When winter comes, Ruben Soriano, 42, is hoping more than anything for the arrival of a cold front. He takes his straw hat off, looks up at the sky and exclaims: “It’s not going to rain again today.” That’s bad for his business. Ruben works hard on a not-very-fertile field on the outskirts of Havana, where he plants tomatoes and vegetables in season. High temperatures and prolonged drought have decreased his crops. With a simple and compelling logic he says:
“If I harvest little, I earn little. And if I don’t get good money I live badly, and I will not have much money to buy seeds and farming tools for the next year. So I pray that the weather will help me.”
Soriano was one of those who benefitted when in 2008 the government of General Raúl Castro gave out rights to farm vacant land. He, his wife and three children were full of hope.
The only thing that Ruben Soriano has done and has done well in his whole life is to work the land. He complains about the low prices that the State collection centers pay for his crops. In theory, he must sell the state about 70 percent of what he grows.
In practice, that’s not what happens. He is forced to under-report the true figures, so that he can sell to private buyers who pay triple the price for his products. “But if the heat and lack of rain continue, I’ll have to do something else,” he worries. And he admits that all he watches on TV are the weather forecasts.
Oscar Suarez, 56, couldn’t care less if it rains, or is cold or hot. He is a private taxi driver, licensed to drive for hire since 2006. Each December, he has to report his earnings to the Treasury and pay the bank between 2,000 and 3,500 pesos.
“It’s always the same. When the last month of the year comes, I have to work like a mule to get that money. For me the important thing is not how much time I have to work, it’s whether there are people needing to go from one place to another who have the ten Cuban pesos to pay the fare.
Suarez is a taxi driver with an elevated cultural level. He doesn’t have to envy his counterparts in Buenos Aires, where according to what he has read, they talk about opera, the stock market, the Boca Juniors, an Argentine soccer team, and the situation in Iraq. “I am like them,” he boasts.
“I am not like the taxi drivers in Argentina, or anywhere on the planet, in that I drive an ancient Chevrolet, a real Frankenstein.” And laughing, he says: “It’s an old lady with rouge. I’ve painted it seven times, and done body work as many times. It’s a mechanical monstrosity; it has the engine of a Volga (Russian car) and parts from so many countries that it seems like a product of the United Nations.”
But it runs and makes money, which is all that’s important to him. Nor does he worry about whether it pollutes the environment.
“This old Chevy is part of the family. My grandfather, my father, and now me and my children have all driven it. I am more grateful to it than I would be to a watchdog. I often say that in my house, before dinner, instead of praying to the Lord, we pray to General Motors.”
For 2010, Oscar Suarez wants peace and harmony throughout the world, and that Cuba’s economic situation improves. “I have wanted this since 1989, but I’m getting tired of keeping my hopes up. Although it would be good if those above” –and he makes a gesture with his hand indicating the beard of Fidel Castro — “would change direction and be guided by the market economy, but who knows what’s best for the coming year …”
Diego Ramirez, a 34-year old engineer, does not expect great things from 2010. Quite the contrary.
“More likely we’ll have to punch another hole in our belt. In my company there are rumors of pay cuts in hard currency. They took away our lunch and give us 15 pesos a day for food. The outlook is gray and getting darker.”
Diego is a textbook skeptic. “The only ones who see where the country is headed are the people leading us.” And he shows a copy of the daily newspaper Granma, with a grinning Hugo Chávez, and a headline in black letters with the good news: 13 billion dollars invested between Cuba and Venezuela.
Guys like Diego Ramirez long ago stopped believing in the exaggerated triumphalism of the official media. Every day he hopes for a different kind of news. “Deaths, changes of power, political and economic changes …” And dreams of learning from foreign media. “The Cuban press won’t report anything until everything is under control. So it’s possible that by next year, something really good will happen. ”
– Deaths, firings, political and economic changes…
And he dreams of what he’s learned through the foreign media. “The Cuban press wouldn’t report anything until everything is under control. So it’s possible that in the coming year, something good could happen.
According to Diego, many Cubans want the same thing.
Translated by: Tomás A.