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Kabir Vega Castellanos: I am a young person living in Alamar, my hobbies are technology and by maternal influence literature. I love animals sometimes even more than myself. I started in Havana Times because it is one of the few places where one can speak his mind. Although sometimes I'm naïve I believe that my opinion also has value.

How Young Cubans Get a Hold of Money

November 21, 2016 | Print Print |

Kabir Vega

Young Cubans at one of the expensive pay-for Wifi points.  Photo: Juan Suarez

Young Cubans at one of the expensive pay-for Wifi points. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — “Speculating” comes easily to Cubans. And even more so, to its youth.

In public environments such as university, the FOC (Upper-Secondary Education for Workers and Farmers) or private courses, they wear nice clothes, show off their Smartphones, connect to Wi-Fi regularly and organize outings to expensive places.

However, and aside from the show they put on (borrowed clothes, luxuries at the expense of great shortages which they don’t mention), not even those who are border-line middle class can pay for this quality of life.

Those who are studying upper-secondary education or some kind of university degree, the young men who are doing their Military Service, and even those who have decided to leave school and still don’t know what path to take, almost all of them are living off of their parents or other relatives.

Those who have a parent serving an international mission or those who receive remittances from broad are among the luckiest. Other family members usually look after them, and so they spend their monthly allowance on their own interests: eating what they like, getting around in taxi, paying for their dates out with their partner. Many of them aren’t even aware about how much the food on the table costs.

As is well-known, the sad reality here is that no state salary can get you to the end of the month, with the exception perhaps of the salaries that diplomatic officials receive.

Young people who consider themselves lucky include those whose parents own a car and earn a living by “driving people around”, or those who can rent a part of their home or an extra apartment to foreign tourists. Pig farming is another common business that doesn’t do badly, especially when the end of the year draws near. However, profits are in the long-run (every six months) and you need to hold a second job down to be able to survive on a daily basis.

Other young people enjoy an acceptable quality of life because one of their parents works in a hotel, restaurant, or commercial areas such as shopping centers. By workplace theft, modifying prices and collaborating with a complicated embezzlement network, they are able to make a huge difference between their income that the government pays them and that which they “sort out” for their families.

On a lower scale of the ladder, but with some limitied buying power, are those young people whose parents work in bakeries, food halls, factories and other places where they can take away basic products, saving themselves from having to buy them and selling whatever they have in excess later on the black market.

A friend told me, with disappointment, that after her initial enthusiasm about having been accepted to study a course that would allow her to work in Customs, she discovered that they wouldn’t cover her transportation expenses, her lunch and that the salary was only 400 Cuban pesos a month (under 20 USD). The real advantage of the job comes from whatever you can “scrape” off of tourists. She wasn’t willing to do this but what made her give up the course was the fact that she would have to prepare a morning pep talk as part of the compulsory “ideological training” component.

This is why young people who are trying to become independent flock to the self-employment sector. However, in the majority of these businesses, it’s just the owner who is able to enjoy the profits, while employees feel exploited because they have to work long and busy days which never give them enough money to cover their ambitions, and so they end up quitting.

Some of them, who are helpless in the face of being unable to improve their lives, take a risk in the drug world, the most common product being marijuana. Others who are a bit luckier are able to get a job as “a pointer” in the informal “lottery”, or act as messengers by picking up the list from the different places where this lottery is played. Pornography, which is also forbidden, circulates quite discreetly between “weekly package” suppliers.

And there are others who get head-deep in the murky world of scamming others. They collect used products, “prepare” them at home, and then sell them off as new on the black market.

There are many ways in this world to get a hold of money, from the most sincere to the most disgraceful. However, once the results are in the public eye, how you got your Smartphone, Tablet, expensive watch, clothes and shoes doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you have them.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    The Castros “New Man” is alive and well in Cuba.

    • Terry Downey

      It all sounds rather reminiscent of how young people scrape together money (or not) everywhere else in the world too. But what makes Cuba different is that the young must also contend with the economic embargo that holds all Cubans back from the economic progress and prosperity they all deserve. Moses, the “Old Man” is still alive and well in the US too.

      • Moses Patterson

        Your comments reflect severe naivete. Young people in Cuba are forced to break the law. To steal from their employers, to lie to their neighbors and quite often, to sell their bodies, if not their dignity. To compare what the Castros have done that forces criminality upon Cuban youth to what a lot of young people outside of Cubans must do to enjoy life is ridiculous.

        • Dan

          Many Americans sell drugs to afford their material fetishes. I can attest to that.

          • Moses Patterson

            Those drug dealers you are referring to sell drugs because they want to drive Ferraris. Cuban youth break the law to eat.

          • Daniel Shertzer

            Ferraris ? Moses, How can you expect any credibility re life in Cuba when you have such a poor grasp of prevailing conditions in your own country ? You ‘ve been Trumped, and you don’t realize and/or admit it. All those millions of Trump voters are proof of the fallacy of your standard line that a good life in America is attainable for anyone who tries and that even our least well off are better off than any Cuban. Get out of your bubble.

          • Moses Patterson

            Daniel, you are wrong. Just spend an hour watching hip hop videos in the US and reggaeton videos in Cuba to understand what the youth in both of these cultures aspire to with regards to material “fetishes”.

          • larrybudwiser

            Dan; You are reading the Party line with the insult. Very few Americans sell drugs but rather a mixed underclass of foreigners (mostly Latin Americans) and in some cases,, disadvantaged youths-there are not “many” mafia or scarface type drug dealers and when they are caught, the are jailed in most cases for a long time. Both myself, my wife and our children, have worked honestly and hard and with God gifted opportunity and sweat, we are wealth. I earn over $300,000 per year now as an Engineer and yes, started at the very bottom, making nearly enough to eat. But in learning, working hard and honing my skills, I can manage large construction projects, where my experience and efficiencies produce profits for my employers. I have made myself a valuable commodity that I can control who, where and when I work. Is that opportunity available for a young engineers school student in Cuba. No, the Castros will not allow anyone else to achieve the wealth for that will threaten their. And it’s all about “theirs”.

        • Moses: I know Terry. I know where he lives in Cuba. Now he and I do not agree on everything but respect each others opinions.

          But I certainly would not say he is naive.

          • Moses Patterson

            I appreciate your vouching for Terry. But if he is not naive and continues to believe that Cuban youth “resolve” for the same reasons as kids in San Francisco where I live scrape for money, then he is being intellectually dishonest.