Friday, August 23, 2013

Love with Less Paperwork

Love with Less Paperwork
August 22, 2013
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — While nearly 200 thousand people got married in Cuba in
1992, the number barely exceeded 50 thousand in 2012. These figures
appear to show that today's generations of Cubans prefer common law
partnerships over marriage.

Curiously enough, the country witnessed the largest number of weddings
in the midst of its worst economic crisis ever, when no one knew exactly
what was in store for a nation that had lost all of its trade partners
and had been left without fuel, means of transportation, clothing and
even food.

People's reaction to the crisis might strike those unfamiliar with the
cultural idiosyncrasies of Cubans as contradictory. However, it has a
rather logical explanation: for the young Cubans of the time, getting
married implied something of a break in the midst of their daily hardships.

In its attempts at making all Cubans equal, the government had gone as
far as subsidizing and rationalizing Christmas traditions, to guarantee
that all Cuban children received similar gifts. The same thing happened
with marriages.

The State took it upon itself to guarantee that all couples had the
absolute essentials to celebrate their wedding. Accordingly, it handed
out coupons to buy the cake, several beer crates, other beverages and
snacks at giveaway prices.

After tying the knot, all newly-weds, without exception, were entitled
to 3 days in a major hotel. The rooms, as well as all food and drinks,
were paid for in regular Cuban pesos.

No one passed up this honeymoon offer, as the hotel guaranteed the
parity of the Cuban peso with the US dollar, despite the fact that, in
the early 90s, people paid as much as 125 pesos for a single dollar on
the black market.

I used to be surprised by the fact couples would choose a hotel located
in the city where they lived, until I realized this was a way of keeping
the party going. During the 3-day honeymoon, friends and relatives would
go to this hotel to enjoy the pool, eat and drink…in Cuban pesos.

For decades, Cuba had next to no international tourism and hotels were
destined chiefly to nationals. In the 90s, however, the government began
to forbid Cubans from staying at these hotels, and getting married was
the only way of enjoying these establishments.

In addition, there were special shops were newly-weds could purchase
household items, such as pots, sheets, dishes, towels, mosquito nets,
coffee pots and blenders. If memory serves me right, there was a shop of
this kind in the San Rafael boulevard in Centro Habana.

Economic reforms have since done away with subsidies in practically
every sector of the economy, including those that made weddings so
attractive to Cubans. The party's over; now anyone who wants a bit of
cake or a honeymoon will have to pay for it…and in hard currency.

What statistics seem to be showing is that many Cubans have now decided
that getting married is no longer worth their while, for, ultimately,
people living together as common law couples, and their children, have
exactly the same rights as those who contract matrimony.

What's more, Cubans know that a marriage certificate is no guarantee of
anything. For decades, the country has had one of the highest divorce
rates in the region. Common law marriages spare them the red-tape
involved in getting married and then divorced.

In fact, divorces are so common in Cuba that next to no one considers
marriage a definitive step. Many young people get married out of true
love but very few of them do so thinking only death or God will do them

To get a divorce, it suffices for one of the spouses to request it at a
notary's office or law practice. The procedure is one of the few
bureaucratic processes which are quicker in Cuba than in the rest of the
world: it takes only 20 days and costs a mere US $3.00.

Very few Cubans have any moral qualms about this. During his visit to
the island, Pope John Paul II condemned extra-marital relations and thus
surprised many around the country, who do not consider sex a diabolical
temptation but a life-affirming miracle.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by
BBC Mundo.

Source: "Cuba: Love with Less Paperwork" -

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