anyway, it is curious to me that such thing happen as told in this exact posting, that beats all records of false promise. As it seems to happen often, history tends to repeat itself and the only mistake there is not to learn from the wrongs done. After reading throughly the past and history of Cuba seen by the eyes of a Cuban girl raised just after “bearded leader” got on the steering wheel, I can’t help to notice how similar is this story the one Venezuela is living right now, they have little food, even less energy and water and on top of that, in order to replace these basic need the “leader” only offers promises and hatred for the North, for the “Imperial Yanks”. Right now most of the population is with him, follow his regime, his promises without looking a little ahead and see the giant wall that is coming…Yes, they are going straight to where Cuba is now and it might be too little too late to do something about it.


    I recently was in a Mexico resort (will no say where to protect the identity of those with whom I had a conversation) and had a chance to chat with some Cuban musicians. While talking to them I was curious to find out how they were able to play outside Cuba, one of them said to me: There is an American Promoter who do business with a Canadian Promoter who in turn do business with the Cuban Government who in turn hire us. Knowing what the answer will be I ask this person how much they got paid out of this entire cobweb, very little was the reply. -Wouldn’t be better for you to do it on your own? I said. – I would if I did not have a family back in Cuba, they replied.
    We continue on our conversation and ask them where have they play before and where would they like to play, automatically one of them responded, not in Miami, and I said: Why not?- Because it is a hostile place.- I couldn’t keep my mouth shot and said to them, look, I don’t live in Miami but I go there frequently and I can tell you that there is no basis on what you are saying, you are only repeating what the security agents in Cuba are saying to demoralize the Cuban community in Miami; Miami is fine, if you ever decide to defect, you will be able to live comfortably in Miami with the talent you all have. I believe they will remember my words until the day they have a chance to escape.

  3. Cold in Chicago
    You are so to the point on how to reverse 50 years of under the boot.
    Perhaps you have read or remember the plight of the jews in nazi Germany … specially in the death camps.
    How do you take the survivors back? yet: how do you take all that lost their freedom back?
    And how do we take the germans of the time, allow them to wash away guilt and regret certain or implied?
    How do we get our own time & lives back, our sanity as theirs, how do we clanse memories, hatred, frustration & regrets?
    I think that patience, understanding and love, maybe …
    Any oppressed individual is scarred, it never leaves you but resiliency allows you to adapt, to go forward …
    How to change the past to the future? I think I know how to help it: give hope, give support from the heart, money is not important & we know somehow somewhere money always seem to “appear” at the nick of time
    … We are not the first & we will not be the last … thank you for your “ears”

  4. John B.
    Your learning another language and the use of it is admirable, cudos to you!
    You are right amigo, if the individual does not prosper society does not benefit.
    That has a self evident system of accountability doesn’t it?
    It points to the idea of free choice and individuality … our declaration of independence mentions something about it and preceding it the bill of human rights.
    If we get “stuck on the used to be’s, could have been’s & and the suffereing … we’ll stay there without a future.
    Is like the man that found a dollar on the sidewalk … from that day on he never looked up.
    For one he was afraid he’ll miss the next dollar & for the other he chose to ignore other oportunities because he didn’s see them, by his choice. (I don’t know it this came out right).
    Again John B. your skills are impresive, continue on; when we learn each others language we make the world smaller & we understand each other better!

  5. It will take a few years to change the mentality created by the Marxist regime in which they have inoculated so much hate, distrust and lack of self steem but it could be achieved with our help, we need to reinforce the values that made us such a great nation like hard work, entrepreneourship, loyalty, faith in God, etc..
    It is achievable.

  6. Finally someone with some sense of priority!

    If a country is its people … then the people perhaps will need to see & sample different options; something that democracy affords in order to make choices.
    Subjugation it seems, changes perceptions and in order to survive we adapt to the basic priorities of life.
    That’s how philosophical platitudes no longer seem important, that’s how slogans take the place of reasonable arguments, that’as how thought is replaced with reflex.
    Poor as one is, a plate of food, a roof over one’s head is just about the realities of a day, any day.
    Pointing fingers, calling each other names and judging one another is not help but a “put down”.
    I agree in the role of the exiled as far as advise and promting however: if done for the love of man … it should be unconditional.
    I know, I know … with acountability as well.
    Your insight into the ways of assimilating into a new way of life are amazing.
    Thank you, I’ve learned something about myself reading your note.

