*Associate Professors, Psychology Faculty, University of Havana
COVID-19 came out of the blue, tearing up our daily lives, staining them with fear, with shocking reports of the numbers of infected and deceased, our daily routines paralyzed, plans put on hold, and a lot of uncertainty. The vulnerability of the whole world emerges and the need for physical isolation comes alongside the need for support networks, solidarity, explicit affection, wisdom. “Stay home” is today’s catchphrase.
Cuba was not among the first countries to experience the effects of the pandemic, but the fact it was less of a surprise did not mean it had less of an emotional effect, although our emotions did not paralyze us. More than 500 measures have been implemented by the government so far, the effect of which points to a favorable scenario in managing the health situation (Rodríguez & Odriozola, 2020), while at an individual and group level, other initiatives have demonstrated a proactive attitude to the pandemic.
How do the people of Cuba see the impact of COVID-19? Here we present the results of a quantitative research study, carried out via WhatsApp, between mid-April and mid-May 2020. Our initial hypothesis was that COVID 19, despite its devastating effect, offered new opportunities and positive experiences. We prepared a questionnaire based on sociodemographic data and in which the central questions revolved around 4 main strands: Identification of positive and negative facts and personal attitudes, examining the answers in each case.
It was carried out in the second half of April and the first half of May. Given the requirement for social distancing, WhatsApp was used as the means of contact. This limited the scope of the sample, despite following the snowball principle: “key participants are identified and added to the sample. They are asked if they know other people who could provide additional data, and once contacted, we also include them” (Sampieri, Fernández & Baptista, 2010, p. 398). At the same time, the virtual space constitutes a valid medium, given the application of multiple processes and instruments, as systematized by De Sena & Lisdero in 2015, and validated, using the WhatsApp platform, by Scribano in 2017.
For the analysis of quantitative data, we used the statistical package SPSS Statistics25. From the results, emerging categories were constructed from the respondents and the database was created. Initially, an exploratory analysis of the data was carried out, with the aim of identifying trends regarding sociodemographic variables and profiling participants/respondents. Subsequently, we analyzed the scores of the different categories measured in the questionnaire using descriptive statistics of frequencies, matrixed tables and graphics. Finally, the Chi-square test of independence was applied in order to determine the existence of dependence or independence between two variables, and as a result we were able to observe possible correlations.
The sample consisted of 259 respondents, the majority white female (73.4%), of working age, with higher education qualifications, working, primarily residing in Havana (233).
Image 1. Sample distribution by sex, color, and age.
Taking advantage of the characteristics of this medium, Catalejo, the results are being shared in two parts. The first (http:/cubarte.cult.cu/revista-temas/covid-19-two-sides-one-issue-i/) contextualizes the research, explains the methodology, how the information was processed and shows only a part of the results, the aspects that were viewed as positive or negative. Thus, it constitutes an eminently descriptive text. A partial conclusion is presented, offering recommendations which relate to psychology. The second part will outline how the people attributed positive and negative significance to a range of events, as well as a discussion of the results.
The results will be presented offering the percentage values according to response frequency. When profiles are referred to, these are derived from processing a matrix of variables (between sociodemographic variables and those created for information processing). When it is not made explicit, it means that no link has appeared between variables. Quotes from respondents are in italics.
Significant players and events in the COVID crisis?
When analyzing the responses according to positive and negative events, the former outnumbers the latter. Of 777 useful responses, 590 people (75.9%) mentioned positive aspects and 392 (50.4%) negative.
12.4% of subjects did not identify any positive impact and 27.4% did not identify any negative aspects.
Image 2. Percentage of positive and negative aspects
Within the positive impact category we find:
Image 3. Categories and subcategories of positive impact.
Comments which support these categories
People with close ties: My mother has always known how to calm my anxiety, she made me understand from the beginning the importance of personal hygiene. She has made the quarantine more comfortable for me. (Female, white, 22, University graduate, Plaza, Havana); My aunt on my mother’s side has contributed to my physical and psychological well-being. My maternal grandmother, seeing her every day gives me greater strength to take care of myself, and try to overcome this situation for my own good and for her psychological well-being. (Female, white, 24, University graduate, Guanabacoa, Havana); My friends, despite the fact that we are separated, haven’t lost the ability to always make me laugh. (Female, white, 19, High school, Habana del Este, La Habana); My partner has spent all this time with me and we have improved aspects of our relationship (Female, white, 22, University graduate, Plaza, Havana); My neighbor, we go out to queue together, we laugh at people and we are always out and about together. (Female, mestizo, 36, Technical Diploma, Boyeros, Havana); My neighbors help me and I feel supported. (Male, white, 76, basic education, Boyeros, Havana).
