Cuba’s socialism is a sharp contrast to US capitalism. When I traveled there on an educational tour with my son, the only ads we saw were political ones, like posters of Che Guevara. Blogger Yoani Sanchez relates how the Castro government aimed to create a new person, non-competitve, thinking about the good of the proletariat, as in Russia and China during their earlier periods of efforts to apply Marxist-Leninist ideals, and Scandinavia today. She blogged,
For Cubans of my generation, longing for success was a terrible ideological deviation—not only longing to stand out personally, but professionally and economically. We were raised to be humble, and if we received any kind of recognition, we were taught to emphasize that we could not have achieved it without the help of our comrades. . . . Competitiveness was punished with accusations very difficult to expunge from our dossiers, accusations such as “self-sufficient” or “immodest.” Success must be—or seen to be—shared, the fruit of everyone’s labors under the wise direction of the Party. . . . We hid material possessions to show that we were all children of a self-sacrificing proletariat, and that we detested the bourgeoisie.[i]
Without the ads’ emphasis on model’s touched up bodies, women were comfortable with their bodies, ample women showing off their curves in spandex pants. We rented a very simple apartment from a family in Havana. They told us that Americans have a lot more possessions than they do (my son traded T-shirts with a Cuban boy and saw that he only owned a couple of shirts), but they take time to enjoy family, dancing, music, and the beach. Every town we went to had a Music House supported by the government with wonderful salsa dancers—my dance lessons paid off. The negative side is the lack of freedom of speech with political prisoners in jail and limits on entrepreneurship. We saw our unlicensed taxi driver get questioned by the police for his illegal business. The police also asked for the residency papers of a young man with dreadlocks who came up to talk to my son to try to sell him marijuana.
Few Cubans have access to the Internet. Yoani Sanchez is the best known opposition blogger. In May 2014 she launched an independent news outlet with other journalists, which was quickly hacked by authorities directing Cubans to a page criticizing her. She blogged, “How can a citizen protect himself from a State that has the police, the courts, the Rapid Response Brigades, the mass media. . . .?” She compiled her blogs in Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today (2011).[ii] Most Cubans can’t afford the $4.50 an hour charge to use Internet at a café. Viewers outside of Cuba can read the blogs: Sanchez has more than 600,000 Twitter followers. Journalist and blogger Sandra Abd’Allah-Alvarez Ramirez is a black feminist who reported, “There are voices of feminist women, but not a feminist movement.” As elsewhere, “There is a lot of ignorance around the word ‘feminism’… Even women who defend women’s rights… tend to say “I am not a feminist’ nor would they talk about a movement.”[iii] She attended a concert where a young rapper criticized female subordination but later said, “It’s not like I’m a feminist.”
[i] Yoani Sanchez. Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today. Melville House, 2009
The news page with other journalists: http://www.14ymedio.com/
[iii] Carolina Drake, “On Social Media, Cubans Speak Up for Feminism and Racial Justice,” Bitch Media, April 8, 2014.