  7. Oh great, we’re past satiating the vanity of people who are mostly interested in diminishing others, and not in the least in the objective of this blog.

    The question posed is appropriately challenging. I’m sure the Poles, Russians, Czechs, etc. have asked themselves the same question.

    I know a number of elders, family and friends in their sixties and retired, who’d go back to Cuba in a New York minute if they could buy a house near their family and relatives or near the beach, while drawing retirement pay.

    I’m also aware of a number of Cuban professional and businessmen whose hands itch to start investing and starting new businesses in Cuba, should the system change.

    I personally believe that the role of the exiled Cubans should be one of advising, and prompting, rather than ruling or controlling. Using pressure, threats, or language, rather than sense of humor or exemplary behavior might be the way to go. Inculcating the fact that time is money, and that the faster one works and thinks, the more you produce and therefore, the more money you make. All these can only be taught by example.

    I could be wrong, but I’ve seen a number of newly arrived Cubans who, perhaps as a result of indoctrination and lack of ambition, take a few years or more, to realize that they have to work harder to get or meet certain basic needs, – i.e. owning a home, and buying transportation such as a car. I see some get stuck and not get past buying a new car. Try to explain that a car is a destructible asset – i.e. one that looses value over time and eats into your wealth, and they think you’re patronizing.

    All this leads to the mother of all challenges. How do you reverse fifty years of having people follow the dictates of one very articulate but really, enormously warped and ignorant individual, who promised to provide for them from cradle to grave. Should group or mass retraining be held in churches, schools and stadiums, to teach and train about the virtues of building your own life and wealth. I don’t know.

  8. The USA sends plenty of food, cooking oil,and chicken to Cuba for many years now. The Cuban Government calles the US the “MONSTER”, and has been telling its people that the US is ready to attack them. Its time for change and not from the US but the CASTRO REGIME that oppresses its people. Cuban farms need to be more productive and the blatant theft of skimming off the top has to stop.

  9. Let me give you a few examples of what a blockade means to me.

    It is a system that suppresses their people from free traveling.
    It is a system that suppresses their people from access to a free press.
    It is a system that suppresses their people from their right to free association.
    It is a system that suppresses their people from choosing freely whatever job they would like to do.
    It is a system that suppresses their people from learning freely and imposes upon them “Communist Doctrines”
    It is a system that suppresses their people from reading books that are not in compliance with their communist ideas.
    It is a system that suppresses their people from choosing the housing of their choice.
    It is a system that suppress their people from the Internet (I don’t mean Intranet).
    It is a system that supports Apartheid by having one set of rules for their Citizens and none for foreigners.
    It is a system with more than one set of currencies to favor foreigners and enslave their own.

  10. ***
    Cubans have a lot of skills. Twenty five years ago my company tested 10 different computer systems for a military application. The best design was done by a Cuban–Gus Mungia. His design cost less and ran 10 times faster than the others–we used them for 23 years.
    Good businessmen in free countries make good decisions and prosper. Bad businessmen make bad decisions and go out of business. Socialism and communism benefit stupid decisions and destroy the economy. This is the cause of the problems in Cuba–free people working for themselves will prosper.
    Please excuse my “Gringo Spanish”–I am still learning. It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks!
    Cubanos tienen muchos capacidades. Hace 25 anos mi compania evaluo 10 systems de computadora por usos militares. El deseno mejor fue hecho por un Cubano–Gus Mungia. Su deseno fue menos cara y trabajo 10 veces mas recio que las otras–usabanos esos por 23 anos.
    Buen negociantes en paises libres hagan buen decisiones y prosperan. Negociantes tontos hagan mal decisiones y no prosperan y salgan del negocio. Socialismo y communismo appoyan los decisiones malos y destruya la economia. Eso es la causa de los problemas en Cuba–gente libre trabajanto por ellos mismos prosperan.
    Dispena mi “Espanol Gringo”–ya estoy appriendo. Es difficil ensenar “tricks” nuevos a los perros viejos!
    John Bibb

