The Two Sides Of The Postcard: Diary Of A Returnee, Part 3 / 14ymedio, Dominique Deloy

The newly restored Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. (D. Deloy)
The newly restored Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. (D. Deloy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dominique Deloy, Santiago de Cuba, 2 September 2016 — It had been years since I’d seen my husband’s family. So we traveled to Santiago de Cuba, where many of them live. Upon arrival, after 17 hours by bus with a broken suspension, a pleasant surprise awaited me: the city seemed more flirtatious than ten years ago.

“Thanks to [hurricane] Sandy,” say the santiagueros with the black humor that characterizes them, the city has been beautified: a new public transit station, some gaily painted houses, the cathedral restored and its angel re-clothed in golden garments. They also told me that Sandy has cleaned the beaches, in fact we were able to enjoy one of them, a wonder of trash-free white sand, as we had never seen before.

We also saw, although this has nothing to do with the terrible hurricane of 2012 – works of art decorating the streets, paintings, sculptures, lamps of pretty colors and, above all, a maritime promenade that doesn’t make you want to cry like before, where now you can really walk, and even connect to the internet! In addition, you can take a boat ride on the magnificent bay, for a low price in Cuban pesos.

Unfortunately, when it came time to visit the family, a bitter disappointment awaited me with the other side of the postcard: everyone seemed to live in the same conditions as before, and the young people thought of nothing but escaping to another country at any cost, so as not to have to live like their elders.

My aunt Candita, 59, an architect and Head of Service at the Housing Institute, continues to earn the same salary as before: it doesn’t exceed 18 CUC (roughly $18 US) a month. My niece Glaydis got a big promotion: now she is the manager of a very famous candy store in the city, where she works seven days a week for 13 CUC a month. And she’s lucky because she can bring home cakes! Although she must pay for them of course. My cousin Juan, who also completed his higher education, is the head of a large furniture company. He is 53 and has worked there for forever: he is the most fortunate of all these professionals, earning 20 CUC a month.

I was pensive and on my return to Havana I went to the supermarket near my house to note down some prices, because sometimes my friends in France don’t believe me. How can a person live on a salary ten times lower than those in some countries in Africa? Perhaps the prices of basic products are significantly lower? No way! They are as high or higher than in France. You don’t have to be a great mathematician to realize that Glaydis, over the space of a month, cannot purchase any more than a pound of cheese, two quarts of juice and bottle of detergent.

Sometimes I feel that everyone is being punished here. But what did they do?