Ivan Garcia, 15 July 2017 — Even the street dogs, ragged and hungry, take cover under the roofs in Havana when the clock marks 1 PM.
The sun burns and humidity gives you sweat marks on your clothes. After noon the Havana’s street look like the Saharan desert. People take cover in their houses and those out walking are just desperate go into any store, cafeteria or a state bank with air conditioning to get a blessed shot of air from the refrigerated climate.
In that desolate tropical picture of a July noon in Cuba, where everyone flees from the steel heat, Antonio, along with his workers brigade, works asphalting streets in the district of Diez de Octubre.
After having two boiled eggs for lunch, along with white rice and a watery black bean soup, Antonio, places against his shoulder, as if it was a baseball bat, the heavy pneumatic hammer and starts breaking streets.
“I work twelve hours a day. Nobody likes repairing and asphalting streets. Almost all of us that work here are ex-prisioners, incurable alcoholics or mentally impaired. I make the equivalent to US $50 (approximately 1,250 Cuban pesos) a month, sometimes a little more if we meet the plan,” explains Antonio.
Even when his salary is almost double to the average in Cuba ($740 Cuban pesos), the money that Antonio makes for his hard work doesn’t cover a quarter of his basic family’s needs. “I have two kids, 12 and 14 years old, and the salary is not enough to buy them clothes and shoes, nor take them out on the weekends. It is enough just for two plates of hot food on the table every day. We don’t eat what we’d like, but rather the most economic.”
Antonio, a black and burly man, was able to get work as a doorman in a private bar. “Like many Cubans, I get into any business that gives me money. Fixing the streets is exhausting work, but I can’t stop it because it’s a steady salary. In addition, I don’t know how to do anything else.”
In other countries, the maintenance of public roads is done during the night time, among other things to help with the heat during the day. But in Cuba, the supposedly socialist Mecca with a human face, it is done with a sun from hell.
The olive green regime is a complex game of mirrors. They sell the social justice narrative, love for the people and productive successes that are only met on the television newsrooms.
If you really want to understand the authentic military power that governs Cuba, please, stop at the salary of their workers. Since Fidel Castro came into power, using military force in January 1959, a part of one’s salary, between 5% and 9%, was deducted to pay for education and universal health care.
The majority of the Cubans agree on keeping their taxes to support the health care and education. But with the passing of time, the galloping inflation, the lack of productivity of the communist system and the bloated apparatus of the state system, taxation feeds on sales of goods and workers’ salaries as if they were a sandwich.
That salary of state workers, which is 90% of the labor force in Cuba, is joke in bad taste. The minimum monthly salary is 225 Cuban pesos or approximately US$10.
With that money people pay for the lean “basic basket” that the State gives to all people born in Cuba: 7 lbs. of rice, 5 lbs. sugar, 20 ounces of beans, half a pound of vegetable oil, a pound of chicken, a pack of pasta and a small piece of daily bread of approximately 80 grams.
The described merchandise costs no more than 20 Cuban pesos (or less than US$1). But it only lasts for one week. The rest of the month, the ones that earn minimum salary, like retirees, have to do miracles to eat.
Then you have the electricity bill. It’s very expensive. A family with a television, two fans, a fridge, a rice cooker, a blender and a dozen light bulbs pays between 30-40 Cuban pesos monthly.
If you have air conditioning and more than one TV in the house, the consumption increases to 300 Cuban pesos per month. Except the high level government leaders — and no one knows exactly how much they make — the next highest paid salaries are earned by doctors or ETECSA (the only telecommunications company) engineers. A medical specialist could earn the equivalent of US$60. For an ETECSA professional, adding the hard currency bonus, it can be close to US$90.
But is that enough to support a family? Of course not. Ask Migdalia, the engineer. As an answer, the young professional shows a pile of paper full of numbers and expenses.
“I am a single mother to a son. For food for two people it costs between 1200-1300 Cuban pesos. The rest, it just evaporates in school snacks. It’s not even enough to pay the electricity, buy books or any other entertainment. My father lives in Miami, he sends me US$200 monthly and once a year pays for a week-long vacation in a hotel in Varadero. Although my salary is one of the highest paid in the country, it doesn’t let me have a quality nutritional diet. To buy clothes, go to the hair salon or go to dinner at a paladar (private restaurant) you have to make money under the table,” explains Migdalia.
In Cuba, that euphemism translates to a hard and simple aphorism: stealing from the State. “It is the only way to get to month end, fix the house that is in shambles or go to the beach with the family,” confesses Orestes, a port worker.
A national joke defines truthfully the non-existent social contract between the salaried workers and the regime: “people pretend to work and the government pretends to pay us.” It’s never been said better.
Translated by: LYD