Cuba's culture of poverty persists: Op-ed
Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011, 12:08 PM
The Jersey Journal By The Jersey Journal
By ROLAND A. ALUM / SPECIAL TO THE JERSEY JOURNAL
The Fidel-&-Raul Castro regime marks 53 years this Jan. 1. The brothers
unquestionably enjoyed extraordinary popularity in 1959, but the
enthusiasm soon vanished as they turned Cuba into a financially and
spiritually bankrupt Marxist anti-utopia.
As a result, nearly two million Cubans of all social backgrounds have
fled, many of them settling in Hudson County.
By the 1950s, Cuba was a regional leader in numerous social indicators,
notwithstanding instability and corruption during the republican era
(1902-1958). But since 1959 the island-nation has become a backward,
closed society beleaguered by unproductivity and rationing.
Sociologist Tomas Masaryk noted that "dictators 'look good' until the
last minutes"; in Cuba's case, it seems particularly fine to certain
U.S. intellectuals. Comfortably from abroad, apologists contend that
most of the socioeconomic problems that traditionally afflicted the
prior five and a half decades were eliminated after 1959. Yet,
fact-finding by international social-scientists challenges this fantasy.
An early, little-known account uncovering some effects of the Castros'
regimentation came from research in Cuba in 1969-'70 by U.S.
cultural-anthropologists Oscar Lewis and Douglas Butterworth. They
intended to test Lewis' theory that a culture of poverty would not exist
in a Marxist-oriented society. They had naively presupposed that the
socially alienating conditions that engender such phenomena could
develop among the poor solely under capitalism.
The Lewis-Butterworth early on-the-ground scrutiny validates many
accounts by respected experts and the much vilified exiles. There exists
a culture of poverty in Cuba, although it is not necessarily a survivor
of the old times, but seemingly a by-product of the Castros'
totalitarian socialism. There were always poor Cubans, and some version
of the culture of poverty might have existed before; but in my
communications with Butterworth, he reconfirmed another discovery. The
researchers could not document a case for a pervasive pre-1959 culture
of poverty. The authorities must have suspected the prospective
conclusions because the scholars were abruptly expelled and their Cuban
Upon the 53rd anniversary, the old Lewis-Butterworth analysis invites
renewed reflection. Apologists customarily replicate propagandistic
cliches by blaming failures on external factors, such as the ending, two
decades ago, of the multibillion-dollar subsidies from the defunct
The anthropologists' undertaking, however, revealed that life for
average Cubans in the Castros' first decade was already beset with
corruption and time-wasting food lines. Likewise, Butterworth described
how ordinary people were engaging in what socio-behavioral scientists
now call "everyday forms of resistance." Cubans were already undermining
the police-state through black-marketeering, pilfering and vandalism, as
we hear that they continue to do decades later.
After more than half a century of oppression and poor quality of life,
one hopes for a transition to an open society with equal opportunities
for every Cuban.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author, a long-time Hudsonite, is a
political-anthropologist affiliated with Icod Associates of New Jersey.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.