Danilo, an illegal hard-currency speculator, has had a busy week. “I buy dollars, euros and convertible pesos. But after the government announced it would move to a single currency, I am without funds,” he says from a centrally located Havana boulevard.
Some of the CADECA currency exchanges have closed early because they did not have enough “chavitos“ to carry out transactions in convertible pesos, the stronger of Cuba’s two currencies.
Although the regime is trying to ward off panic by issuing an official statement indicating that the measures to be implemented will have no effect on savings, there were long lines to be found at branches of Banco Metroplitano.
“In only five hours fourteen customers closed their hard-currency accounts at the bank where I work” said an employee. The news comes as no surprise to one segment of the population.
An avalanche of rumors in mid-August about a possible devaluation of the convertible Cuban peso, or CUC, led hundreds of people to exchange their Cuban pesos, or CUPs, for hard currency.
“Two months ago I withdrew all the chavitos from my bank account and bought pesos. It isn’t clear how currency unification will be implemented but rumors are that, before it disappears, the convertible peso will be gradually devalued,” says a self-employed worker.
In Cuba rumors are often more credible than information found in the state-run media. Eusebio, an economist, believes the dual-currency system leads to distortions in prices, accounting practices and domestic commercial transactions.
“Many local businesses are profitable because they sell their merchandise in convertible pesos. For example, domestically produced mayonnaise sells for between 3.0 and 5.5 CUC, or roughly 75 to 132 CUP. Once currency unification occurs, this disparity will disappear and inflated prices, which result from the stronger currency, will have to be adjusted. Nothing will be solved by replacing the chavito with the Cuban peso if stores maintain rigid price structures in CUC or CUP. The real price of rationed rice is not 20 centavos a pound, nor is 800 CUC — or 20,000 CUP — the real price for a plasma screen TV. Currency unification will be complicated. Businesses will be affected and could suffer losses,” he claims.
Some chain stores are already selling products in pesos tied to the exchange rate of the convertible peso. Magaly, a high school teacher, does not believe this will solve anything. “If a large segment of the population cannot afford to pay 25 chavitos for food, they won’t have 625 pesos for it either,” she notes.
An official with a state agency asks for patience. “The salaries of employees who work in profitable industries which generate income in hard-currency (such as tourism, healthcare, Cubana de Aviación or ETECSA*) will begin earning salaries based on the new paradigm relatively soon. Their buying power will be increased. It will be healthy for the consumer as well as for society to re-emphasize the value of work. The inverted pyramid, where professionals earn salaries lower than that of a garbage collector, will gradually change,” though he did not provide details.
The convoluted announcement published in Granma raises more questions than it answers. People hope that by year’s end the guidelines for creating a single currency will begin to take effect.
When Fidel Castro made it legal to possess dollars on June 26, 1993, the Cuban peso and the U.S. dollar went into circulation. In May 2004 the United States fined the Swiss bank UBS for violating the embargo and for having “laundered” almost four billion dollars destined for Cuba. Fidel Castro was furious. Six months later, in November 2004, the dollar was replaced with the convertible peso. But for Castro it was not enough to remove the dollar from circulation. In March 2005 he imposed an 18% surcharge on dollars sent to the island.
When his brother Raul came to power in 2006, the goal became to attract more greenbacks, so he reduced the surcharge on the dollar to 10%. In spite of this undue financial burden, high food prices in hard-currency retail stores and slow turnover of hundreds of inventory items in state-run stores, the volume of remittances from family members overseas has grown phenomenally.
In the year 2000 the country brought in 986 million dollars in remittances. By 2013 it had grown to 2.6 billion. It is estimated to surpass 2.8 billion in 2013. This does not include almost three billion additional dollars in the form of food, clothing, cell phone account payments, household appliances and medications that enter the country through “mules” and travel agencies based in Florida.
A casual poll of twenty or so Havana residents, who these days argue passionately over the ramifications of currency unification, suggests that the main problems will continue to be poverty-level salaries and excessive regulation in an inefficient system.
According to the National Office of Statistics and Information the average salary in Cuba is about 466 pesos or some 20 dollars a month. In spite of lukewarm economic reform efforts, agriculture has yet to take off and industry needs something more than good intentions to be efficient.
