The Book of the Week is “Havana Real” by Yoani Sanchez, published in 2009 (according to the copyright). This ebook is a compilation of the blog posts of a journalist in Havana from 2007 through 2010. The author wrote of the oppression of Cubans by their government, their poor quality of life under Communism, and the abuse she suffered for expressing her anti-government opinions.
Yoani Sanchez is a member of what is called “Generation Y” in America– people born in the mid-1970’s and later. At that time, the trend in Cuba was to give babies “Y” names. Sanchez grew up in a Communist dictatorship whose economy was subsidized by the former Soviet Union. In her early teens, she was compelled to join a military youth group whose members were trained to use an AK-47 and shout nationalistic slogans.
After the USSR broke up in the 1990’s, the formerly Communist leaders stopped providing economic aid to Cuba. The Cuban economy tanked. The author described how Cubans in her generation could not afford to take advantage of the practice of building their own homes and after twenty years of payments, owning the property. Instead, Generation Y ran out of money and ended up with stalled construction sites. The Havana apartment building she lived in deteriorated because the landlord was unwilling to pay a high enough wage to attract maintenance workers. For a few years, the elevator was broken. Until it was finally replaced by a rickety Soviet model that still broke down, she and her husband and teenage son had to walk up fourteen flights of stairs.
In summer 2007, Fidel Castro was reported to be ill. Cubans felt a sense of relief at not having to listen to his speeches that interrupted their TV watching, if they were wealthy enough to have a TV. Nevertheless, Sanchez wrote, “We can spend an hour on line to pay the electricity bill or consume half a day to get a pair of shoes repaired… Not know exactly when we can take the bus, receive a service, or buy a ticket.”
This is to say nothing of the horrendous Cuban education system. People who did poorly in school become employed by the schools to educate the children, as graduates who got better grades enter higher-paying professions. Often, these sorry-excuses-for-teachers fill their students’ heads with misinformation. There are also a lot of “tele-classes”– videos instead of live teachers because education is extremely pitifully funded. These videos can be seen by all Cubans who have a TV at home, if they can endure the boring dictation.
Read the book to learn of: the black markets– some of which evaporated due to political change– that deal in the basic necessities of life such as soap, juice and toilet paper; what happened to people who became too entrepreneurial in their capitalistic practices; the reorganized education system that bodes a bleak future for Sanchez’ son; and how Cubans’ already low standard of living fell even further in various ways during the time the author was blogging.