Thumb and ethics of care in Cuba

Por: Teresa Díaz Canals

la ética del cuidado en Cuba
la ética del cuidado en Cuba

“… and when everyone thinks the same about one thing it’s because she’s different for everyone”Fernando Pessoa Still beyond the other ocean “… a strategy is always in transformation”Jacques Derrida The pocket interview

Many challenges Cuba has related to the issue of care: exile and consequent family rupture, parental relationship with children, the issue of remittances for the elderly and children, animal abuse, environmental pollution, the need for a care strategy that includes men and women alike, the still insufficient institutional support for caregivers.

One of the messages of the classic tale entitled Pulgarcito is precisely the invitation to slip through the difficulties and capture the dynamism of the miniature. Let us remember that in the narration the little protagonist settles in the horse’s ear, speaks quietly and achieves with a “strong” voice that only listens to the one who must do so, to get the animal to advance, and with this unusual fact the goal of moving from the small to the big is achieved. It is this dynamic of the small in a big way that I would like to share, to point out some aspects that I think are necessary in the issue of care. It is impostergable an ethic of justice that is sustained and developed on the basis of an ethics of care, a different way of being-in-the-world: justice plus affection.

The term ethics of care has its origins in psychology. Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychoanalytic training psychologist, deployed research that had resonances in this field of knowledge, as well as among philosophers engaged in ethics. In this work he examines the moral capacity of eighty-four male children over a period of twenty years. The conclusion reached is that men have a higher moral development than women. However, for Carol Gilligan – a kohlberg feminist disciple – that data proved suspicious, she then began to study the behavior of girls and notes that they, having a different socialization with respect to boys, described practical problems and commented on morality in a different voice. His work In a Different Voice (1982) begins the path of what would later be called “ethics of care”. This proposal had detractors and critics. Some feminists, for example, challenged the idea of Gilligan, seeing in it a way to reinforce the subordinate role of women by conceiving care as a female destiny and lack of limit in dedication to others.

If we look at what we know as the ethics of justice, care is not opposed to it, both can be complemented. The first does not take into account the peculiarities, while the second is a contextual judgment expressing concern about specific details of the situation. The ethics of justice are based on respect for the formal rights of others; care exhorts responsibility to others. Justice cares about establishing a minimum of rules of coexistence, care is not about rules, it is a relational ethic.

Now I remember how José Lezama Lima mentioned the poetry that existing in the nineteenth century and linked it to the subject of care in the person of a poet, for the dedication for many years – about twenty – to the care of the patient José Jacinto Milanés – who had lost his reason – by his brothers, mainly by his sister.

In this contrast between the two ethics, Thumb should be used to place it in the horse’s ear and say to the horse in a very strong voice (understand horse as state, society, man…) that while women are the founders of this ethics of care, she is a human task, not only feminine. Here are some reflections or issues that can be used for discussion.

