If you are a Cuban citizen, per month, you are entitled to, among other items, one chicken leg, 10 eggs and per day, you receive one roll of toilet paper as your monthly allowance. Remaining foodstuffs are purchased with the $15-30 (chauffeur, doctor, respectively) monthly Cuban income, tips from tourists or remittances.
Where is the balance? In the United States, as a testimony to our materialistic consumerism, when the economy slumps, our government tells us to buy more, sometimes they even give us spending money! We buy and sell credit to the extent that to stratify society into economic classes is nearly impossible given that most of the wealth is a façade protecting the truth of, in many cases, insurmountable debt. There are so many cheaply and mass-produced goods available for purchase in our system that the amount of waste and greed is shameful. However, there is a stifling aura of repression that exists in the daily interactions of people living in a society where they are threatened by government-authorized imprisonment for formulating an independent idea that contradicts the ideologies of those governing them. This is the price a communist society must pay for the services the government provides. Women’s liberation, education, health care, accommodations for people with disabilities, elderly; all the marginalized groups are deliberately provided for. Clearly the two ideologies present components that benefit those governed. As Iranian “President”, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, spoke to the world in an hours long speech, on a state owned news channel, one could question if it is the best policy to alienate world leaders whom we fundamentally disagree with or rather should we keep our enemies close? Apart from the whole prohibition of free speech and the unequal access to luxuries, socialism seems to create a stronger community, yet far weaker individuals. In thinking about the relations between Cuba and the U.S., it is easy to identify the similarity of the situation with that of two children in disagreement while playing during school recess. Yet, the polarized position that each government holds, as history has proven, is destructive and a balance of both systems seems to be ideal.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
There is no mistaking the bleak realities that social constructs often create in the lives of the impoverished. Although we may not see them each day, the gap between the have and the have-nots is wide and confusing. Recently, I read two books, both describing the plight of the very poorest of two very different societies, rural Honduras and urban New York City.
I came across the first book, Don’t Be Afraid Gringo, while visiting a friend who had set out a pile of free books she would not take with her on her move to Uruguay. I picked it up a few times, but never felt inspired to give it a chance. After reading more than half of the book, a friend here in Roatan took it from my hands and gave me what she considered to be more relaxing reading material. As it turns out, given the stresses I felt each day in my position as the assistant director of a fledgling, alternative school, the ideas portrayed in this book did little to help me to escape and decompress.
The book is based on the first-hand account of a Campesino, or in less politically correct terms, a peasant, in the deep back country of the Honduran mainland. Initially, the detail of the formative years of the political relationship between the U.S and Honduras depicted in the book was very educational. However, as I read on, I couldn’t help but feel my fists tighten around the pages in discomfort at the description of the degradation that seemed, to an outsider, almost self-inflicted in the Campesino community. I know my liberal, revolutionary counterparts are disappointed in this confession, but it is true that in an effort to understand the state of dysfunction as represented in this book, I felt frustration rather than compassion at the plight of the rural Campesino.
In one description, this woman explains that it is customary for girls as young as 12 years old to be taken in the night from her family by a suitor. Her life would most probably continue as a teenage mother, forced to put her children to work at doing anything as soon as they can walk. The description of the male heads of households as drunk, womanizing, abusers, withholding drinking money intended to feed their children, made my jaws clench.
I often wondered as I read, if the brutally primitive social patterns in this community were being accurately portrayed or if the Campesino condition was intentionally criticized by its’ own members in order to justify various international aid programs aimed to empower this community.
Moreover, it became clear that very little progress, from my perspective, has been made in Honduras. As I recently read a book depicting the horrific circumstances of life in the poorest housing projects in the Bronx, I am disgusted, but not surprised. My work in social service in San Francisco brought me into the homes of my clients in low-income housing projects all over the Bay Area. I was familiar with some of those descriptions. But what I find to be most interesting as I compare the two impoverished groups is that the dangerous and humiliating conditions endured by tenants in the Bronx is directly a result of political power shifting and greed and ignorance on the part of the upper classes, whereas the insolvent Campesino communities seem to almost let their own children slip into this decrepit poverty.
While there are similarities to the cruel circumstances both groups of children suffer through, there are far more insurmountable, and uncontrollable hardships created in the Bronx. A few injustices depicted in this book, Amazing Grace, that do not appear on the same scale in Honduras, or in most rural areas, include rat infestation, lead poisoning, AIDS, intravenous drug use, gang and drug violence, malfunctioning elevator shafts, fire hazards, not to mention the facade of any type of functional, effective education. These adversities are often times speculated as intentionally created to cut costs, punish the poor or push them further away from dignified life.
No doubt, I have been supplied with far more opportunity, wealth and freedom than those in the communities I have discussed. I apologize for being critical and lacking compassion in certain instances. The positive message I take from this for our Campesino brethren is that women have far more power than they ascertain or insist upon and it is, hopefully, just a matter of time before the women’s liberation movement sweeps the oppressed in Honduras.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I have been reading, Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol. It depicts the details of life in the South Bronx. I have found it to be very intriguing, perplexing and gracefully written. Here is an excerpt, though, it is graphic:
[“ You see them earlier than afternoon,” she says. “These rats are fearless. Light don’t scare them. Noise don’t scare them. You can see them in the park at noon.”
…She tells me of a seven-month-old boy who was attacked three blocks away from here a month before by several rats that climbed into his crib. Doctor said he hadn’t seen bite marks like that in years. The baby’s fingers were all bloody. I think it was the third time that his baby was attacked. His mother’s terrified but can’t move out. The city put her in the building and she don’t have any money to move somewhere else.
… “Something’s happened. They’re resistant to the poison that the Board of Health lays down. They get swollen with the poison but it doesn’t seem to kill them. They live in the dirty water. They look like they’re all blown up, like if you pricked them they’d explode. Sharp little claws. I’ve seen them walk right up a tree like they were walkin’ on the ground.
…The rats, she says, have a frightening meaning for some of the more religious people in the neighborhood. “This Puerto Rican lady says that rats are s’posed to come before Armageddon. You hear a lot of people talkin’ of Armageddon. Bible says that there will be 10,000 rats for every person.
… “I ain’t sayin’ I believe it. I’m just sayin’ what the Bible says… 10,000 rats per person.” Smiling, she adds, “If that’s the truth, we must be gettin’ close.”]