A Glance at Cuba in 2015 / Ivan Garcia

Reading_Newspaper_Gerry_Pacher-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2016 — Joel Castillo, 19, passed from expectation to frustration in 12 months. After graduating in 2014 in electronics from a technology school south of Havana, he still hasn’t been able to work in his specialty.

“With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I thought there would be better options for people. But things remain the same. And I haven’t gotten a job that fits my profile,” says Castillo.

It’s precisely the youngest who are the most disillusioned with the inertia of the olive-green Regime. A government with almost six decades in power and an executive faction whose combined age adds up to more than 300 years should have better policies for its youth.

Above all, it should take into account that Cuban society is rapidly aging and that in the fiscal year which just finished, in an irregular way, 43,059 compatriots left the Island, an increase of 77 percent in relation to 2014.

Among the irregular emigrants are the terrestrial rafters who, leaving from Ecuador, cross eight countries and different time zones, in order to try to get to the border of the U.S. with Mexico, and those who throw themselves into the sea in precarious embarkations.

If to this quantity we add the more than 20,000 visas for family reunification that the U.S. embassy in Havana grants, in 2015, around 65,000 Cubans abandoned their country in one form or another to go to the U.S.

Other thousands leave for any country. Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Alaska, Kazakhstan….Cuba is emptying of young and talented people. In almost all the branches of knowledge, jobs, sports or culture there exists a worrisome deficit.

For many residents on the Island, the future is to “jump the fence.” Ask a Cuban between 15 and 40 years old what his life goal is. Planning an illegal exit or finding a way to emigrate has become a national sport.

Why are Cubans leaving? It’s obvious: The economy continues to be down. It’s not a situation or a period of thin cows. It’s a stationary crisis that has extended for 25 years.

The “Special Period,” that war without the roar of tanks which began in 1990, still hasn’t ended. The inflation is more mundane, but it continues to devour the worker’s salary, and the dual currency is a liability for productivity and economic reasoning.

Economic logic in Cuba is a headache. Whoever works for the State does it eight hours a day, from Monday to Friday, and earns a salary that doesn’t exceed 23 dollars a month. And to have a dignified life, with breakfast and two decent meals, at a minimum you need 250 dollars a month.

Thanks to the taxes, the exaggerated assessments on private entrepreneurs and the poverty wages, the State pays for public health (going downhill) and a highly doctrinaire education.

But no one can repair a house or buy a car. A fundamental repair of a dwelling costs no less than 8,000 dollars. And a Peugeot 508 is worth 300,000 dollars at a State agency. Which is six lifetimes of work for a professional.

With the ration book, every citizen receives monthly, at subsidized prices, seven pounds of rice, 20 ounces of black beans, five pounds of sugar, a pound of chicken and half a pound of soy picadillo. And daily, an insipid bread roll of 80 grams.

These meager rations last for 10 days. The rest of the month you have to take out money and rack your brains. According to the autocrats’ optimistic predictions, in 2015 the Cuban economy grew 4.0 percent, but this growth hasn’t landed on the family table.

On the contrary. Pork, cheese, yogurt, milk, vegetables and fruits went up in price in the State peso markets and in the convertible money shops.

If you have only coffee for breakfast and one hot meal a day, you can understand why more than 65,000 Cubans abandoned their country in 2015. But the economic crisis can’t be summed up by the alimentary arrangement.

Every day life is more uncomfortable. Public transport is a calamity. The streets are torn up, dark and full of water. Garbage accumulates on the corners. Any personal matter occupies several hours or months owing to the lethal bureaucracy.

The hospitals have deteriorated. It’s easier to find a Martian that a medical specialist. In the primary, secondary and high schools, the low quality of teaching is alarming.

The loss of values, family violence, machismo and homophobia are reaching worrisome levels. An important segment of the population barely reads or informs itself. They master around 500 words; when they speak it sounds like they’re barking, and they gesticulate like apes.

They talk by screaming, as if people were deaf, and they listen to loud music. The lack of education has taken root with many Cubans. The most harmful thing isn’t the disorder, the precariousness and the ruins. The worst is living in a nation where you can’t plan for the future.

If you try to change the status quo by political channels, you run risks. Being a dissident in Cuba is illegal. Political parties are prohibited, except the Communist Party, and the institutions of civil society are rigorously controlled by the State.

In 2015, short-term detentions of dissidents multiplied. The beatings of the Ladies in White and peaceful opponents in a park in the neighborhood of Miramar are repeated Sunday after Sunday.

Not even moderate political tendencies are accepted, nor those that flirt with autocracy. Nor alternative press media. The economic and political situations have pushed thousands of Cubans to pack their suitcases and get far away from their country.

Despite the socialized poverty and the lack of freedoms, beginning with December 17, 2014, when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the reestablishment of relations, Cuba became fashionable.

More than 50,000 Americans and famous Anglo-Saxons visited the Island. Among them Conan O’Brien, Rosario Dawson, Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Mick Jagger, Katy Perry, Anne Leibovitz, Frank Gehry, Floyd Mayweather and sports groups from the NBA and the MLB.

Also, representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties, among them Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, and delegations of governors from the States of New York, Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina and Missouri, all accompanied by entrepreneurs and businessmen.

The thaw, a much-used work in the international press, has brought to Cuba tourists and people who want to take a selfie in a Havana full of propped-up houses, to ride in an almendron (old American car) and eat in a paladar (private restaurant). Ordinary Cubans see them coming and going. They form part of a thaw that is foreign to them.

Fed up with the hardships and limitations, devoid of hope for a change with the reestablishment of relations between Cuban and the U.S., and noting that in 12 months except for wifi connections in parks and public spaces barely nothing has changed, thousands of Cubans have opted to leave. For any other country.

Iván García

Photo: The photographer, Gerry Pacher, named it “Reading Newspaper,” but of the thousands of images on the Internet that are taken in Havana, we selected it to reflect the decadence of one of the most cosmopolitan cities that existed in the western hemisphere prior to 1959. Taken from the graphic report, “From the Malecón until Ernest Hemingway,” published on Taringa.net.

Translated by Regina Anavy