  • In the name of the son1 is the title that the author Lourdes Pasalodos gives to a set of testimonies of people who were very poorly cared for or abandoned entirely by their parents. It has been a few years since the Federation of Cuban Women investigated the infringement of a large number of parents who did not meet the payment of pensions to their children, what I do not know is that measures were taken to ensure that this did not happen frequently or that it was tracked, at least not in disclosure, because although affection cannot be imposed , at least it is important that many parents come to know that the law must be enforced. This is not to say that all men are equal or much less, nor is it an attack on the male sex, but it is a fact worth attending to. On the contrary, too, there are situations where the importance of parenthood is diminished and destroyed, efforts are made to isolate and unlink children from their parents when couples are separated.
    Dr. Francisco Rojas Ochoa’s intervention “The Social Approach to Health in Cuba”2 highlighted the importance of disease prevention. It requires, first of all, certain actions that have to do with public policies. On September 19, 2014, a letter from a Vedado resident was published in granma newspaper, his title: “Fruits vs. Chemicals or Genocides?” Here the reader expressed concern about the widespread practice of inoculating chemicals in order to ripen fruits, although it refers only to these, it is also an action that applies to other products. The author of the misiva was a plant health specialist, this time denouncing the “deverdization” done with fruit bananas and commenting on how chemicals are diverted and marketed,3 such a fact – which is included as a crime by the Attorney General’s Office – manifests itself in an unpunished manner in establishments dedicated to the agricultural products business. Also unease about the issue of GMO crops in the country has been exposed by some doctors, philosophers, sociologists and other specialists, including Dr. Carlos Delgado Díaz. The latter stressed that any technology needs to be asked: is it good for the individual, is it beneficial and sustainable for the community, is it good for people’s consumption? He commented on the need to take into account the principle of responsibility for this phenomenon that develops in countries such as the USA, Argentina, China, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain, Germany, France, Uruguay.4 In Cuba, a country of contrasts, it is impossible to buy an aspirin for headache, but the introduction of GMOs has already been approved by the State. Does the State care for its citizens if it does not inform or regulate agricultural products containing chemicals for maturation? Is citizens protected if the reproduction of GM crops in the country is not explained if this decision is not publicly debated? Knowledge becomes a moral duty. “Responsibility […] until now he had occupied little ethical theory … Ethics focused on the moral quality of the momentary act itself…”.5 Such irresponsible behavior affects the general population, regardless of genders, but it would be women – in fulfilling their role as caregivers – who were doubly harmed.
  • Although the work of caring for others – carried out mainly by women – is a work of enormous importance to the economy and the normal functioning of any society, it remains invisible and receives no institutional support. We know that the reasons are many, including economic ones, but sometimes mismanagement, inefficiency, irreflection and even the absurd, is what dominates. To mention a few circumstances: the insufficient supply and price of disposable diapers especially for adults, salaries that must be allocated almost complete to certain people who assist in this care, the care of doctors of families to the terminally ill and chronically ill is, in many offices, null and void, shortage of medicines now exacerbated by the pandemic and the serious economic crisis that exists in the country. The idea of Derrida “deconstructing is just a battle”6 is important as a strategy to crumbled the wall of rigidity and incomprehension in everything that concerns care.
    Something that should be an impossible task: to incentivize animal care in the population, not just in the media, but also in primary circles and schools, which should not be a simple exhortation to people to do so.
    “Virtual grandchildren and lone grandparents”7 is an article where María del Carmen Muzio analyzed the consequences of family breakup due to emigration to find better opportunities in other geographical spaces, a fact that not only affects the family from a sentimental point of view, which is already enough, but also shudders a tradition of care between grandparents and grandchildren , are now known via digital photography. Already this narrow exchange, which fills with rejoicing and spiritually enriches the life of both beings by having each other no longer occurs, now they became distant, strange beings. Remittance is a substitute for this natural evolution to cover the costs of old age that an unworthy and unfair retirement cannot afford. A consign that reaches, does not reach, forgets, does not exist, which is quite humiliating for sick people and for caregivers responsible for such tasks.


When we talk about an ethics of care we must look at sensitivity and compassion in an intimate, face-to-face setting; in this way we recognize the fragility of the human condition by suffering, violence, fears… For emotion, feeling, the gesture of solidarity, there are no words, that dimension is simply shown, it is a form of communication through testimony, it captures what is not said from what is done, what is transmitted is not explained, the value lies in the suggestion, the evocation, the silence.

We have to be subject to what happens to us, it is about making one’s life a work of art, where self-care is included as a practice that aims to ensure the continuous exercise of freedom. At the same time, this requires a special kind of knowledge, that of itself, which leads to a knowledge of prescriptions and truths, the only way to be fuller, a basis for caring for others and preserving the world. In other words, taking care of the other, taking care of one another, taking care of the caregivers (res): that is our urgency. Today we have to take care of care in a different way. We repeat the idea of the Spanish philosopher Victoria Camps, who believes that private values are and should also become public virtues.8 The Thumbs will have to scream loudly in the horse’s ear, because the ticking of our watches is so crude, so choppy, that we do not have our ears – unlike the horse in the Tale of Pulgarcito – prepared enough to feel the time that runs. Ω


[1] Lourdes Pasalodos Díaz: In the name of the son, Havana, Ediciones Acuario, 2009.

2 Intervention of Dr. Francisco Rojas Ochoa in the Workshop “Socioanthropological Research in Health. The gender approach”, carried out in Havana on February 5 and 6, 2015.

3 See Moisés Hernández Fernández’s letter to the Granma newspaper of 20 February 2015, p. 11.

4 See Carlos J. Delgado Díaz: “Towards a New Knowledge. Bioethics in the Contemporary Revolution of Knowledge”, Havana, Aquarius Editions, 2007, pp. 171-184.

5 Hans Jonas: “The principle of responsibility. Essay of an Ethic for Technological Civilization”, Barcelona, Herder Editorial S.L., 2004, p. 16.

6 Jacques Derrida: The Pocket Interview, Bogota, Siglo del Hombre Editores, 2005, p. 75.

7 See Maria del Carmen Muzio: “Virtual Grandchildren and Lonely Grandparents”, New Word, Year XXIII, No. 246, January/2015, p. 33.

8 Victoria Camps, The Century of Women, Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra S.A., 1998.

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