State and Government Officials: Dr. [Francisco] Durán, [National Director of Epidemiology] for his humble example, professionalism and sacrifice. (Female, white, 43, University graduate, Centro Habana, Havana); For his openness in giving the information and his generosity in answering questions. (Female, white, 45, Technical Diploma, Playa, Havana); [President Miguel] Díaz-Canel, for his constant concern and leadership ability, as well as sincerity and clarity in his approach. (Male, white, 70); From my perspective, it was the first time that he spoke as a real person to all the people, without speeches nor spin, his interventions have been great. I believe that this has been his opportunity to establish ties with the people and he has done very well, without necessarily defining his presidency as positive. (Male, 32, University graduate, Playa, Havana); [Dr. Marcos] Portal, [Minister of Public Health] for his pertinent and clear explanations. (Male, white, 46, High school, 10 de Octubre, Havana); He gives us scientific knowledge, human qualities, sensitivity, humanism, on-going guidance. (Female, white, 42, University graduate, Santa Clara, Villa Clara); The police who supervise the queues, because you have to be courageous to maintain order in a group of Cubans in this situation. (Male, 46, University graduate, Playa, Havana); Prime Minister Marrero, because he has shown ability, a sharp mind and a firm hand. (Female, white, 43, University graduate, Centro Habana, Havana).
Professionals and scientists: Health personnel, putting their lives in danger to help those affected. (Female, white, 22, University graduate, Habana del Este, Havana); The drivers, who put their lives in danger to help those affected. (Female, white, 22, University graduate, Habana del Este, Havana); All the people who help out in their communities, hospitals and isolation centers for the work they do to deal with the outbreak and save people's lives. (Female, white, 24, University graduate, Pedro Betancourt, Matanzas); Journalists, for their work in the national media, giving adequate media reports based on science about the crisis. (Male, white, 21, University student, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); Medical students, doing the house-to-house testing. (Female, white, 20, High school, Playa, Havana); Teachers have collaborated unconditionally in the isolation centers and have even maintained contact with their students. (Female, white, 22, High school, Santa Clara, Villa Clara).
People with more distant ties: People who have selflessly made facemasks to distribute them around hospitals, orphanages, neighbors. (Female, white, 30, University graduate, Camagüey); Volunteers, regardless of their profession or occupation, help however they can. (Male, white, 24, University graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana); Artists who, in an organized, voluntary way and in a spirit of solidarity are doing things to support the people. (Female, white, 51, University graduate, Habana del Este, Havana); People and artists who have used social media to offer diets, exercise suggestions, handicrafts, etc. (Female, white, 22, University graduate, Plaza, Havana).
Image 4. Categories and subcategories of negative perceptions.
Toxic people. People who carry on without perceiving a risk, do not take care of themselves or others, do not collaborate or contribute anything. (Female, white, 24, University graduate, Regla, Havana); People who buy to resell or stockpile, causing a shortage of essential items. (Female, white, 60, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); Neighbors for being extremely pessimistic, apathetic, trapped in conspiracy theories. (Female, mestizo, 20, High school, Matanzas.
Foreign governments: Donald Trump: He attacks the scientific community, and continues with his iron-fisted policy of sanctions against Cuba and other nations. (Male, white, 21, High school level, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); He is ignorant, taking the opportunity to cleanse the country of everything that bothers him. (Male, white, 58, University graduate, Plaza, Havana); He has done improper and ignorant things. It does not affect me directly, but it does affect my family that lives there. (Female, white, 22, High school, Plaza, Havana); Bolsonaro: He takes the opportunity to stroll through the streets of Rio or Sao Paulo and call the citizens out of their houses. (Male, white, 21, High school, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); For putting the economy above the health of his people (Male, black, 45, Havana).
People with close ties: My neighbor does not leave the house, but receives visits daily. (Female, white, 24, High school level, Playa, Havana); My teenage neighbors spend the entire afternoon sitting in the street without a mask, all huddled together. (Female, white, 21, High school level, Artemisa); My Grandfather, because he does not comply with the measures, he got out of the house and won’t stay calm. (Female, white, 22, High school, Plaza, Havana); My grandmother because she does not comply with the measures and won’t stay still and that gives me another concern. (Female, white, 22, High school, Cerro, Havana).