    The communist regime have always tried to blame the Americans for their shortfalls. For 50 long years they been beating the drums trying to make every body believe it is the Americans fault, when the truth is their inefficience and inability to produce and provide. I have commented many times in this blog about the end of the Embargo. If lifting the Embargo would end or ease the food shortages in Cuba, I will be in favor of it, but lets be realistic, the only reason the Cuban dictatorship wants an end to the Embargo is that we start financing all of their needs and that US Banks will open their gates with unsecured loan to a government that had never repaid their debts to other nations. Wake up people, there is no such thing as the Embargo, last year along Cuba bought over 7 millions of goods in cash from the United States. It is all a lie, a BIG ONE, don’t believe it.

  12. Andy, Candido,

    Let’s pretend for a minute that Castro brothers are dead. Somebody else is in charge.
    How are we going to address the article five of this document?
    Everything starts here. http://www.cubanet.org/ref/dis/const_92_e.htm

    How are we going to solve this dilemma?
    Countries of the so called Socialism of the XXI century (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua) are heading towards totalitarian states by changing their Constitution.
    Zelaya was trying to impose it in Honduras.
    How are we going to change ours without being accused first of doing the same they did?
    What are we going to say to the Cuban people?
    How are going to persuade people who live and believe in this kind of society for so many years?
    Are we going to tell them that Capitalism is the way to go? Even though we know is the right way.
    The sole mention of the word Capitalism put the fear God in many people.
    Castro and his propaganda machine has systematically brain washed at least three generations of Cuban people

    Are we going to follow the Chinese model?

    I tell you folks the task ahead of these braves Cubans is monumental. It is going to take many years but is going to get done.

  13. Andy:

    That question!!!! we, the Cubans call it: “The Million Dollars Question”!!!.

    After those old leaders and their regime, the situation in Cuba, should needed a lot of time to be solved,,,you know why?,,,because the mentality of the people there is very confuse, the people there, after 50 years learned how to survive alone!!!,,,,everybody there has just “one agenda”,,,,his agenda!!!!,,,is something hard to say,,,but, is somewhat similar to “selfishness”!!!!,,,as far as I got solved my problem, I don’t care,,,,does not matter how small or big the problem is,,,as far it is solved,,that’s it.

    May be this comment can create a controversy, but is real, and with more or less words, using a sophisticated vocabulary, etc, etc,,,black is black!!!here and everywhere!!!.

    Also remember, that the problems that are supposed to be solved by the Government, the institutions, etc, are not solved by them, I’m talking about the emergencies services, the justice services, etc, because, at least here in the USA, everybody does the same thing, but, those services, inherent to the people and entirely a responsibility of the Government and the institutions are granted!!!!

    In top of that, we, the Cubans outside of the Island, in one way or another are using the same “agenda”,,,,the difference is, that, we, the outsiders, have the liberty, the privilege to express our ideas freely, and we have the ways to help “materialistic talking”, some unmet needs, of our family, friends, etc, etc, but, frequently, when we are really close,,,, facing somebody who has been out of Cuba short time, and he wants to start a new life, “usually” we have problems, because “the regime did teach them the way to survive without working”, and here -and I think everywhere- working is so important, so demanding, and if you are not prepare for it, you will be in troubles and that is a fact,,,is proved,,,the conclusion?,,,frequently, often,etc, etc,,,,that period of time where the new comer understand and did realize that fact,,,,, takes time!!!!,,,at the end, each one will take the right way,,-there is just two ways- come back to Cuba or stay here and try to adapt this wonderful system to your life!!!.

    That is why I think that it will take several,,,but several years!!!to implement a policy, a way, a system, whatever you wan to call it, to put the Cuban people in the right path,,,the straight one , to be able to walk directly to a shinning and brilliant future!!!!!!


