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People, Way of Life

paladares, controlled economy, Catholic society, secular society, strong central government

Prior to 1959 Cuba had a weak democratic political system, a capitalist economy dependent on trade with the United States, and a nominally Catholic society. The revolution replaced those traditions with socialist values, including a strong central government with indirect citizen participation in policy decisions, a centrally controlled economy, and a secular society that discouraged the practice of religion.

Since 1959 families have been both aided and hindered by revolutionary provisions and demands. In 1975 the Family Code described the roles of each family member, maintaining that whether a couple were married or not, parents are obliged to support their children. No child is considered illegitimate. Men and women are mutually responsible for the maintenance of the home. Gender and racial discrimination is illegal, although individual prejudices continue, and male dominance remains a tradition that has been hard to change.

For the first 30 years after the revolution, all Cubans who wanted to work were able to do so. Women who remained at home with families were not considered as revolutionary as those who worked, since making an extra effort to produce commodities for economic development in addition to maintaining a home and caring for a family was seen as evidence of revolutionary loyalty. Children of working couples could attend day-care centers of generally high quality. Women were guaranteed a living wage whether they worked or not, so they did not have to remain married out of financial considerations. The divorce rate soared to more than 50 percent by 1980, and it was estimated at 60 percent in 1997.

After 1990, when Soviet aid sharply declined, shortages of fuel and consumer goods altered daily work patterns. Transportation was difficult at best and at times impossible. The black market, in which items are sold illegally to bypass government controls, provided necessary subsistence products no longer available through government rationing or in the local stores. Often one member of a family devoted his or her time to resolving problems of food, clothing, and extremely scarce luxury items.

The government made some policy changes in an attempt to relieve economic hardships. Since 1994 food shortages have been resolved by permitting paladares, in-house restaurants, to serve the paying public. Farmers’ markets, in which small farmers sold food for profit, opened to bring scarce produce into the cities. The government also allowed small private businesses, such as bicycle repair shops, beauty salons, and car repair. However, it was reluctant to allow the widespread development of private businesses. To cut down on the explosion of private enterprises, the government began a harsh taxation system, and it required that every business produce bills of sale for all items acquired to run the business. As a result, most of these businesses have closed or opted to operate illegally.

Cuba attempted to address a number of its needs through mini brigades of citizens offering voluntary labor. Volunteer construction teams erected public buildings and took care of the sanitation system when regular workers were overburdened. People from all sectors of society—managers as well as common laborers—shared in the heavy physical work required to build and maintain the industrial and agricultural infrastructure. Voluntary work was intended both to construct more buildings and to elicit respect in the population for all manners of work, including manual labor. However, these mini brigades were not enough. For example, they were unable to construct enough residential buildings in urban and rural areas to meet the housing demands that emerged throughout the revolutionary period.

Public entertainment is open to everyone except when it is reserved for foreigners in special areas set aside for tourism. Cubans are avid sports enthusiasts, especially for baseball, track and field events, volleyball, basketball, and swimming. Athletic fields are open to everyone, but few Cubans have the equipment required for play. Children often play baseball with sticks and rocks. Musical groups of all quality levels travel the island playing for people in urban and rural settings.



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