Special Reports

Last updated: 3 october, 2009 - 09:40 GMT

Cuba's two faces

Journalist Eduardo Medina and his son Rodney, a teacher and psychology student, represent two generations of Cubans marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc.

Eduardo Medina and his son Rodney

Eduardo and Rodney Medina

For Eduardo, it spelt the end of decades of high economic security and prosperity achieved under the Soviet umbrella. But for Rodney that era is part of a distant history.

Cuba before and after the wall fell are almost two different worlds, two countries that have little in common.

Eduardo's Cuba allowed him to become a professional and live on his wages. It guaranteed a satisfactory share of food, gave him access to cabarets, beach vacations and clothes and shoes at subsidized prices. His is a Cuba that disappeared with the demise of socialism.

For Cuban youth like Rodney, the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled greater economic hardship. It meant running out of the milk that was imported from East Germany, and going without sweets or trips to amusement parks. He spent his adolescence in schools far away from his family home and with little food.

His generation is now suffering with a substantial lack of economic prospects.

This conversation between Eduardo and Rodney is part of a series of eight cross-generational interviews from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Romania, Tajikistan and Cuba

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Eduardo Medina: It was only then, in 1989, when I found out that the wall was built by the socialists. For years I thought I had been done by the capitalists, and I even saw it as something negative.

Rodney Medina: I do not remember the wall but I know that the collapse of socialism had a hard impact on Cuba. How it was in reality?

Eduardo Medina: For us it was the collapse of a myth. We used to follow it like the old sailors who were guided by star at sea, but one day the star disappeared from the sky. Many believed, even in Cuba, that if the USSR disappeared we would too, but that didn’t happen.

Rodney Medina: But life changed. I'm living a life very different from the one you had. According to the older generation, food used to be better, the cost of living was lower and there were no shortages.

Eduardo Medina: There used to be a book of available supplies, but the butcher had meat and the shop had beer. Nowadays there are more things, but fewer people can buy them. At that time there were less social differences. Looking from the viewpoint of the majority, it was better before.

Rodney Medina: Social differences exist everywhere in the world, so that's normal. But in Cuba differences are inverted: a manual worker earns more than a professional, which is very bad.

Eduardo Medina: Yes, but because there are two currencies it's only logical. If you rent a house like a tourist you’ll earn in a day what you’ll never get as an engineer working for the state.

Rodney Medina: I always wondered how you were affcted by the fall of socialism, especially having small children. What did you think then? How did you feel?

Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro

Eduardo Medina: I felt fear, and huge uncertainty. Not only were we left alone but also the US pushed economic pressure even further. At that time the words of Fidel Castro were very important. He spoke to us all the time and convinced many that it was possible to succeed.

At the beginning, people were happy because a lot of things began to appear: fruit, preserves, coffee, rum. Nobody thought that they were sharing the last they had because they could not be exported anymore. Then came the blackouts, and half-days without electricity.

Rodney Medina: I remember the blackouts. Neighbours were playing dominoes, we children went to bed late, and we went out to the streets to play. Those are my earliest memories. So I only knew one Cuba. Were there so many social differences in your Cuba?

Eduardo Medina: Before, the guy who had money did not dress very differently from the one who did not. Now the rich guys have special shops. In these past 50 years, never as much as now are the differences so noticeable and we are obliged to manage them. Now you tell me: those differences exist and they are inverted, so why study? You can earn more as a waiter.

Rodney Medina: It has to do with the education they gave me. I was taught the need to study, to become a professional and then earn my living. I always thought that study was the best option for human beings, a way to develop and become a good man. That’s what I am after.

Eduardo Medina: What I believe is that even in the midst of economic difficulties, you have to study, to have an intellectual basis. I wanted you to have the tools so you can choose your path, even if you never get to practice as a psychologist. I do not regret what I've taught you, but maybe tomorrow you have to become a waiter.

Rodney Medina: The problem is that I do want to practice psychology.

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