14ymedio, Havana, 1 October 2023 — With a frankness unusual for an official Cuban media outlet, the magazine Bohemia touched the sore spot of the island’s labor situation. In an article entitled “¿Colgar el título?” (“Should You Put Away Your Degree?”), it recounts the personal experiences of several individuals — identifying them by name — their professional failures and the ongoing drift of professionals from the state sector into the private sector. The conclusion: “Having a degree in Cuba counts for nothing.”
The other great dilemma — emigration and the resulting brain drain — is treated with caution by the century-old publication. The article focuses instead on the teachers and doctors who drift into small and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs), where they can earn seven times more, leaving the country’s much-needed economic transformation in tatters.
To get a grasp on the situation, Bohemia polled seventy professionals trained in the social sciences or humanities who have left, or are thinking of leaving, the public sector. Of those polled, 20% said they were already employed by private companies. The main objective of all the respondents is to “earn a higher salary,” have “more job opportunities and enjoy better working conditions.”
Several of those interviewed described “healthcare workers as very exploited.” One of them, identified as Guillermo, said he preferred to “abandon the dream of being a surgeon rather than be humiliated and mistreated.” Of those interviewed, 64% indicated they would not recommend others follow their career path.
One of them, identified as Guillermo, said he preferred to “abandon the dream of being a surgeon rather than be humiliated and mistreated.”
The article cites official figures that measure the degree of alarm among the authorities. According to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), since 2021 — when currency unification measures were approved — the healthcare sector lost 12,065 doctors, 3,246 nurses and higher eduction lost 1,375 teachers.
In 2022 alone, the science and technology sector lost 2,000 workers while the social welfare sector saw a not insignificant 22,000 professionals leave. If technicians and other types of workers are added to the mix, healthcare lost a total of 31,308 people that year.
The National Employment Survey that ONEI conducted also revealed that 8.1% of unemployed workers in Cuba — some 6,860 people – are professionals who hope, so far unsuccessfully, to find a job “that pays a salary commensurate with their skills and experience.”
The resounding Cuban economic crisis has made some products ten times more expensive than they were in 2021, presenting a professional who works for the state with a dilemma: “Do you do what you like, what you spent five years training at a university to do? Or do you venture into other areas which are perhaps less rewarding from a professional standpoint but which pay better?”
It is natural, the article admits, that many choose the latter option. This is the case with Lesli, a communications graduate who was paid a monthly salary of only 5,060 pesos (twenty-one dollars at the official exchange rate). She survived “by selling recycled clothes on weekends at a garage sale, cleaning a vacant house in Vedado four times a month and trading rationed cigars for sugar, rice and jam.”
Similarly, due to the difficulties of obtaining temporary exit visas, which authorities routinely deny, many students and healthcare professionals choose to apply for permanent leave instead
A 24-year-old former doctor, Liz Hernandez Perez, another of those interviewed by Bohemia, confesses that, when she walks through her old medical school, she “wants to cry.” After receiving her degree, she also had to give up the idea of working in the public sector. Her household — she lives with her mother, her little brother and her maternal grandparents, who are in frail health — was surviving on her mother’s monthly salary of 5,000 pesos as a nurse.
She now works as a clerk “in one of those big shops sprouting up all over the city” that sell goods imported by privately owned MSMEs. “I don’t have the luxury of not having to think about my salary,” explains Hernandez. She hopes to return to her profession at some point in the United States, where her father lives.
“Similarly, due to the difficulties of obtaining temporary exit visas, which authorities routinely deny, many students and healthcare professionals choose to apply for permanent leave instead,” Bohemia reports.
For eighteen years Holguín resident Miriam Perez worked as a university professor. She now works as a translator and has no regrets. “Being able to work from home, on my own schedule, has given me the freedom to care for my family and help them more financially.” Freedom is also a key word for Lisandra Luaces, a Havana resident with a degree in nuclear physics. “The demands were too great,” she admits.”Too much work, time and study for a monthly salary that only lasted a week.” That’s why she started a document printing business. All the materials – ink, paper and equipment – have to be imported from abroad.
The magazine provides several more examples along the same lines. The common thread running through all of them is that, as long as the state is offering such poor working conditions, the best option may be to leave one’s chosen field. That does not solve all the problems, however. Even those working two or three jobs still struggle to make ends meet.
“I work a total of fourteen hours a day at three jobs. I have anxiety, anguish, overload, migraines, fatigue, worsening vision and insomnia. I feel guilty for not being able to do everything, or for not being able to perform at 100 percent of my abilities. And the worst thing is that, with the 10,000 to 12,000 pesos I bring in working three jobs, it’s still hard to save, to buy all the food I need, to pay the rent, or to replace any work equipment that breaks,” laments another of the interviewees.
A barrage of comments from readers serves as a coda to the Bohemia article. The most straightforward of them reads, “The chief culprit for this disaster is the state. Don’t make excuses for it.”
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