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    The Ground Soy Generation Remembers

    The Ground Soy Generation Remembers / Frank Correa
    Posted on August 16, 2013

    HAVANA, Cuba, August, — Perhaps at the moment the reader
    reads this, it will have been twenty years since the beginning of the
    Special Period, the major event to befall Cuban history in the last century.

    It began in August of 1993 when the former secretary of the Council of
    Ministers, Carlos Lage, announced that the Cuban economy had hit rock
    bottom and with it all of our precepts and attitudes. Store shelves
    began to empty. The value of the Cuban peso relative to the dollar
    turned once again into a joke, becoming both a dream and a nightmare

    Having dollars was treated like a contagion. All individually held
    dollars were decommissioned. Some people received long prison sentences
    for their possession. Though it was decriminalized in 1994 as a result
    of popular pressure stemming from the “Maleconazo,” or the Malecon
    uprising, paradoxically some of those sentenced remained in prison
    because they committed crimes endemic to prisons during their incarceration.

    In those days George Washington’s green face journeyed hand to hand with
    extreme urgency, with stealth, with fear, hidden in socks or shoes,
    behind toilets tanks or imprisoned inside underwear. You had to find a
    foreigner willing to buy the prohibited goods for you in hard-currency

    To use a colloquial term, we could say that many Cubans became rats.
    They ate garbage, rummaged through trash cans, scarfed down pizzas
    topped with melted condoms instead of cheese and ate “steaks” breaded
    with towel mops, according to urban legends of the times. The level of
    predation reached extremes. Dogs, cats, buzzards, wild cuckoos, moray
    eels. Even the lionfish, a strange species from the Indian Ocean that
    dared to go near the edge of a country engaged in a pitched battle for
    survival. It was made extinct.

    Homelessness multiplied, along with madness and suicides. The disease of
    alcoholism began to grow and take root in society as a means of escape
    from paths with no exits. The high cost of living forced fathers, who
    could not buy good rum to help them forget their problems, to drink
    alcohol from the pharmacy. There appeared a clandestine manufacturing
    system to produce bootleg atrocities with names such as train spark,
    gualfarina and calambuco. These frustrated drunkards — those with
    neither strength nor character nor incentives to educate their children
    — neglected them. They in turn lost any hope for a future at an early
    age and followed their fathers down the road of alcoholism, sealing
    their fates.

    Some called them the Ground Soy Generation. They caused statistics for
    swindling and petty theft to shoot up astronomically. Shady dealings and
    illicit sales increased. The state imposed two currencies: a weak one it
    used to pay salaries and a demeaning one it used to sell things.
    Suddenly everything on the black market had a very high price. A used
    fish tank went for eighty pesos and a pound of rice for fifty-five.

    In the countryside a pile of clothes would be traded for a mutton, a
    pair of boots for a hog. Many individuals travelled in caravans through
    the fields of Pinar del Río like zombies, trading soap and detergent for
    rice and vegetables. Barter.

    Before the farmer’s market opened in Marianao in 1994, you had to get in
    line the night before to buy meat when someone in the neighborhood
    slaughtered a pig.

    To board a city bus, actual storylines from tragic films were
    re-enacted. Cooking oil intended for the production of breads and sweets
    ended up for sale on the black market. The same thing happened with
    salt, sugar and anything else that could generate money. The most
    sought-after jobs were those where one could steal or load up on food.
    Jineterismo* revolutionized the conception of the family. Travelling
    overseas became one of life’s necessities.

    Getting a job in a workplace related to tourism suddenly had a price. A
    gas station attendant: three-hundred dollars. A salesclerk in a
    hard-currency store: two-hundred. A cook: one hundred. The different
    ways for dealing with the crisis — between those who had access to
    dollars, now called CUCs, and those who had to be inventive to get them
    — created a divide in the Cuban identity.

    In 1997 former secretary Lage said in a public appearance that the Cuban
    economy had finally hit bottom and was starting to improve. Later
    Machado Ventura and Marino Murillo repeated this many times, but in
    reality people still waited for a miraculous upswing. Today half of
    working-age men — those being called upon to bring about the recovery —
    “work” while seated on stools in the doorways of their houses selling
    sweet snacks made by self-employed workers using materials stolen from
    the state or brought in from overseas by smugglers.

    We deserve a medal for pawning ourselves in order to survive those
    ridiculous twenty years.


    Frank Correa, born in Guantánamo in 1963, is a storyteller, poet and
    independent journalist. In 1991 he won the Regino E. Boti, Ernest
    Hemingway and Tomás Savigñón prizes for his short stories. He has
    published a book of stories called La Elección.

    From Cubanet August 9, 2013

    *Translator’s note: Sometimes translated as “hustling,” it is a category
    of illegal or quasi-legal economic activities related to tourism in Cuba
    that often involves prostitution.

    13 August 2013

    Source: “The Ground Soy Generation Remembers / Frank Correa |
    Translating Cuba” –

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