Officials of the Cuban State and Government: Some police officers who have mistreated people while trying to apply the new protection measures. (Male, white, 24, University graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana); Public officials: Lack of clarity in their interventions and the way, sometimes inappropriate, in which they address the people, especially local authorities. (Female, white, 24, University graduate, Pedro Betancourt, Matanzas); The government has not been able to manage the situation regarding the supply of food to the population. (Female, white, 46, High school level, La Lisa, Havana); Higher Education Minister, the students in their final years of study are left with uncertainty. (Female, white, 22, Diploma level).
Professionals and Scientists: Journalists, due to the excess of information and the inadequate handling of some issues, for example, broadcasting police operations to control illegal actions seems absurd and unethical to me. (Female, white, 24, University graduate, Pedro Betancourt, Matanzas); The managers of my workplace, for not showing sensitivity, responsibility and humanity when dealing with me or my co-workers possibly being infected. (Female, mestizo, 31, University graduate); the family doctor, because he is not fulfilling his duty, especially in supporting the elderly. (Female, white, 65, University graduate, Plaza, Havana).
Public service providers: Etecsa, the phone company, has not lowered its charges even though people are not earning as much as they were and have to communicate. (Male, mestizo, 45, 9th grade, La Lisa, Havana); Administrative staff in nursing homes, have often not been careful enough or done what they were supposed to do, or at least should have done, in this situation. (Female, mestizo, 48, University graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana).
Oneself: If I had not studied what I did, I might not have exposed my family to unnecessary risks. (Male, white, 24, University graduate, Boyeros, Havana); Because of my inability to identify concrete recommendations for policies that support the disadvantaged. (Female, white, 40, University graduate, Centro Habana, Havana).
We can see the information presented in the following images
Image 5. Most frequently mentioned aspects
In order to continue managing this crisis situation, and also to lay the foundations for a future with greater well-being, it is worth reinforcing some issues that have constituted strengths and turning points we can learn from as we move forward:
1. The value placed on the use of time and the role of family, friends and neighbors. How to organize time so as not to feel that the separation caused by lockdown turns into feeling isolated? How can we make better use of our time, in a way that contributes to our quality of life? How can we maintain the quality of our relationships with those who are most important to us? What changes should we make to how work is organized, domestic tasks are allocated, activities prioritized, schedules in public services established, with accessible and high-quality services expanded and maintained?
2. Our Public Servants:
During this time, our public officials, especially at the highest level, have gained credibility, prestige, and have built bridges of trust with the people. It is about continuing to consolidate this relationship, even when we come out of the emergency situation. What have been the key elements, in addition to the vulnerability experienced, and the needs of our leaders?
- Our tactical and strategic capacity has been demonstrated; our ability to coordinate a number of factors; finding ways to use and recreate what we have available;
- People have felt the presence of the officials, their concern, and their sacrifice;
- The clear and transparent accountability, debated by those with responsibility (ministers, scientists) has been of huge value;
- From the fact that they say “we have read on the networks… people are saying…”, we know they have taken into account the opinions of the people in the decisions taken, for example, closing schools before the authorities had originally recommended, cracking down on illegalities, responding to dissatisfaction with public services and with the treatment of news, etc.
- The ability to empathize, put themselves in the place of the people they are addressing, giving real examples of the arguments and opinions of people; being able to show themselves as people and not just playing a role (reporting the death of the mother-in-law of the health minister, thereby justifying his absence in a public presentation; program dedicated to Dr. Durán or to the dean of the Faculty of Mathematics; not only talking about their professional functions, etc.), the heartfelt expression of Dr. Durán when he spoke about the deaths, his ability to recognize errors and rectify them in public, even acknowledging those who corrected him;
- Progressively incorporating the discourse of equality, the recognition of multiple vulnerable sectors, the need for differentiated policies;
- Dealing effectively with corruption and pilfering. This is a pre-existing social problem toward which the authorities had previously demonstrated impotence and institutional complicity (shared corruption), while now the political will to deal with it has been made explicit.
3. Social cohesion has been amplified in this time, conditioned by solidarity in the face of vulnerability, the figure of Donald Trump, the ritual of the daily applause. The pandemic and the fear of death, especially amongst vulnerable sectors, have revived solidarity, a traditional value that characterizes our national identity. Added to this are the difficulties inherent in our daily situation. On the other hand, we have the policies implemented by the US against Cuba; the inefficiency of US policies to defeat COVID-19 in that country (which affects family members who migrated there), together with the conditions which already existed, have strengthened national unity, at least in their dislike for President Trump. On another level, the daily applause ritual, which gave continuity to this moment of gratitude in other parts of the world, has constituted a reminder to give thanks, and has contributed to the respect accorded to the professionals and scientists, previously "invisible" (if you compare to the visibility gained by those who have the most instead of those who do the most), which in turn has had an impact on the exo and endogroup attitudes toward medicine, statistics and psychology studies. The press has played an important role, reporting, clarifying rumors, delving into issues, presenting everyday heroes, etc. Young people have contributed directly to social impact and other activities, without being identified, and have played the role of caregivers, especially for grandparents and other older adults, who have suffered from anxiety about many aspects, some of which were covered in the reports.
