The mass media, people in the workplace, on the street, families in their houses, almost everyone expresses an opinion in which the primary consensus is: Cuban society, particularly among young people, is mired in a crisis of values. In support of this assertion they use multiple examples of a diverse nature, such as lack of respect and general rudeness, contempt for family values, the breakdown, the absence of the most basic rudiments of education, physical and verbal violence, the increase in alcoholism, disinterest in work, social indiscipline, indifference or apathy, consumerism…. And so on, producing an endless list.
Of course, there will be no lack of “sociologists” of the system, who see in this a kind of indicator that demonstrates that Cuba falls within a universal trend. Believe me, I have heard these judgments more than once. I always answer them by saying that what is lamentable is that in this country we only seem to have the capacity to follow the most negative trends of the global village without ever receiving anything of the more positive advances. But let’s not go there. What is truly essential is that, in actuality, nobody seems to know with any certainty what values should be transmitted. Not even the government, with its principal responsibility for everything that happens here (or perhaps we should say, “what never happens”).
I say this because we know that at the macrosocial level the “ideal” values (that is those that go beyond the familiar framework – school and work – and pervade the common space, collective environments, the public plazas, and make up the “model citizen” to which, by right, we aspire), are transmitted through symbols, that in these times, have become as chaotic as Cuban society itself. It is this national reality and the response it gives rise to that brings the crisis of values, not the influence of globalization. If someone is surprised by this text, if you feel confused, or think that I am writing under the influence of some toxic substance, you only have to stop and observe carefully. Consider, for example, the space occupied by the esplanade that stretches in front of the Hotel Riviera, where, in 1978, to mark the celebration in Havana of the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students, the so-called Fountain of Youth was inaugurated, which initially ran with water, like any other respectable fountain.
Recalling that summer with the city filled with young people from every latitude, and I myself at age 19, I can remember my naiveté and that of many others as we enthusiastically joined in on the song of Mike Purcel, which was the theme at that long-ago festival, popularized by the harmonious voice of Argelia Fragoso. We were so far from imagining that one day, beside a fountain that symbolizes peace and friendship between the young people of the world, a giant bottle of Havana Club rum next to a can of Cristal beer would be placed to serve as an advertising “hook” to attract people to the tents, as can be seen in the photo at the top of this post. Or that these beverages and other products would be sold in CUCs [Cuban Convertible Pesos], the currency of the most favored (who are the least in number). At the other edge of the same plaza, next to the portapotties, a food stall perfumes the air with the aroma of rancid fat reheated too many times. Across the street on one side there is a gas station with its little snack counter, while in front of the symbolic Youth Plaza they’ve opened the upscale shopping center, “Galerías de Paseos.” It will not be necessary to clarify, once again, what kind of currency you need to have in your pocket to buy what is for sale in all these places. And to leave no doubt or confusion about the symbols, next to the already mentioned refried chicken stand (refried again and again), three flags proudly stand together, of which one is least like the others: the Cuban tricolor, the red-and-black July 26th… and the corporation CIMEX.
In short, I am unclear if a conglomeration of such strong symbols were supposed to contrast with the invitation for young people to consume alcohol, if the CIMEX flag alongside that of Cuba and the other one is a reference to the importance that the currency has for the survival of the nation, or if consumerism is one of the values to be instilled in the younger generation. Surely my contemporaries remember that, in the “glory days” of our ugly fountain, used jeans, pullovers with tribal icons or English letters, Adidas shoes and other accessories not produced by CAME, were unequivocal (and demonic) signs of amusing ideology. And I have made it clear that I’m not complaining because they have left behind those times in which the Holy Office carried credentials from the PCC [Communist Party of Cuba] and threats hung over any innocent youthful dream that smelled of “capitalism. On the contrary. What really has me alarmed is my incapacity to interpret the new symbols in the old markets; most of all, because they come from exactly the same center of power that produced them 30 years ago.
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