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Father Claude

As I was saying.....

I embrace the world from my backyard at the University of Portland, January 1, 2018. I again invite you to "clod-hop" with me on my journeys to Latin America via this blog. More...

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Outside 'La Guarida' a Cuban entrepreneur's success story restaurant where one meal costs 200% the monthly salary of those who live there in the shadows.(Photo: Patricia Pomerleau)
Since my return from Cuba, I have tried to synthesize the many presentations of experts, along with late night discussions,  sipping rum and listening to Afro-Cuban rhythms . We all generally agreed that the US policy toward Cuba needs to change, and that the existing pattern of the top-down, command economy is a clumsy, even hopeless,  framework for necessary and rapid transformation of Cuba’s economy (and politics)

So, what about the eagle and the hummingbird, above?  John Caulfield, Chief of Mission for the US Interests Section in Havana suggested a useful metaphor for understanding Cuba-US relations, that of a divorce.  My cousin Patricia provided me with a wonderful synthesis of his talk:  “We (USA) were married to Cuba and our breakup (after the ’59 Revolution) was like a bad divorce”. The younger generation of Cubans thinks differently and wants things to move faster. However, “they live in the house of their grandparents (the old timers); they don’t like it…but they choose not to make noise”

I propose another metaphor. In Montréal, and at home, I grew up with the fables of La Fontaine (Aesop recycled). I es-pecially loved Le renard et la cigogne (fox and the stork). So, I now propose a variation on this fable -- as it might apply to Cuba: El zunzunsito y el ágila. I discovered that hummingbirds love Cuba and that there are 16 different species of zunzunsitos, or in the original Cuban, the “colibrís”, “god bird”). These little creatures buzzed around our heads at every walk. Small and fast, it is the only bird that can fly backwards.  They live on sugar that they suck from flowers through their long, slender beaks. Deprived of sugar, their metabolic rate slows down to 1/15th of normal. They appear to be in a state of torpor. But, they can quickly recover.

The eagle, with its huge beak and long talons, is seen as the symbol of US power in Cuba. Cubans sometimes see themselves as self confident, beautiful and creative individuals, but caught in the eagle’s talons.  However, the eagle is a predator and a scavenger. C’mon, now, they don’t feast on hummingbirds. They often settle for carion.

OK, so much for that bird metaphor. Most observers that I consulted assured me that it’s time for Cuba to revive. Or, as one Cuban scholar says: There’s no more free lunch”. So, Cuba needs to increase it’s economic metabolic rate. It must also stimulate its civic culture. Cubans take to entrepreneurship like hummingbirds to flowers. Oops, there goes that metaphor again.

Are the million or so of  new, private entrepreneurs the cutting edge of such a  regenerative process?   One of the most exciting, new online publications that I found is “Espacio Laical” of the Catholic archdiocese of Havana. It provides a safe space for young Cuban intellectuals to search for and discuss viable, economic alternatives to the existing system.  I discovered that these young artists and intellectuals and are passionate about their nation’s future. They want support as they search for a viable alternative for integrating their country into the global economy. In so doing, they do not want to destroy the gains made by the Revolution – that of a healthy, educated, and self-confident nation with a unique identity and spirit. 

Cuba is a sinking ship. We must do something to save it. That is a variation on a speech made several years ago by Raul Castro to the governing body of the Communist leadership. My recent conversations with Cubans of different backgrounds strongly suggest that the search for a new, viable path has begun in earnest. Are the leaders listening?

Permalink | Sunday, March 2, 2014