For Cubans of my generation the idea of longing for success entailed the suffering of a terrible ideological deviation, not only if one tried to stand out personally, but also professionally or economically. We were brought up to be humble and with the imposed norm that if we received some public recognition, we would have to stress that without the help of the comrades around us it would have been impossible to obtain such a result. The same thing happened with the simple possession of an object, the enjoyment of a comfort, or the “unhealthy” ambition to prosper.
The desire to be competitive was punished with labels very difficult to expunge from our dossiers, accusations such as self-sufficient or immodest. The success must be – or seem to be – common, the fruit of everyone’s labors, under the wise direction of the Party. And so we learned that self-esteem must be hidden and enterprising enthusiasm reined in. The mediocre made a killing in this society which ended up clipping the wings of the most daring while promoting conformity. Those were times of hiding material possessions, to show that we were the children of the self-sacrificing proletariat and to affirm that we detested the bourgeoisie.
Some faked their embrace of egalitarianism, even as in reality they accumulated privileges and amassed fortunes while repeating, in their speeches, calls for austerity. They reiterated in their autobiographies that they came from poor families and their main aspiration was to serve the fatherland. In time, their colleagues discovered that hidden behind the ascetic image was a diverter of State resources or a compulsive accumulator of material possessions. Even today, the mask of frugality covers their faces while their bulging abdomens tell a completely different story.