Cuba imports everything from fruit for the tourist industry to toothbrushes for sale to the public. No one believes for a moment that the doing away with the dual-currency system will improve his or her quality of life. Rather, it will represent the beginning of a new set of challenges.
Photo: Diario de las Americas
*Translator’s note: The state-owned telecommunications company.
29 October 2013
There are, however, a lot of Bouazizis around. Their way of rebelling is different. Cubans do not take to the streets to express their discontent. Nor do they organize massive demonstrations with signs or set up protest camps.
They protest at a snail’s pace or with sit-down strikes. Or they steal what they can from their workplaces. Or they behave inappropriately in public or they fail to pay their taxes.
During this month of October the tension within one segment of the population has been palpable. Private taxi drivers are furious. Many have received a notice from the tax office telling them of new levies they must pay.
“I have to pay $15,000 pesos ($740 US). And I know of cases in which taxi drivers have to pay $30,000 pesos ($1,300 US). There is one thing you can be sure of: Just like the rest of them I will not pay one cent,” says one Havana taxi driver, the veins in his neck bulging.
It’s obvious that the regime wants everyone to pay their taxes. They explain that is not an invention by Raul Castro. And like fearful parrots, the official media repeats that “our citizens should learn to have a tax-paying culture, those tax revenues become social benefits”.
The arguments fall on deaf ears. The resentment that prevails among the self-employed workers sees that the States sees them as the enemy.
I’ll give a little bit of history. Throughout the years, the regime harassed the self-employed. One night in 1968 all small businesses were closed. From grocery stores and hamburger vendors to Chinese restaurants and shoe repairers.
When in 1994 Fidel Castro opened the faucet to certain private initiatives he didn’t do it to slowly introduce liberal methods or a market economy. No. It was a matter of political survival.
The public accounts were in red. The State had to deflate if it wanted to be profitable. Then it loosened its grip and permitted minor trades like umbrella repairers, peanut sellers or raw material collectors.
You could also sell coffee, rent a room or set up a restaurant with twelve chairs. Always with the imposing high taxes to slow the capital accumulation.
At the end of 1999 Hugo Chavez came to the Miraflores Palace in Venezuela. A Santa Claus with petro-dollars. Castro took a step back and self-employed work was marginalized. Between 1995 and 2003, the number of self-employed dropped from 170,000 to 150,000.
But in the national landscape there was news. Fidel departed from power in July 2006 due to illness. The natural heir, his brother Raul, is almost the same although with different strategies.
He eliminated absurd prohibitions that classified Cubans as fourth class citizens. He allowed the rent of land, made it legal for Cubans to frequent tourist facilities, and legalized cell phones, the purchase and sell of homes and cars, and as of January, travel abroad.
Currently there are more than 436,000 self-employed workers. According to the government, self-employment “has come to stay”. But ordinary Cubans seem to be distrustful.
Other economic openings were cut off at the root with legal penalties and scorn in the public media. Naturally, people think that the story could repeat itself. Even more when they know that the government allows self-employment as long as they don’t make too much in profits.
Small businesses are controlled by an army of inspectors and harassed by high taxes. Therefore, the escape door of many self-employed workers is tax evasion.
In the island, citizens’ dissatisfaction is not a synonymous of strikes, indignant marches or street protests. The Cuban Bouazizi prefers the passive disobedience, either by stealing at work or not paying taxes.
Photo: Under the rain, people wait in front of the Saratoga Hotel to get a glance of Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z during their April 2013 visit in Havana to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Taken by NY Daily News.
Translated by LYD
2 November 2013
From 1962-1970 the suicide rate on the island ranged between 10.5 and 12.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. Back in the 80s, the rate of self-destruction among Cubans exceeded 21 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the PanAmerican Health Organization, Cuba has the highest suicide rate in the hemisphere, with 18.1 per 100,000 population, followed by Uruguay (15.9).
Figures from the Ministry of Public Health tell us that for every 2000 patients seen in GPs’ offices, at least one commits suicide during the first two years of being seen, 10 attempt suicide each year and about 50 are suicidal.
