Before Raúl Castro approved of laying off 1,300,000 workers in two years, things were already going badly for Luciano, age 39.
He worked in an office of bureaucratic procedures in the southeastern part of Havana. He earned 290 pesos (around 12 dollars) a month, and in compensation for such low pay, he worked Monday through Friday for only four hours, despite a sign making clear that the schedule was from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon.
In a makeshift local workshop, Luciano took advantage of the mornings to prepare flour empanadas stuffed with guayaba. After being on his feet until exhaustion, he produced 800 empanadillas. Then he would shake off the flour, sleek down his hair with water, change his clothes, and around noon attend to his legal work.
He always arranged things so he could leave before 4:00 in the afternoon, at which time he’d wait for a friend to begin preparing, in a decrepit still, a hundred liters of distilled alcohol with refined honey, which they sold for 7 pesos (40 cents) a bottle. A “Cossack” rum, intolerable, which made you sick, but which was already traditional in the marginal Havana neighborhoods, where quality drink is a big-time luxury.
With his two extra jobs, Luciano was pocketing around 90 dollars a month, almost nine times more than his state salary. So when his boss told him he was “disposable” — official jargon for those who were being laid off — Luciano took the news calmly.
Starting now, he thought, he’d have more time for his illegal jobs. But in December the police decommissioned the clandestine empanada factory and dealt him a heavy blow. As if it weren’t enough, they broke up the still where the bitter drink of the forgotten was prepared.
An old Cuban saying goes “when you have trouble shitting, green guayabas aren’t worth anything.” Faced with the perspective of a year-end without black beans or roast pork, his wife packed her things and left with their three kids for her mother’s house. At a party, between liquor and erotic dances, she hooked up with an old man with a fat wallet.
Luciano doesn’t want to blame anyone for his bad luck. It’s what happened to him. For his salvation a friend came along, who had an illegal store in her home, dedicated to the sale of shoddy goods brought in from Ecuador, Caracas, and Miami. She gave him a quantity of clothes to sell, so he could make some money and try to get his wife back.
When it already seemed that his bad luck had hit bottom, he was caught by the police with a briefcase full of articles without the receipts that would justify their origin. They took the goods from him and stuck him with a fine of 1,500 pesos (70 dollars). He now owes his friend about 200 dollars for the confiscated merchandise.
Without a job or a family and with debts, Luciano welcomed in 2011. Despite everything, he considers himself a man of spirit. He trusts that over the course of the year his luck will change for the better. For the moment, it can’t get any worse.
Translated by Regina Anavy
January 15 2011