4. Strengthening citizenship. Related to the aforementioned aspects, the role of citizens has been strengthened, defending their points of view, exerting pressure, and confronting opinions. They could see they were being taken into account and that has served to reinforce the value of participation. In the same way, the emergence of actions of solidarity from individuals, the informal and private sectors, and institutional groups, have made an effective multi-actor society visible, not only at the level of formal institution, but also amongst civil society.
5. The use of technology has been an important and efficient vehicle for this participation, especially in mitigating the impact of social distancing. The use of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram has made it possible to interact and maintain contact with family, friends and strangers; communities have been created that are not limited by physical borders; multiple educational programs have been developed and by multiple actors; information has been shared, multiple cultural programs have been offered and the spiritual world has been recreated.
However, on analyzing the points put forward by respondents regarding negative impacts, the following aspects still need to be addressed:
1. Matters related to product distribution and service which was one of the recurring responses alongside the endless queues that generate multiple risky situations, in addition to the annoyance of wasting time, being out in the heat and lack of conditions in general; online services, which by creating combos [combining various items that must be bought as a unit], amongst other things, contributes to denying the discourse of differentiation and does not recognize individual needs, their freedom to decide what to buy; the water supply.
Shortage of products is one aspect of consumption patterns (not only because of not having the product but also because of knowing that it won’t become available) and it is one of the sources of conflict between people and small groups. It’s true that if we do not have something, there is nothing we can do about it, but if it is not available due to poor distribution systems, then it is due to mismanagement of resources, which encourages behaviors that threaten the well-being of the citizen.
2. Employment, social security, and social policies: All interviewees belonging to the private sector classed the “temporary” laying off of workers as disagreeable, bringing it under the heading of “negative emotional states” and including it in the report of negative impacts, referred to by relatives of many of them; or from family groups where workers are receiving lower salaries or were relocated to other posts. "The standstill in the tourism sector affects self-employed workers (632,950 according to the most recent data) especially the owners of some 25,000 rental rooms, which affects an estimated 31,650 people. To a large extent, some 50,636 people in the transport business and almost 57,000 food vendors in cafeterias and restaurants, some of which serve primarily tourism, are also affected. On the other hand, “the downturn in economic activity and the expected increase in unemployment at the global level will impact on the remittances sent to Cuba, will cause the reduction of income amongst the population and, to a large extent, a lack of outside income amongst the self-employed entrepreneurs.” ( Rodríguez and Odriozola, 2020)
Until May 11, there were 138,638 permanent employees in the state sector laid off, with tourism and transport being the most affected sectors, and industry and construction to a lesser extent. Of the total number of people affected, 39,127 (28%) were relocated to food production, isolation centers, vacant positions in the health care system, COVID tracking carried out throughout the country and in looking after vulnerable groups and people, as stated by the Minister for Labor and Social Security (Cubadebate, 2020).
Although it was impossible for us to find Cuban research that speaks directly about the effects of unemployment, we can see by reading between lines of social science research, the relationship between unemployment/underemployment and casual/temporary work; precarious life; domestic violence; addictive and anti-social behaviors and violation of the law; suicide, self-harm; decreased self-esteem. Although we cannot establish a direct causal relationship, at least we can identify it as an influencing factor.
3. Strengthening health services. It is necessary to work on the structural conditions of the services, maintain care for doctors and all health personnel. Encourage and reward commitment. Reinforce professional training, and properly distribute personnel in the different health services. Mistrust of the system produces avoidance behaviors (for this reason there are people who do not seek care in time, do not report symptoms); greater discomfort (especially if you are sick); and it can lead to inappropriate behaviors towards staff, among others.
4. Strengthening education. Although work is being done on improving education, it is necessary to promote a faster and more efficient implementation of these changes. In the most immediate recovery phases, we need to take into account the setback experienced by many students for various reasons: not having family support to watch the educational programs on TV, or lack of monitoring and assistance with tasks set by the distance classes; disorganized family lives, lack of a television or electricity in the house; dysfunctional family atmosphere, etc.