It is rare that in a neighborhood for its residents not to know dramatic anecdotes of suicide. From an old man hanging himself naked in his home or a young woman who burns herself up, to politicians loyal to the regime who committed suicide by shooting themselves, as did Eddy Sunol, Osvaldo Dorticós and Haydee Santamaria.
In 1964, after Fidel Castro dismissed him as Minister of Labor and accused him of corruption, the commander Augusto Martinez Sanchez, then at 41, attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He never returned to public life. In 2010 they allowed him to visit his eldest son in Miami. He died in Havana on February 2, 2013, at age 90.
In June, the independent attorney Veizant Boloy wrote in Cubanet that “suicide was the cause of death of at least 5 people between April and May 2013 in the municipality of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba.” The most common methods were hanging, jumping into space from a high place, catching fire, poisoning with drugs and gun shots, “mainly young men who are forced, against their will, to do their military service.”
Several interviewees told Boloy that the situation the eastern provinces found themselves in after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which left more than 100,000 houses partially or totally destroyed, has been one of the causes of the increase in non-natural deaths in Palma Soriano.
Also in June 2013, but in Havana, independent journalist Carlos Ríos reported the suicide of the former police captain Romerico Berenguer, 69, who hanged himself at his home in Santos Suarez. The motive would have been that after four decades of service in the Interior Ministry, they retired him with 211 pesos per month ($9). Later they increased his pension to 300 pesos ($12), but it still wasn’t enough to live on. Ríos finished his Cubanet note clarifying that in less than a year, in that same block, there had been three more suicides, all men over 60.
In Mujeres (Women), a revolutionary rag, in a report published in October in Worldcrunch, Felina, one of the interviewees, told the journalist, “Last week a friend of mine burned herself up. She was a whore, like me. Her daughter said that she was watching television and suddenly her mother kissed her and went to the bathroom. She came out running, burning like a live torch. I think about suicide every day. But I don’t like to suffer. If I do it, I’m going to jump off the balcony.
After these terrifying tales, one question comes to mind: if the official media assures us that Cuba is perceived as the greatest paradise for workers, why is the suicide rate so high?
A medical specialist consulted said that the causes of suicide are varied. “From the persistent economic crisis and the lack of prospects, to mental breakdown. Many young people don’t see any prospects for their lives. They don’t persevere when they face their professional future. Personal problems overwhelm them. The same thing happens with adults and the elderly when there has been a family, political or social breakdown. There have been months when I’ve seen up to 20 cases of potential suicides.”
Suicide is a global phenomenon. It is the second cause of death after traffic accidents. Not even the experts agree on the causes that push an apparently sane person to self-destruct. In his book Anatomy of Melancholia, Robert Burton (1577-1640) defined suicide as an expression of a severe depressive state. Pierre de Boismont, in 1856, tried to be more exact: “The suicide is wretchedly unhappy or crazy.”
This concept was later refined by Sigmund Freud from the point of view of psychoanalysis, defining it as a manifestation of the soul induced by the context or of the individual. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim in his work The Suicide (1897) notes that suicides are individual phenomena essentially responding to social causes. If we give credence to these arguments, suicide is a social fact.
It’s clear that economic, personal, romantic, family or health crises often become the trigger that sets off a suicide. The Cuban government, which is proud of its achievements in social, educational or health matters, finds it difficult to digest how the frustration of a segment of the population leads them to want to end their existence.
Behind the statistics of suicides on the island are hidden stories of people who for one reason or another, consider sacrificing themselves to evade the uncertain future, broken families or a life of weakly applauding the cheats.
The regime handles the suicide statistics with tweezers. They have become a state secret.
20 October 2013
An autocracy’s efficiency can be measured by, among other things, its immutable capacity for controlling information. Everything passes through an ideological filter. Some guys sitting in an air-conditioned office minutely evaluating it to determine what people can see, hear or read.
Books, records, news, novels, films and television programs must be approved by the Cuban Communist Party’s censor. Anything the regime has not approved can be considered illegal.
Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores and all the other party organs must play the same tune. Everything is planned. Very little is left to chance.
Once the order from on high goes out, docile reporters must write about the economic crisis in Europe, the lack of social discipline on the island or the private middle men who are blamed for the high price of agricultural products.
