Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

January 24, 1999.


HAVANA - There is a truism: "Children are the hope of the world." But that is only true if there is love and education. In this context, games, another style of learning, also play a vital role in the formation of the human being.

To play, a child needs toys. These incite the imagination, hone abilities, focus concentration, stimulate creativity and other fundamental skills essential for searching for knowledge by the future explorers of this complex universe. Nevertheless, merely hoping for a toy or even having a toy may not make the Cuban children happy, unless they can eat.

The magic of a toy brought by the kings' visit, according to Cuban lore, was rooted out from our children's hearts with the advent of communism. The joyful celebration of the Epiphany, and gifts, was incompatible with the system.

The magic was wiped out with the idea that hard work by Mom and Dad bought the gifts for "The Children's Day." That is how the transfer from a dream to raw reality was made. It was decided that gift-giving, that simple human gesture, should also be a "materialistic and dialectic" act. Buying toys for this memorable day or any other day became something more complex for our fellow Cubans than the simple official correlation between price and buying power.

The generation of the 60's started the toy pilgrimage. Then the state's "social equity" granted just three categories of toys, of which each child was to get one: the "elemental," the "incidental" and the "directed." The first one, as its name implies, was the main course in the lottery.

The winners were posted in the different stores to which the consumers were assigned. The second one, of less standing, could be selected, and the last one, the most modest, was simply assigned.

The "Industrial Product Booklet" closely controlled all of this. There was a phase during this period, which lasted well into the 1970's when the permit number was obtained through a telephone call to the assigned store. There was a series of selective steps! Anxieties rose due to the possibility of not making the list due to so much bureaucracy. Remember, the personal computers did not exist and the telephone company dated to early century. As most of the population lacked telephones, the phone lines remained congested.

In those times, the lines in front of the toy store's windows also are still remembered, as well as the children's disappointments. Even though January 6 remained as "Children's Day," its essence did not matter, considering the brutal encounter with the real world.

Then and now, certain privileged sectors of the presumed egalitarian system did not wait in line and did not need the toys which were sold underground. Early in January, in the midst of a festive environment and besides the "magic boot" of many comrades, their offspring's' wish for toy would be answered. Those parents with low earnings - those far removed from the peak of power - had to sell their rights to toys for their children in order to buy other essentials. It was not all a rose garden.

With the opening of the "parallel market" in the decade of the 80's, more toys appeared in the stores, although priced out of reach of most consumers. By then, gift-giving was totally ripped from its original traditional date and transferred to the summer so as to link it to the July 26 celebration (named for Castro's organization). It soon had no other connotation for the children.

The diplomats' and the traditional techno-stores' chains - only for diplomats, foreign technicians, high state functionaries, merchant mariners and international air-line personnel - have now added the tourists who visit the island (especially the extramural "Cuban Community ") to their list of permitted consumers. These stores have opened another window for the purchase of toys!

The decade of the nineties and its unforgettable "Special Period" of austerity Brought almost the total absence of toys in the country. Later, the void was filled with high-priced handicrafts of coarse plastic.

Many parents made their children's toys, hoping to save the family's economy, without depriving the children of other more pressing needs.

Today the sale of toys is the privilege of the hard currency or dollar stores. Their top prices are affordable only by parents who receive dollars from out of the country or through their dishonest "mischief" in foreign and state enterprises.

In a nut-shell, those who live honestly on a salary and have no dollars are unable to buy toys because they even find it difficult to eat.

We are all children of time. And even though the imagination is an important part of the game, there is no doubt that a good toy of good quality and style helps this so important and necessary occasion - a time for play.

Reinaldo Terré, Cuba Free Press

P.O. Box 652035
Miami, FL 33265-2035
Copyright © 1999 - Cuba Free Press, Inc.