  14. La Cubana and Concunutjuice “Any idiot in the world that is familiar with the system in Cuba would realize that the schemes of Sanchez are not possible, unless she has the support of the regime. Look at the apartment and the luxuries she has at her disposal (http://coconutjuicez12.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/the-masquerader/). If the Cuban government is clever enough to plant agents in this country, do you believe it impossible that they would infiltrate the blogging community?”
    Let us assume that Yoani Sanchez is a Cuban government agent.
    What is Yoani showing the Cuban people?
    That something like what she does is possible to do in Cuba
    It is possible to speak and be critical of the Cuban government!
    It is possible to speak against policies established by the Cuban government etc etc. Attracting international attention. If this is all true then the Cuban government is telling everyone in Cuba can do as she does!
    Is that possible?
    I personally Will believe more likely that you and Cocunutjuice are agents of the Castro regime! This also has happen before!

  15. Candido
    Octubre 29th, 2009 at 11:27

    La Cubana:

    Are you a permanent guest of Mazorra Hospital, or, are you taking pills for your nerves?

    It is true that Fidel and his mafia gang has infiltrated thousands of agents in all organizations and groups within and outside Cuba, but, in the case of Yoanis, there is a big problem, something very significant: “Fidel Castro’s ego”!!!

    None of these groups infiltrated, it caused problems that Castro did not solve .All of them ended, or its members went to prison, or Castro was able to ridicule them, etc,, etc.

    Yaonis, however, she has been very important, too much influence, too true, for some reason or another, she arrived at the time that the Internet plays an important role in the diffusion of ideas and she has taken advantage of that.

    Yoanis caused them harm, Yoanis can not be stopped, Yoanis is a thorn in the shoe of them all, especially, for the Murderer in Chief.

    Yoanis is something that, Castro, his personality and ego, could not allow him to accept, but , she is there and there is nothing he -Castro- can do to stop it.

    Yoanis, going well, you’re very brave, congratulations!!!!!!!!


  16. Andy:I think that the Cuban diaspora should help and support, but in my oppinion it is up to the Cubans. The ones who decided to stay should be the ones who decide the next chapter of the country. In addition to that our role should be to guide, to educate how to live in a plural society There is plenty of talented Cubans in Cuba who can handle the colossal task ahead of them .
    I going to leave it like that for now. I will wait for the rest to find out what they have to say aboutt his topic

  17. ok, I’m game. Let’s go back to one of the questions I raised earlier.

    I am not Cuban and many here are not. But many are. Some of you lived in Cuba not so very long ago. Other’s have Cuban parents or grandparents.

    What does everyone — Cuban, non-Cuban, children of Cubans… what does everything think the role of the Cuban diaspora should be… AFTER. After the old ones pass on to the communist paradise in the sky?

  18. Agua e’ Coco,

    I got it. Please believe me when I tell you that I got it.You find my grammar very repulsive.It is self evident. You don’t have to say anymore.

    I know how you feel .Let me recreate it for you….

    I can picture you reading your own comments. Your beautiful face is full of joy when you are doing so.You have a nice smile ,your perfect teeth are showing .Your comment is so moving and so well written that Oh my God! you are crying.

    Lets recreate when you read my comments….The same beautiful face is transforming slowly into a turkey vulture face when you are reading my comments full of grammar errors. Suddenly your face starts to change colors. The soft pink complexion of your face is becoming very pale and then just in a blink of an eye it is purple.By then you are gaging in your own vomit. You feel like smashing your computer against the wall.You are thinking,” How such a masterpiece comment like mine is next to this excrement comment of concubino?”

    Then you start calming yourself down. You clean your magnificent chest of your own puke.As you’re thinking to yourself,”What a waste of perfectly good dinner”

    You realize that you can’t do anything about it. After all it is an infantile comment in the English section of GY. It is not the Granma’s newspaper.

    My question to you is the following, How can you debate about the real and complex issues of our country with an eight year old? Just a very ignorant person can do such a thing.

    Please don’t waste your precious time with a person like me.

    I hope you can barely understand this comment. This will be the last time I will address you.

    Andy , Cold , Candido, John Bib, John Two, Carlos, Statue of liberty.Carbo Servia,everybody!, lets talk about our island.After all Cuba comes first.

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