Fidel Castro has always said that the Cuban press serves as one of the weapons of the revolution, one it does not hesitate to use. And while you can find examples of good reporting and sharp social commentary, it is never of a heatedly controversial or political nature.
The most talented official journalists play in the minor leagues. They are not highly visible. Obedience takes precedence. The local press — a synonym for mediocrity — is designed to misinform. The color of its style manual is olive green.
Fidel Castro used to stride through a secret passageway that connected his office in the Palace of the Revolution to that of the director of the newspaper Granma a few yards away. It allowed him to review news stories or change a layout.
It is said that he personally wrote its most inflammatory editorials. Unless an official journalist has been accredited by the communist party, a government minister might not respond to his phone call or might even hang up on him. Officials and institutions — if you can call them that — bury information and statistics. Raúl Castro would like to turn the this situation around.
Awhile back, some provincial media outlets, local broadcasters and TV talk shows initiated a discreet and very cautious form of tropical glasnost. One can now read crime reports, sports writers criticizing the policies of INDER,* and one daring reporter accusing a state agency of bureaucratic foot-dragging.
While it is good thing that the national press is beginning to reflect the opinions of the average Cuban, it’s a bit too little, too late. By our count a handful of men and women began to write in the mid-1990s about the side of Cuba that the regime was trying to hide.
Almost all of us were empirical journalists, educated by daily life. Twenty or so — I was one of them — had the good fortune to attend workshops led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were reasonably well-educated and had an enormous desire to learn and get ahead.
Journalism for us meant going out and looking for news in the neighborhood and in the ranks of the dissidents. It meant reporting daily using old typewriters and, because there were no computers, filing our stories by phone.
As in every aspect of life, there are independent journalists who are good, average and poor. And people who think clearly but write badly. Whether good or bad, they go on reporting on areas of national life that the official media ignores.
The credibility of independent journalists has grown since 1995. Their points of view and social critiques have influenced opinions outside the island. The regime knows this, which is why it is begun trying to compete without mentioning its competitor.
It is independent journalism that has caused official journalism to rethink its role and forced its reporters to go out into the street.
It is not a battle for information. Completely independent journalists are swimming against the current; their reports will never be published in state-run newspapers. Their colleagues — independent journalist licensed by the state — are monitored, harassed or accused of alleged crimes.
This is because there is a gag law which allows a reporter working outside the control of the state to be sentenced to more than twenty years in prison. The official press operates on an uneven playing field. Nevertheless, it is losing to the competition.
Photo: Cover of the first issue of a magazine that has remained a symbol of alternative journalism and that in the mid-1990s gave independent journalists their start. The regime allowed only two issues to be circulated. It blamed their publication on Raúl Rivero y Ricardo González Alfonso, who were later convicted and sentenced to jail. From “Remembering the Revista de Cuba.”
*Translator’s note: Acronym for The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation.
17 October 2013
For Cuban residents living in Florida, it is probably cheaper to travel to Europe than to visit their relatives. The Castro regime has a secret weapon against the embargo that the United States imposed on the island in 1962.
The answer has been to milk Cuban exiles scattered across half the world, particularly those living on the other shore. Without fanfare, the Castro regime has created a formidable industry out of the sweat and sacrifice of emigres.
At the end of the 1970s, the inefficient Cuban economy squandered billions of rubles, fuel and material resources from the former USSR. A good part of this flow of money was set aside for Fidel Castro’s favorite project: destabilizing governments on the American continent and Africa through subversion.
His hidden agenda was to create an alliance of third-world countries that would stand up to “Yankee imperialism.” This strategy cost a lot of money.
In the beginning, hard currency was obtained through raids on banks and sequestration of million-dollar companies on the part of pro-Castro groups in America. And it was kept in accounts managed by the Cuban government.
Another form of getting Gringo dollars was turning to the world market to sell part of the petroleum that the USSR had sent to Cuba. But it wasn’t enough. Subversion is pricey.
It was then that leaders in Havana gave a sidelong glance to the north. In southern Florida lay an opulent treasure. Hard-working Cubans had triumphed thanks to democracy, economic freedom and personal creativity.
