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The Book of the Week is “Cuba on the Verge, 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country” edited by Leila Guerriero, published in 2017.
After Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November 2016, there was a slight relaxation of economic restraints on the common people. Under the one-party rule of Castro’s brother Raul, Cubans could engage in entrepreneurial pursuits– serving tourists through renting out their homes or turning their cars into taxis, supervised by the government. Americans have begun doing the same in the last two decades, but through centralized corporate entities such as Airbnb and Uber.
Ironically, under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba developed a reputation for literacy and affordable, quality healthcare; during which time, America developed a reputation for deleterious (greedy!) practices in education and healthcare.
At the book’s writing, Cuba required working mothers to take paid maternity leave halfway through their eighth month; the paid leave continued for four and a half months after the births. An additional year was optional, for which mothers received sixty percent of their wages. Further, abortions were not only legal, but used as a form of contraception, with neither shame nor emotional hysteria generated by political activists, attached. On the other hand, the Cuban government spies on its people 24/7.
Cuban children are taught sex education beginning in the fifth grade. So kids are sexually precocious, as they learn from their older siblings. They are casual about relationships, so there are no hard feelings when families become fragmented, but there are many latchkey children, and males dominate.
After the Soviet Union broke up, Moscow’s government no longer funded Cuba’s economy. Beginning in the 1990’s, this “Special Period” saw severe shortages of basic consumer goods such as health and beauty aids and clothing, not to mention food. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence spiked.
People sold their jewelry at government trading posts in order to survive. They received mostly Panamanian goods in return. They adopted casual dress all the time– flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts– even where formal clothing had been worn previously, such as the theater. Counterfeit big-name goods flooded the market, sourced mostly from Miami, Panama, Madrid and China.
Yet another cultural change included males’ taking on of domestic chores and child-rearing, as more women could earn money through prostituting themselves. Socially-skilled men collected and sold coconuts from private properties, or sought out sexual relationships with visiting of out-of-town women who paid their everyday expenses.
Read the book to learn of the numerous other ways Cuba changed in the 1990’s, and ways it hasn’t– such as in its practices of numerology and witchcraft and in its love of baseball.