The Special Period -The Return Of The Cuban Middle Ages / 14ymedio,
Cubans try to repair an "almendrón" (old American car) in Havana. (SN)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 August 2016 — She split the plate
into two meager rations. "Mommy, you're not going to eat?" asked one of
the daughters voraciously swallowing the mashed banana without oil, free
of protein and with hardly any salt. The image of this skimpy dinner in
the summer of 1993 is recalled by Maria Luisa, 59, a Havanan who now
fears the return of the hardest moments of the Special Period. Like her,
many Cuban families are alarmed by the worsening economic crisis.
Announcements during the last session of the National Assembly about the
island's liquidity problems, amid the falling prices of nickel and oil,
have only confirmed what has been palpable on the street for months. The
reductions in annual growth forecasts from an initial 2% in GDP to a
more realistic 1%, is one of many signs of the worsening living
conditions of Cubans.
For much of the island, Venezuela's collapse is much more significant
than the flutter of a butterfly's wings and its effects could be a true
economic tsunami. A scenario that could aggravate the migration crisis
in a nation where few are willing to relive the deprivations of the 1990s.
The return of those rigors would be perceived like the reopening of a
still painful wound. Once again, the languid faces whose features
display hunger. The smell of sweat and grime that fills the air in the
absence of hygiene products. People launching themselves en masse on the
sea. The images when that period is evoked are like slides passing over
and over again before the eyes.
There is no worse nightmare for a nation than to perceive that the past
it is trying to distance itself from is returning in an endless loop.
But the difference from that first period of misery, is that a new
edition is not finding the same naiveté in its protagonists. Cubans know
very well what is coming: it is called despair.
Official sources themselves warn of the possibility that the population
will not react with the same complacency to the turn of the screw.
Karina Marrón, deputy director of the newspaper Granma, the official
organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, predicts that "a perfect storm is
forming" on the island, due to the reduction in the supply of fuel to
the state sector, the increasing blackouts, and the food shortages.
Others also predict a situation that could lead to episodes of popular
protests like the Maleconazo of August 1994.
Unlike then, the pressure cannot be released by decriminalizing the
dollar, opening agricultural markets, or authorizing self-employment.
The most likely outcome is that increasing scarcities will increase the
number of people emigrating. The repetition of a drama creates in the
minds of those who have lived it the feeling that it will go on forever,
without any possibility of changing it or influencing its ends. The
looming economic collapse, whose real scope can barely be imagined,
could be the shot that sets off the great stampede.
To convince the youngest to stay here and face it is harder every day.
For many of them, who grew up practically without toys after the
implosion of the Soviet Union and in a society divided by the dual
currency system and with a generation in power that is exhibiting a
threatening longevity, there is no argument strong enough to make them
endure in their own land the effects of a profound economic crisis.
However, the Special Period, a Cuban Middle Ages, a dark age of despair
and hunger, never ended. Its worst symptoms have only been appeased with
the subsidy coming from Caracas. Cubans have remained in a "survival
mode" all this time and the misery has shaped their character,
determined their physical abilities and left an irreversible injury on
Although some, in the last two decades, have managed to work for
themselves, benefit from remittances from family abroad, or open
thriving businesses filled with the foreigners now flooding the island,
Cubans have not lost the feeling of insecurity, the shock of store
shelves that can be emptied in a second, and the dread of the so-called
Zero Option—a fallback plan devised in the depths of the Special Period
to feed the people of each block from a single collective pot.
Maria Luisa's daughters are already mothers in their turn. They know
that if the financial meltdown in the country continues to worsen, they
will have to choose between carrying their children on their backs
through the Central American jungles or once again lying, telling them:
"Eat, eat all your mashed banana, I'm not hungry."
This text was previously published in El Nuevo Herald
Source: The Special Period: The Return Of The Cuban Middle Ages /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba -