"Available," the Official Cuban Euphemism for the Unemployed

Low wages, the desire to emigrate and the informal labor sector are some of the reasons for not having a permanent job. (Pedro S.)

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14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 5 July 2019 —  Official terminology in Cuba has its forbidden words. A lot of missing terms that can not be used by national officials, ministers or media. That forbidden vocabulary includes concepts such as crisis, femicide or unemployment. For Cubans who do not work, despite having the age and physical conditions to do so, the Government prefers the phrase “available workers.”

Although the official figures place unemployment below 3% on the Island, it is enough to walk the streets on a weekday during working hours to see the large numbers of people who are doing nothing. Of the 7,173,150 Cubans of working age reported in 2017 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), only 4,474,800 worked, whether in the state, private or cooperative sector.

More than 2.7 million Cubans are in the limbo of unemployment, a situation that they have reached mainly due to the little stimulus that state salaries provide. Other influences, according to testimonies collected by 14ymedio, include the desires to emigrate, which lead people to devote most of their time to paperwork or tasks related to the departure; or involvement with some kind og informal business that provides individuals more resources than legal employment.

They are those who live on the margin, those who do not have access to a paid vacation or a pension when they get older, but who nevertheless boast of not having to “spend eight hours in one place for a few pesos a month,” as described by Pablo, 33, who only worked for two years after graduating from an engineering and spent his required social service in a state agency.

“I was offered a place, but I’ll never again work like that on a a fixed schedule,” he says. Now he devotes his time to the resale of perfumes and underwear through digital classified sites. “There are weeks that I earn more and others that I earn less but I am my own boss.” Pablo does not consider himself unemployed. “What I am is free,” he clarifies.


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