HAVANA — Though propaganda from the Cuban regime claims otherwise, the everyday reality for Cuban women does not involve fighting economic aggression from the United States.
Instead, they struggle to provide basic necessities such as food and clothes for their families — and occasional luxuries such as cosmetics — sometimes having to pay with their own dignity. We interviewed several Cuban women, and here are some of their stories.
Felina, 34, prostitute
“Do you know how most Cuban women commit suicide? They set themselves on fire. As if they wanted to purge themselves of all this sh*t. Last week a friend of mine did it. She was a hooker, like me. Her daughter said that they were watching TV and suddenly Yoana kissed her and went to the bathroom. She ran out of it like a living torch.
I think about suicide every day. But I would not like to suffer. If I do this, I will jump off the balcony.
Jorge was the only man I have truly loved. Today he is my husband, but all I feel for him now is what a hooker may feel toward her pimp — disdain.
We met at the airport. I was a waitress in the local café, he was a baggage handler. Before the suitcases went on the baggage carousel, Jorge would steal alcohol, clothes, perfumes. On Friday night people would come to his place to perfume themselves. Three sprays cost $1. Unfortunately, what we both made was not enough to live.
One day he said he had an idea for how we could earn more: I should sleep with tourists that he and his friend, a taxi driver, would "recruit" at the airport. He said we needed to use my beauty to move forward.
Tourists changed Cuba into a virtual country, like in a video game in which you f**k Cuban women and men, drink rum and smoke cigars.
Clients always feel like praising Cubans and Havana after we have sex. I hate this. My city looks like the next day after a war.
We are the cheap meat of the revolution: I take $50 for classic sex, 80 for anal. There are girls who take less than $30.
I have studied Marxist philosophy for five years. I graduated with honors. I speak multiple languages, which is useful. For instance, I can say "I will do you good" in English, French and Portuguese.
Most of my colleagues have university diplomas. We are probably the most educated hookers in the world.
I still have some hope that one day I will earn my life in a decent way — for example, as a translator. But there are days when I go out on the balcony, I look down and I imagine I hit the ground."
Laura, 23, IT specialist
“Meeting a foreigner was not my dream. I have always wanted to be an independent woman, to study, to get a job and to be able to pay my bills.
After two years of working at a cultural office in a big city, I noticed that all my colleagues had foreign boyfriends. When I asked one of them how it was possible, she said, "The Internet, stupid!"
In Cuba, home Internet connections are forbidden. There are Internet access points controlled by the state, but one hour costs $6 and is beyond the reach of an average Cuban. We are lucky at work to be able to surf all day long. Only porn and counter-revolutionary sites are banned. My girlfriends persuaded me to create a profile on Facebook. One day I got a message from Hans.
Nowadays men wait for women to provide the household with the necessities of life. Quite often, young married women have ‘sponsors’ from abroad who are accepted by the girls’ families. I have two girlfriends who are in such sick relationships.
Cuban men put me off. They are too aggressive. They treat women like properties. Besides, they drink too much. What I like about Germans, French, Swiss or Austrians is that you can talk with them about anything.
Hans is a 34-year-old engineer. He is German, but he learned Spanish during his studies in Mexico. After a year and a half of online chatting, he came to see me for the first time, without notice. Two years ago I started to learn German. My first visit there was in 2012.
I have heard that many tourists lie about how rich they are and who they are. I have been lucky. Hans is a good man. In one month, I am leaving for good to join him.”
Matilda, 42, hairdresser
“The life of a Cuban woman is more difficult that a man’s. Women take care of the household and that means children, husband and food. We spend 90% of the day trying to come up with something to eat. That is our task: how to survive with $15 a month.
I have been working as a hairdresser for the past 20 years, but I opened my own place only a year and a half ago, together with my friends. We take ideas for the hairstyles from foreign magazines, if we manage to get any. The latest we have is a Spanish edition of Glamour from 2008.
Cubans have optimism in their blood. We work a lot, and we get nothing in return. Still, we meet friends and keep smiling. If you worry all the time, it is time to die!
I feel pity for Cuban men. They are frustrated. They cannot support their families, so they try to confirm their masculinity by cheating. I don't have one girlfriend who has not gone through this. I am divorced myself.
I don't want to leave Cuba. My roots, my family, my girlfriends are here. The sad reality is that most Cuban women dream about meeting a foreigner and leaving. It's their only chance to improve their lives. My daughter dreams about it too.”
'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.
BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.
Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."
Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!
Communist curriculum replaces global subjects
This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.
Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?
The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
Targeting pop culture
The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.
What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.
A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.
Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.
Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.
"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."
Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.
Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.
From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."
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