A new strategy was devised. The dollars of those formerly classified as “worms” by the regime now were needed to open accounts in hard-currency personally managed by the sole commander. Evoking “family reunification” in 1978 they established flights so that the Cuban community in the United States could visit their poor relatives on the island.
Castro didn’t care much about family. It was a matter of business. Years before, writing a card to a parent or sibling residing in the “empire” was almost a crime and more than a few lost their jobs. At the time, it was also a crime to be Catholic, to listen to the Beatles or to wear jeans.
The ideological pirouette of the regime in cozying up to Cubans living in Florida was not a strategy born out of good will or remorse. Not at all. It was delicate handiwork to establish a channel for dollars to flow into the island.
Fidel Castro always had a peculiar philosophy. He considered the United States embargo illegal. Therefore, any way to make a mockery of it was a good option.
When Cuban emigres visited their country in the early 1980s, dollars were exchanged in the airport at one-to-one for pesos. A visitor had to spend money to stay at least three nights in a hotel, even though his family could put him up. A network of exclusive stores was created using dollars and tourist attractions which sold clothes, personal hygiene products and household appliances for the price of gold.
As an alternative, the government simultaneously opened up commercial outlets which exchanged gold and silver jewelry, fine china and paintings by renowned artists for stereo equipment, color televisions and Russian automobiles. When Soviet communism said “adiós,” the Caribbean autocrats strengthened their policies of bridge-building to attract remittances from Cuban exiles.
By 1993 Cubans were allowed to hold dollars legally. At the same time the dual-currency system began operating. There was the CUC or convertible peso, which had considerable buying power, and the Cuban peso, which was significantly devalued.
In the meantime a huge industry was set up in the midst of Florida’s exile community. Agents of the Castro government swarmed through Miami and Tampa picking up cheap merchandise, video games, electronics, computers and cell phone rechargers to sell on the island.
Extortionate-rate commissions were charged. Certainly, Cuban immigrants enjoyed a unique privilege: when they arrived on United States’ soil, they were automatically granted legal residency.
But at the same time they are the only immigrants in the world who have to pay outlandish fees to send money and packages home, to make long-distance phone calls and to reunite with their families.
A Cuban pays on average at least $1,000 to hug his relatives at the Havana airport. The Cuban Interest Section in Washington–the Cuban government’s quasi-embassy in DC–charges $375 for a passport. To renew it six years later costs another $375.
An airline ticket from Florida goes for a little over $440. When the plane lands in Cuba, the visitor had better be ready to open his wallet. The Cuban Customs Service has a long list of duties on a wide variety of items — from $10 for a fan to $400 for a computer.
And he has to pay $5 for every pound of luggage over the proscribed limit. In general this fee is collected by the airlines, not at the airport. Cuban exiles are among the few peoples of the world who have to have a passport to visit their own country. And in the event they are vocal opponents of the regime, they lose their right to even enter the country.
Much has been said about the US embargo. Every year UN delegates vote overwhelmingly to abolish it.
Most of the population as well as a majority of dissidents are also overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the economic and trade embargo. They believe the Castro brothers use it as a pretext for maintaining the political status quo.
The embargo, however, is riddled with holes. When the authorities or their relatives so desire, they can obtain a Hummer, a bottle of Jack Daniels or the latest generation of antibiotics from a third country or even from the United States itself. In Cuban hard-currency stores you can buy anything from a Coca Cola to an HP printer.
But our compatriots in exile must deal with an “embargo” that is not discussed either at the United Nations or by the world’s press. They often must pay too much for any service or any aid they send to their relatives in Cuba. The only crime they committed was that one day they decided to leave the Communist madhouse.
Photo: Cuban and American flags for sale. From www.cipamericas.org
15 October 2013
The regime alleges that most women postpone motherhood until they have passed 30 years of age, the same as in the First World, for the sake of their professional careers. Opponents and dissident journalists point in another direction.
They assert that it is a problem more of an economic nature than professional pretensions. After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, the doors of the working world opened to many women who lived maintained by their husbands, raising children, completing domestic chores and listening to radio soap operas.