In higher education, it is necessary to work for higher levels of computerization and to provide sustainable alternatives for students and teachers, the use of mobile data and the Internet. This is an indispensable part of professional training. Not only has learning been paralyzed at this level, but the possibility of accessing important information has also been hampered - due to the use of mobile data, the cost or the impossibility of accessing data - for doing research for academic articles which would contrast with fake news.
Education is one of our great conquests, its failure is a dent to our pride in terms of our national identity; and it is one of the reasons for belonging and staying in the country.
Promoting a more critical education, with a wide range of issues concerning the national and universal reality, which enhances communication, creativity and innovation skills, will also contribute to the search for solutions in the short, medium and long term, to some of the problems that we face.
5. Maintain efforts to computerize society.
a) As a vehicle to alleviate difficulties in public services;
b) seeking access for the mass of the population;
c) educating in the use of social networks; we highlight the level of concern perceived over the spread of fake news;
d) Their role for the development of distance working, a modality that is expected to have come to stay, and a model which 600,038 people had adopted by the end of May 11 (Cubadebate, 2020a);
e) It plays an important role in the construction of active citizenship, especially among the new generations. It places us in a global computerized context, which contributes to not feeling this disadvantage, and contributes to discrediting one of the main arguments against Cuba which is the idea of the government limiting access to information to guarantee control over citizens.
6. Police action: Although the police have had a tough job through this period, the government‘s strategic policy of a tough approach toward illegal actions and non-compliance with epidemiological measures, previous unresolved conflicts related to stereotypes and prejudices towards the police, combined with the popular pressure from some sectors that act out of revenge and resentment, lead some police officers to behave in a way that is not within their remit, rather, from their position of power; which constitutes abuse, and discredits the police force in general.
7. Responsible and committed action by the press: Directly related to the previous issue, this refers directly and indirectly to a dislike towards the media coverage about dealing with illegalities, with regard to the crime reconstructions where people are arrested. The public trials broadcast on TV were seen as particularly inappropriate. Even if there is no violation of citizens' legal rights, as highlighted in the program Hacemos Cuba (Making Cuba), this treatment is inappropriate, in times of Covid, given how sensitive people are, because not all the issues related to problems that arose during the pandemic, and that the authorities didn’t know about or were complicit in, which was reported by inspectors in multiple investigations (Pañellas, 2012; Dujarric and Padilla, 2015; Palay, 2016; Pañellas, Torralbas and Caballero, 2016; Pañellas , 2018; Pañellas, 2019).
On the other hand, defending our principles, “To be an ethical subject you have to start from the pain of the other and respond compassionately to this pain. Compassion does not mean a vision of the world from the perspective of strength, but when the fragile and vulnerable are truly understood and accompanied”. (Canals, 2020)
8. Monitoring and attention to inequalities: As the results show, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, the arguments are nuanced by sex, age, skin color, employment in the state or private sector, the role played within the same. It is a pre-Covid situation, which is deepening in the face of the global and national crisis. It has macrosocial consequences, also at the subjective level (discomfort, psychological disturbances) and intersubjective (conflicts in interpersonal and intergroup relationships).
9. Direct monitoring and evaluation of the development of the decisions made.
Due to the possible distortion in carrying this out at national, local, institutional levels; because the imaginary of triumphalism persists, and that making mistakes carries the risk of penalty, or puts the leadership’s role at risk (which, in order to effect change, requires the experience that it is not like that, that decisions are subject to discussion, that it is important to correct errors; although it is clear that some errors are fatal); because the people need to see that the government is talking to them, is aware of what is happening, is not naive, and is exercising its role to serve and ensure healthcare. It is necessary to be consistent in making good decisions, evaluating them directly, and following up on them. All this would contribute to the formation or consolidation of the experiential base of the arguments, which support the confidence in the leadership, and in a future of well-being and prosperity.
Although our imagination could deceive us with comments about the negative nature of Covid-19, we find that this pandemic has given the opportunity for individuals to pause, to reflect, to come together. It is true that we do not have a representative sample of the population; very likely those who live in the poorest conditions did not have the same experience, as the sociologist Hamza Esmili points out "Lockdown is a bourgeois concept. The idea is that we all have an individual house, a bit bourgeois, in which we can take refuge" (Paredes, 2020) However, this does not make these results valueless, but rather points to the danger of generalization.
The pandemic arrived in Cuba at a time when we were already facing multiple challenges, of a structural and subjective nature. The complaints identified existed previously, except those specifically referring to the epidemiological situation. The results of this research identify elements of social subjectivity that we can draw upon to move forward in building individual and collective well-being.
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Translation: Jackie Cannon