From Paternalism to the Other Extreme / Fernando Dámaso

Máximo Gómez, the great Dominican promoter of our independence, said that Cubans either don’t reach far enough or reach too far, and without a doubt, he was right. As you can see he knew us very well! Now with this new issue of eliminating  paternalism and gratuities, the correctness of his opinion is ratified one more time. Let’s look at it piece by piece, but first is necessary to make clearthat the so called paternalism and gratuities are undisputed fallacies, which served to mask the miserable wages that Cubans have been receiving for more than fifty years: the government supplied through the commonly named ration card some products, increasingly fewer, at lower prices (subsidized), as well as some services provided free of charge, in order to not raise the salaries and pay the workers what they really should have been paid. Therefore, everything has been paid for with the salaries that the workers didn’t receive.

Today the minimum monthly salary does not exceed $240 pesos national currency (equal to 10 CUC* or 9 US dollars) and the median monthly salary is $440 pesos national currency (20 CUC* — equal to 18 US dollars). If we convert this to a daily basis the wages will be 8 and 16 Cuban pesos national currency, respectively (in either case less than 1 CUC or 1 dollar a day). This is important in order to establish comparisons.

The prices of products that were supplied before as subsidized, now are supplied as “released” (that is unrationed) items (it seems they were in jail), but at a huge price (maybe because the cost of the bail bond). Here are some examples: rice, from 40 to 90 cents a pound, increased to 5 cuban pesos; refined sugar, from 20 cents a pound  to 8 cuban pesos; brown sugar, from 10 cents a pound  to 6 cuban pesos; washing soap, from 20 cents a bar, to 6 cuban pesos; bath soap, from 40 cents a bar to 5 cuban pesos, and liquid detergent, from $3.50 a liter to 25 cuban pesos. If the State truly subsidized these products, how much were the subsidiesequivalent to? Nobody can believe that sugar (the primary national export product back in its heyday) could possibly be subsidized at 7.80 cuban pesos a pound, nor liquid detergent at 21.50 cuban pesos. This is totally absurd.

The question would be, why these exaggerated prices on essential goods? The acquisition of one of them represents a citizen’s salary for a day’s work or more. Is this part of the economic model updating? For these price raises there was no need for any kind of meeting, nor discussions in the social base, neither in the National Assembly: They were just implemented and that’s it. About raising the salaries, which should be the right thing to do, nobody says absolutely anything. The most you can hear is that, it will be done when we are able to produce and increase the production. In other words: Wait for the Greek Calends.

These, unfortunately, are our realities, and it calls attention to the fact that there are still dreamers, who believe we are on the right path towards the solution of our problems. So far, it has only produced a redistribution of the load: Move even more cargo from the imaginary shoulders of the State (in reality it has always been on Cubans shoulders ) to the already overloaded citizens.

*Translator’s note: CUC is a Cuban Convertible Peso, one of Cuba’s two currencies, the other being Moneda Nacional — National Money — or the Cuban peso.

Translated by Adrian Rodriguez.

July 10 2011