14ymedio, Jorge Luis Navarro Ruiz, Havana, 7 November 2014 — A relatively new phenomenon is now affecting a small sector of the population, including me. The state-owned hard currency stores (TRD – the Spanish initials for “Hard-Currency Collection Store”) are a chain spread throughout the country, which, as every Cuban knows, sell products in Cuban Convertible Pesos, one of Cuba’s two currencies which is valued at 25 times the Cuban peso – the other currency and the one in which Cubans are paid their wages. But this discrepancy is not the subject of my complaint, rather it is that these stores are prohibited from hiring – as employees – professionals from the Health and Education sectors and from the “scientific pole” sector, according to the precise words of the human resource manager who spoke to me on 19 October.
The issue concerns me greatly because I am an “emerging teacher” graduate, “stepping up” to fill the needs of my province (Ciego de Avila). However, I didn’t know that heading in this direction would turn out to be a hornet’s nest from which it would be very difficult to extract myself and, given today’s experience, I believe it’s going to be harder for me to find employment without being rejected by my former profession.
Words fail to express what I feel. I feel like I’m being rejected by society as if I were a criminal or an ex-convict trying to reestablish myself. As a teacher, I should be proud of my profession. Although I only have three years experience, I know that it is thanks to me and my teaching colleagues that this society can educate its children. From our hands come engineers, doctors, farmers and so on.
However I feel very sorry and ashamed, because despite my deep love of teaching, I can’t do it because the working conditions are not the best and, most importantly, the financial reward is very unfavorable (430 Cuban pesos, or 17.20 Convertible pesos – about $17.20 US – a month). In addition, we don’t receive any other perks; we don’t get uniforms, we don’t get bags of toiletries, we don’t get household items and we don’t get special points to buy things in the TRD stores, as do those in other state companies and agencies.
Fidel Castro, in History Will Absolve Me*, devotes a relatively short passage to the situation of teachers working for meager wages. However, today, half a century later, the situation has not changed much. In order to earn more than 1,000 Cuban pesos, it is necessary to obtain a doctorate and have at least 25 years of experience.
That is why the critical situation in Cuban schools should not be a surprise, caused by the great exodus of teachers looking for another source of income to supply their needs, like employment in a TRD, where the conditions are more favorable and the salaries higher (275 CUP basic salary, and pay for results of an extra 10 CUC, as well as tips from customers).
More and more young teachers are forced to abandon their blackboards and chalk and operate a pedicab, work in a restaurant, in hotels, construction, etc. The government is already taking action to prevent this situation, but the methods used, far from raising teachers’ salaries (as has happened in the healthcare sector, where a cleaning assistant earns around 600 Cuban pesos a month), what they are actually doing is closing the doors to other opportunities to leave teachers no choice but to return to the classroom.
The joke is that our beloved Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez is at the United Nations demanding an end to the United States “blockade” of Cuba. And I ask myself: Where can I go to demand the end to the internal blockade by Cuba against its own citizens?
*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s 4-hour speech in his defense at his trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks, in which he declared: Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.