“Legal form of business organisation, which refuses capitalism and private ownership, but wants a from the state planned economy, so the working class has a better standard of living and there are no differences between the inhabitants of the country.” That’s how an encyclopedia could explain socialism. But what does this theoretic, in complicated words written sentence actually mean? During our time in Cuba we had the chance to understand what socialism means in reality, as we experienced a lot of different aspects of Cuban every day life.
If you take a closer look while travelling trough Cuba, you will recognise socialism every where. The most remarkable point are all the slogans or quotations on the walls somewhen said by important personalities for the Cuban revolution, which was in 1958, but still endures, as the Cubans are pretending. That is also the reason why idols such as José Martí, Ernesto Che Guevara and, of course, Fidel Castro are named or showed very often, because they were mainly involved in putting an end to the dictatorship of Batista. So there is no city found in this country without a statue, museum or large picture of minimum two of these heroes.
Very important heroes, too, are the “Miami Five” – five men who were arrested in the USA for their whole lives because of espionage, but who were not guilty from Cuban point of view. All of these men are free now, but they are still idols for almost every Cuban.
A completely different aspect of socialism, which has a great influence on the every day life in the country, are the two kinds of currency: “Devisas”, just for tourists, who have to pay much higher prices, and “Moneda Nacional”, that is to be used by the Cubans themselves. For us, the prices in “Moneda Nacional”, also called “Peso”, are unbelievably low, but not for the inhabitants, as they don’t earn a lot – socialism means “everybody is the same”, so your wage is almost equal, no matter whether you are working as a doctor or as a farmer. To support the people, the Cuban government, which consists of just one party, because it’s the only one to be elected, gives every inhabitant some things for free. For instance, everyone receives vouchers for food, with which they can go to the bakery or to the market, where they can “pay” with it.
Also free of charge in Cuba is school, including the school uniform, and health care. That is the reason for everyone to be very educated and that there are, for example, many doctors. The only problem to keep such a high standard of the clinics is the available material you need. Like in every part of Cuban life there are some important things missing because the government plans the production of every single product for the following five years. Even if it’s a good idea, this system doesn’t always work, as nobody can say for sure, what exactly and how much of everything will be needed in the future.
The same issue is the reason for the grand number of ramshackled houses in every city because the inhabitants can’t buy the tools to repair the old, damaged buildings.
But out of this shortage, the Cubans learned to be creative – all of them are masters of improvisation: instead of throwing so called waste away, they find new functions or solutions for everything to make life easier.
If you ask any Cubans quietly, whether they like their political system or not, they will always explain you the advantages of their socialism and what the government has already done for the country. Though, we didn’t always know whether they answered this positively because they really love the system or because they just don’t dare to tell their true opinion.
The single criticising, but honest sentences I got sadly whispered were: “I’d also like to sail around the world and visit other continents like you can do. But I can’t – I never will. Travelling isn’t easy for us, somehow, it’s impossible.” I didn’t know what to answer or how to react, so in fact I said nothing and depressively looked away, lost in thoughts.
Of course, you can live with socialism and the Cubans managed to get along with it, but after three weeks on this beautiful island, I think all of us were glad to have the possibilities we have in Germany. We suddenly noticed what a great gift this luxury is, what grand chances we have and should use, how valuable it is to travel around the world or to be able to get everything you need immediately.
For me personally I just can tell my honest respect to the discipline, motivation and fun all the people fill their lifes with, as if there weren’t any problems. In Germany we could learn from this lifestyle and should learn not to complain about everything.