Ivan Garcia, 20 May 2107 — A downpour in May hits the corrugated metal roof hard. Water filters in through several holes into the house of Mireya, a blind, half-deaf seventy-one-year-old woman. She relies on pieces of black rubber to cover and protect her most precious possessions: an obsolete Chinese television with cathode ray tubes and a foam mattress on her bed.
“Every time it rains, it’s the same old story. Water comes in through every crevice. On a day I least expect it, the roof will collapse and bury me under it. That’s really not what I want,” says Mireya. Frustrated, she no longer remembers how many times she has asked for Social Security subsidies to pay for construction materials to repair her ramshackle shed.
“They drag their feet or they turn me down. They say my two sons should be the ones to do it. They send money but they’re not doing well either. Cuba stopped being a socialist society that gave help to those in need a long time ago. We old people are the ones who are worse off. The state does almost nothing to help the poorest people,” says the old woman.
A retired schoolteacher, Mireya receives a monthly pension of 225 pesos, the equivalent of ten dollars. It all goes to pay the light, gas and water bills and to buy a handful of vegetables at the farmer’s market.
To survive, she sells magazines and plastic bags on the street. “If I walk two blocks, my feet swell. I am being treated for it but sometimes I don’t have the money to buy the medication. And if I do manage to come up with the money, the pharmacy tells me they’re out of it, that there’s a shortage. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Mireya says in disgust.
Sergio, a retired metalworker, recalls that “in the early years of the revolution, if you produced good results at work, you could get a home. They would give you a week’s vacation in a house on the beach. Medical care was good. And though food was always rationed, you had a balanced diet. What we have in Cuba today is capitalism in disguise. The old slogan about socialism or death is only for poor people and fools. Those with hard currency have access higher quality products. Managers live just as well as any capitalist business owner.”
“In the Nordic countries and Switzerland, workers who earn the minimum wage and who, by those countries’ standards, are living in poverty, receive government assistance,” notes a sociologist who have been studying social welfare programs for five years. His research is based on interviews with Cubans living in developed countries. “When a Cuban retires in the United States, he receives about $740 a month in aid plus $170 dollars in food stamps, even if he has never worked in the country. Additionally, he receives free medical and psychiatric care if needed. And he can still work part-time. If he earns less than two thousand dollars, he does not have to pay income tax,” he observes.
“Cuba ceased being a socialist society long ago. Being a poor third-world country, the best it can offer is universal health care and free education, but the quality of those has deteriorated substantially. Costa Rica and Guyana, nations to which we should compare ourselves, also offer these free services but they are of better quality,” adds the sociologist.
Adalberto, a Cuban living in Washington, is currently visiting the island. Due to diabetes and the onset of Alzheimer’s he had to retire at age fifty-six. “I receive various medical benefits and, because I worked for thirty years, a monthly pension of $2,400. I don’t have a life full of luxury but have I have the essentials and can help my family in Havana. Let me tell you, real socialism is over there, in the U.S.,” he says.
The quality of life in Cuba has fallen markedly. Salaries are among the lowest in the world. The costs of food and other basic commodities are high. Allegedly socialist businesses such as the telecommunications monopoly ETECSA charge extremely high prices for internet and mobile phone service. Most Cubans cannot afford to vacation in their own country due to the high price of hotel rooms. The military controls 80% of the nation’s economy and engages in the worst form state-sponsored capitalism imaginable, taxing sales of goods by as much as 240%.
Cuban socialism can only be found in speeches by the military bourgeoisie. The Castro regime has discreetly and without fanfare abandoned the slogan “a revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.” Instead, it now manages luxury hotels like the Kempinski Manzana, where a watch can cost four thousand dollars and a week’s stay in Varadero is the equivalent of a year and a half’s salary for the average worker.
What are the humble left with? A ration of seven pounds of rice and five pounds of sugar, twenty ounces of dried beans, one small bread roll per day and half a kilogram of chicken per month.
Health care and education are seemingly free (which is possible because salaries are so low). With any luck, one can hope for a stay at a campsite during summer vacation season. But little else.