But in spite of women having a more relevant role in all spheres of public life — except in politics, where they are a distinct minority — since 30 years ago, they have on average less than one child by the conclusion of their reproductive years.
I consulted 18 childless women aged between 19 and 43. Also six mothers with young children about the difficulties and shortages in raising a baby.
The figures are disturbing. The Cuban people are aging. And decreasing. More people die than are born. Other bad news is that less than one girl is born for each woman capable of bearing children.
Let’s review some numbers. The average age in Cuba is 38 years. In 2025 it will rise to 44. By then more than 26% will be more than 60 years old.
In 2030, 3.3 million people will exceed that age. Currently the group of Cubans older than 60 is 17.8%. Greater than the segment of children under 14 years which is 17.3%.
The gap, according to analysts, has to grow. Emigration is one of the factors that hampers maternity in Cuba. More than 30 thousand people leave each year for the United States or somewhere else on the planet in order to improve their precarious living conditions. The majority of those emigrants are young women and men with good academic training. It is a tragedy.
Yudelis, a 21-year-old university student, is clear. ”One of the causes of women not wanting to have children is the economic situation, which is burning. I myself live in a house with three different generations. My parents, my grandparents and I. My boyfriend has the same situation in his home. If we were to marry and try to have children, where would we live?”
Yudelis finds only one answer: ”To emigrate, nothing else occurs to me if I want to start a family. If I wait for things to improve economically in Cuba, I would never have children. It’s been bad since I was born. I do not believe things will improve in some five years.”
Eighty-five percent of the 18 women surveyed who do not have children think that the economic factor is key to not starting a family. Eleven of them live in homes with numerous family members and without the best conditions (62% of dwellings on the island are in fair or poor condition).
Elsa Lidia, 41-years-old, still has no child. She watches the calendar with worry. ”I don’t have much time. But I live on a tenement, in a little room with a barbeque. Five of us live in 30 square meters. My parents’ room is separated by a plasterboard partition. My sister and I sleep on the bed. My brother sleeps on a cot in the living room. I have a had a formal relationship for years. My partner wants to have children. But how? With my salary of 450 pesos (20 dollars) as a mid-level technician I will never be able to aspire to buy myself an apartment with a price of 10 to 20 thousand dollars.”
The future for Elsa Lidia is a bad word. ”I have no family abroad. My life project is day to day. When I think what is going to become of me in five years I panic.”
Some of the women surveyed who still are not mothers live in good houses, are high caliber professionals, and receive dollars from relatives living abroad.
“But I do not want to raise my child surrounded by uncertainty. With the anguish of whether I will be able to feed him well, buy him clothes, shoes, toys… With my salary I cannot guarantee a good level of life. It is very difficult to have a family in Cuba in the current economic conditions,” says Sulia, an architect.
I was investigating with mothers who have children 5 years and under. After the flower bouquet and the unmatched emotion of childbirth, four of six consulted suffer deprivations in raising them.
And it is not a medical problem. During pregnancy the State guarantees a daily dose of iron and vitamin complex called Pre-natal. In the neighborhood offices or clinics they keep track. They advise them about adequate weight and they receive free advice about how and for how much time to breastfeed the future baby.
Even through the lean ration book they offer them an extra quota of three pounds a month of beef and fish. And some extra kilos of root vegetables. Maybe those attentions, rare in a poor Third World country, have provoked the Save the Children organization, with headquarters in London, for the second consecutive year to consider Cuba as “the best country in America to be a mother.”
Probably the British NGO ignores the problems that begin after birth.
I spoke with Yadira, a young computer science graduate. ”I have had three abortions. I took contraceptive pills. But even so I got pregnant and it was dangerous for me to undergo another D and C. I cannot stand another. We fixed the room as we could. The family gave me a crib. Through the ration booklet, the State offers you 10 meters of antiseptic cloth and gauze to make diapers, baby cologne, a pair of shoes, a cream for the baby, three soaps and a baby bottle, among other things. It costs 85 pesos. But it is not enough. If the child gets sick, as mine is, problems increase.”
The pediatrician recommended that Yadira buy in one of the foreign currency stores the formula NAM by Nestle; each can costs more than 4 CUC. ”The baby was consuming two or three cans a month. We had to sell personal articles to be able to buy them for him.”
