Since Raul Castro called for free and frank public debate on the future of socialism in Cuba soon after he became acting president in July 2006, institutional spaces for such ongoing debate have been gradually opening up. One of these new spaces is the magazine La Calle del Medio, a "monthly publication of opinion and debate" launched in May 2008. The magazine breaks new ground in Cuba for its attractive, modern, professional layout throughout its 16 colour pages.
Edited by Enrique Ubieta, whose essay "Revolution or reform in Cuba" I translated and posted previously, La Calle del Medio seems to have won, judging by the letters to the editor, a youthful following. Two pages of each edition are dedicated to such letters, which often begin with a note of appreciation to the editorial team for providing such a space for critical reflection and debate within the framework of support for Cuba's socialist project.
An archive of the PDF files of the magazine is here.
On the services sector
Letter to La Calle del Medio, published in issue No. 31, November 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
First of all I'd like to congratulate you on the idea of creating this space for public debate, so necessary above all in these times in which we have been urged to express ideas that could contribute to improving our society in every sense.
I'd like to express my opinion on the theme of services. After reading the letters pages of No. 28 of your magazine, I'd like to say that I agree with almost everything expressed by the readers on this theme. However, I think there's something very important that is not talked about, regarding "culture" in the broad sense of the word as a generic expression that includes aesthetic culture — which refers to everything related to the vulgarity of the surroundings of some premises, the poor quality in the presentation of certain products, excessively loud music, the sloppy appearance of some employees due to the poor use of their uniform, sometimes with deficient personal hygiene etc — a consumer culture that at times has no other role model, and which accepts as good that which would be considered mediocre or bad in any other place, and in which one is so accustomed to being maltreated that one does not realise when one is being maltreated, and that in other cases poor education discourages the good service that, for example, a waiter in a restaurant tries to give, which disparages the professional conduct of this profession, and they say to you, for example, "Compadre, don't pick a fight about this when the thing is, they bring your food quickly."
The public in itself forms part of the aesthetic environment, loud and fragrant in a cabaret, cafe, restaurant or public office. Abstracting a little, now imagine the same place, with identical furnishings, with the same employees and the same service. Now imagine two different publics. In the first case, imagine the public conducting itself appropriately, speaking in an appropriate tone of voice, appropriately neat and well-dressed for the occasion and capable of appreciating and being grateful for the good service provided by the employees, that the music is appropriate for the occasion and the sound level suitable for the establishment. Now wake yourself up and think about how you would feel in this same place, changing only the public: now there's a certain stench of sweat in the air, mixed with garish perfume, cigar smoke and beer, the music so loud that it inhibits conversation so people shout to make themselves heard, the employees are forced to lower the quality of their service by the patrons, and what's more the quality service they know how to provide goes unrecognised or unappreciated.
Finally, behind the lack of demand for the rights of the consumers is in many cases the lack of civic culture, which leads to things remaining as they are as if there were no solution. The lack of competition between establishments also has an influence, since often people have few options.
In conclusion, I'd like to draw attention once again to "culture", which also has something to do with the paradigms seen so frequently on our TV, in the songs that seem at times to be the war hymns of the most savage cannibalistic tribes of the underworld, and at other times are just empty lyrics that stimulate consumerism, irresponsibility and lack of values, sung by singers decked out in chains, gold fangs and tattoos, whose gestures and movements have nothing to do with the elegance that always characterises Cuban dance. Apologies if I went on too long, and I hope I didn't offend anyone.
Enrique Cino, retired pilot