In 2008, I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba to speak at an international conference on infectious disease. My daughter and I stayed for a week in Havana and got to experience Cuba on the street, so to speak, by staying with a Cuban family at a local casa particular. Over breakfasts and dinners, I learned much about the struggles and successes of the Cuban people.
I have traveled to many places in the world and have been rather dismayed by the amount of American products dominating local commerce and advertisement billboards I have found there. As a traveler, I am always looking to find the true, indigenous nature of the places I go. The preponderance of American products usurping local commerce is always disturbing to me.
In Cuba, on the other hand, I found a reprieve from this bombardment. The local economy, while bereft of many necessary items, was untouched by this influence — virgin-like, and really a breath of fresh air. It spoke of the promise of a free land that was really an expression of the people who lived there rather than what executives drum up in marketing campaigns. More than that, you did not feel that the people were individually corrupted by a consumer culture. In the marketplaces, there were no U.S. products, no U.S. advertisements, no Coke, no Gap, no U.S. cigarettes, no chain restaurants, no multinational products, no GMOs. Only those Cubans who were able to travel to Mexico could import their rations. People had what they needed as far as food, clothing, education, medical services, employment and housing. Yes, they lived in a socialist economy, but individually it looked like they were free. We might think we are free, but in reality we are controlled by the media, banks and corporate interests that run this country and influence every thought we have.
We might feel we would be doing Cubans a favor by facilitating access to all of the things we have, but in actuality, I don’t think we would be. Cubans are poor, but what they do not have is the burden of an ever-increasing consumer debt. Their political policies are not driven by big business. Their social policies are driven by the needs of the people. Their food is free of pesticides and GMOs. Their medical system, one of the best in the world, is free of global pharmaceutical interests forcing medical agendas. They are healthier, have longer lives, have low rates of infectious disease due to homeoprophylaxis being incorporated in their infectious-disease programs, and very few of their children have autism.
For the last 60 years, Cuba has managed to keep itself out of the embroilment of the World Bank, the tangles of the World Trade Organization with its (not so) fair-trade polices, and the mercy of multinational organizations that exploit the resources of every other economically developing country in the Caribbean and around the world. This is quite a feat, and one I would like to see more countries and nations able to enjoy. Cubans are free from outside interests that do not serve their nation’s social, cultural and economic health.
What scares me with talk of lifting the embargo is that there would be an unprecedented influx of all those things that pollute our world. Our ideas may be good, but any kind of multinational material exploitation is an outdated form of imperialism that I hope Cuba has the gumption to defend itself against.
In trade relations, I feel we have a moral imperative to curb our impulse to think that everyone wants what Americans have. Rather, I hope that these negations work to respect the fact that Cuba did survive the embargo that was placed on it, and because it survived it may actually offer us some much-needed solutions to fix our broken and corrupt capitalistic economy as we enter into the post-capitalism era.
Kate Birch, of Minneapolis, is a homeopath specializing in infectious disease, homeoprophylaxis and vaccine injury.