According to the consulted mothers, some with more solvency than others, the advisable thing is to save no less than 600 dollars and to be able to guarantee a proper layette. The prices of strollers, playpens and walkers are sky-high.
One rocking cradle between 110 and 130 CUC. A playpen between 80 and 140 CUC. The stroller between 60 and 180. A crib mattress exceeds 50 CUC (the average salary in Cuba is 20 dollars a month, and one CUC, with exchange fees and taxes, is a little less than one dollar).
“Add to all that, as he grows, food, clothes, shoes toys, walks and birthdays. Even having the money, there are articles that are scarce and cost a lot I work to get them. One does not regret having a child, but in Cuba it is very hard,” says Yadira while her two-year old son sleeps rocking in an iron chair.
Photo: Hospital Materno Ramon Gonzalez Coro de Havana. Taken from The Hard Test of Maternity.
Translated by mlk
5 October 2013
The plot was different. Technocrats and political mandarins put the finishing touches on a project that would allow better wages for athletes. The new rules will apply starting November 3rd, when the winter baseball season begins.
It was imperative to change the concepts governing sports in Cuba. After Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in 1961, a pyramid of schools and training centers was created to fashion high-performance athletes.
Funded by a deposit of rubles, material resources, and coaches from the now-vanished USSR and other Eastern European nations, the sports movement in Cuba experienced a spectacular increase in quality.
The island was always a pool of talent in baseball and boxing. But after 1959, sports that were exotic to Cuban fans, such as water polo, handball, Greco-Roman wrestling, or judo - thanks to coaches who arrived from the cold or from the thug state of North Korea - made it possible for Cuba to win Olympic, PanAmerican, and World medals in those disciplines.
Others like basketball or volleyball, greatly accepted in the university and school setting, took off dramatically. Like the litter of communist countries with the USSR at the head, Cuba used sport as a showcase trying to prove the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist system over modern Western capitalism.
There were plenty of champions. They came in series, like sausages, from the sports schools. Beef was missing and misery was socialized, but the average Cuban was proud of their achievements in sports.
They labeled the entire feat with the term ”amateurs.” Something that was false. By amateurs only they had a salary. They played, trained, and competed throughout the year just as their professional counterparts.
But they earned workers’ wages. With the arrival in 1990 of the “special period,” a static economic crisis lasting 23 years, sports took a nose dive. The propaganda bubble burst, in which Fidel Castro saw the athletes as warriors and the competitions as battlefields.
Low wages – an athlete earned a salary according to his or her profession – was the key to nearly a thousand athletes leaving their homeland, from 1991 to now.
To this was added the stupid policies that prohibited athletes from playing on professional teams and managing their finances without official authorization. The six-figure salaries that some Cuban ball players earn in the Major Leagues was and remains an incentive for young talents who want to try their luck in the best baseball in the world.
The bleeding had to be stopped. The new regulations can certainly reduce the desertions in sports like volleyball and others, where the main circuits are in Europe and are not affected by the laws of the U.S. embargo, and the athletes don’t have to defect from Cuba in order to compete.
But it remains to be seen whether the signing of athletes will be handled by a representative designated by the player or by the state enterprise Cubadeportes, charging very high fees.
Either way, it is a leap forward. A first step. A positive one, if we see that 70% of elite athletes live in poverty.
It is good that a player earns a salary in line with the cost of living in Cuba. They contribute to the major national entertainment for five months of the year. Doctors, teachers, and other professionals, should be similarly compensated, but that’s another story.
The new regulations do not say how training conditions will be improved, stadiums will be repaired, or athletes will be provided with a balanced diet.
Neither do they explain how the whole new salary framework of the National Series will be funded. Will they create companies that see the sport as a business or will the state continue to subsidize the sport?
It is already a fact that the regime of General Raul Castro has buried a hundred meters underground the “amateur sports” falsehood. It was logical. It constituted a burden on the impoverished local economy.
These new measures also send a message to the magnates of the Major Leagues in the United States: Cuba wants to participate in the Big Show. They have now opened the gate.
Photo: Taken from Martí Noticias
Translated by Tomás A.
1 October 2013