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    Cuba's culture of poverty persists: Op-ed
    Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011, 12:08 PM
    The Jersey Journal By 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
    statistician imprisoned.

    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
    Soviet Bloc.

    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

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