Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cuba in the late 1960s

A friend just alerted me to some very interesting passages in the out of print book by journalist Elizabeth Sutherland, The Youngest Revolution: A personal report on Cuba (1969, Pitman). I quote, from pp. 132–134:
In 1967, the youth seemed to be embracing wholeheartedly the idea that in the event of conflict between the goal of a higher standard of living in Cuba and the goal of aiding the world revolutionary struggle, the latter had priority. The idea, furthermore, had old roots, Fidel’s message that “Cuba cannot be Communist until the whole world is Communist” was essentially a modern version of José Martí’s words: “As long as there is one man who sleeps in the mud, there should not be another who sleeps in a bed of gold.”

… The young people were surely more selfless and community-oriented than any preceding generation. They were also fascinated by consumer goods. They had money and couldn’t spend it because nothing except necessities could be found in the stores. Also, Cuba was isolated from the world of teen-age goodies; few citizens could travel. When foreign visitors brought that world with them, even a cheap plastic notebook intrigued the kids because it symbolized outside contact. All this was truer of youth in Havana — where the visitors spent most of their time and where there were the most foreign movies and music — than in the rural areas. But still, where would it all lead? The pull of continued scarcity on new ideas had unpredictable force, and the pull of human habit must not be underestimated.

Yet it was possible and beautiful to feel how human consciousness might be changed. After two months in Cuba, where the only advertisements to be seen or heard were for the Revolution and its values … the sound of that Miami radio station with its long commercial for Jordan’s Furniture Sale seemed to be coming from a very distant and unappealing planet. People could kick the habit of compulsive consumption, you felt, especially if there was nothing to buy — but more important, if there were other things to do which made life seem creative and exciting. To make a call from a public telephone booth without paying anything, as became possible all over Cuba in 1967, shook up your idea that the exchange of money was basic to modern life, and thereby bought into question old ideas about human relations. To see public transport fares going consistently down instead of up — perhaps that’s just too much for an American city-dweller to absorb. For the Cuban citizen, money has come to mean less in a real sense; the visitor, no matter how rich or poor, comes to share this feeling.

A moneyless society was not yet around the corner but it was planned and much discussed. Life already had a quality not to be imagined in capitalist countries — except, perhaps, in the dreams of some of their youth. “Here, you feel like a roll of dollar bills,” said an eighteen year-old American high school student from a small town on his return after a month’s visit to Cuba. “What you are worth depends on how big the roll is. In Cuba, you feel like a human being.”
All this, of course, before the great economic debate in the 1970s and entrenchment of state socialism, which requires money by the very nature of the case.

No comments:

Post a Comment