There’s Always Someone Worse Off

June 16, 2012 | Print Print |

Rosa Martinez

HAVANA TIMES — I’m not of those who cower in the corner whining about the economic problems in Cuba; to the contrary, I’m one of the warriors who are always moving forward – despite the sacrifices I have to make or the work and extra hours I have to put in.

I try to take care of my problems and live the best I can since I believe that crying doesn’t help, although it’s true that it’s sometimes the only way we find to express our desperation.

Unfortunately, in our country it doesn’t matter much if you’re a professional or a technician. Someone who has studied or works harder doesn’t live any better than anyone else.

What does make a difference, though, is having a good small business, receiving family remittances or working in a job that deals in hard currency. It hurts us to admit it, but that’s the truth.

More than once I’ve been frustrated when getting to the end of the month dealing with all the shortages that nobody in the world should have to deal with – much less those of us who work 48 hours a week.

Cuban workers spent about 20 days a month trying to piece together the puzzle of ensuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, and figuring out how to buy toiletries or other necessities of life. We also have to do dealings “under the table” to buy the clothes and shoes we need.

But some people are even worse off than those of us who work and depend on our low wages.

Yesterday I found Odalis (a single-parent neighbor who has three young children) weeping uncontrollably.

She doesn’t have a formal job or anyone to help her. Still, she has survived so far on her manicure services and some other sewing work.

But with the new manicurists who have started their private businesses in the neighborhood (younger ones and with greater selections of services), as well as the tendency for people to only wear imported clothing, all of this has contributed to less money coming in to Odalis.

Consequently, she has begun to suffer increased family problems.

The fact of living with shortages is something common for ordinary Cubans but doesn’t mean that we’ve become accustomed to it. I think I came to understand that better than ever yesterday while visiting Odalis.

When I arrived to the door her kids Paula and Angel were whimpering and literally bellyaching. I immediately knew why: they were hungry. Anyone who as any sensitivity knows that there’s nothing more heart wrenching than the suffering of a child.

I felt my own heart tighten from the tears and cries of the children, but I felt even worse for her. Only a mother can understand the pain of another mother in a situation like that.

Like my grandmother used to say, “Don’t complain so much. There’s always someone worse off than you.” This time it’s Odalis: the most unfortunate person in the world.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Moses

    Cubans do not work “hard”. Admittedly, many Cubans work long hours. Equally obvious is that Cuban salaries are nowhere near commensurate with the work that Cubans do. But the truth is that Cuban productivity and by that I mean effort is nowhere near what other Latin American countries achieve and a trifle in comparison to US output. This is true in just about all measures. The number of patients that a Cuban doctor will see all day as compared to his US counterpart. The time spent remodeling a kitchen by a contractor in Cuba in comparison to his Mexican counterpart. The crop yield for a Cuban farmer compared to his Chilean counterpart. Anyone who has every visited Cuba can attest to the work ethic of Cuban in the service industries. Have you ever eaten at a State-owned Cuban restaurant? Pleeeeease!

  • Mark Williams

    Just look at the mess the rest of the capitalist world is in; it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t end in civil unrest. In my world, the ‘haves’ have everything. The have-nots have nothing. Better the have-nots have something.
    The root problem in Cuba is not its political or social system, it’s the prejudice of much of the rest of the world. Without blockades, you could do so much more. You must find your allies and get them to help you.
    It may not seem like this to you, but you have massive support throughout the world; socialists like me who have seen the other world, in which there is no fairness or justice. A world which has created false wealth and forgotten that happiness derives from health, education, family, community and food to eat.
    If you desert those principles, no matter how your situation appears, you will lose so much more. And the world’s socialists will lose their beacon.

    • Moses

      Mark, I don’t know what country you are from, but the US is nowhere near “civil war”. Neither is any country in the EU. Vigorous, even violent protest is a natural manifestation of a healthy democracy. If you feel so strongly about Cuba’s future why don’t YOU assist them in their struggle. For that matter, why don’t all those socialists that support the “principles” you fear Cuba may desert, band together and send Cuba a coupla’ billion dollars to tide them over until whenever. This is exactly what German people and the EU are doing for Greece and Spain. I find that Socialists talk a very good game, but in the end, do nothing.

      By the way, just last week, Cuban security arrested, detained and beat a Cuban dissident simply because he participated in a videoconference before a US Senate subcommittee. He is facing charges and is likely to be sent to prison. The prejudices against Cuba are deserved.

      • Luis

        “If you feel so strongly about Cuba’s future why don’t YOU assist them in their struggle (…) band together and send Cuba a coupla’ billion dollars to tide them over until whenever.”

        This is a joke, right? We’re not the USSR.

        “The prejudices against Cuba are deserved.”

        Are you saying you are pro-embargo? I can’t believe this. A Saudi woman was beheaded for ”witchcraft and sorcery’ and no sanctions against this country were issued. The politically-motivated murder of a Brazilian journalist and blogger marked its first anniversary this June 15th and the so-called ‘international community’ didn’t say a word.

        • Moses

          Luis, I am absolutely not joking. Cuba, in terms of population, is roughly equal to Greece or Belgium. Look at the recent bailout provided to the Greek economy by the EU. If the alleged 25 million socialists of the world who worship at the altar of Fidel were to kick-in a measly average of $10 apiece, Cuba would get a much-needed hard currency infusion of $250 million. Let’s assume there are at least a few thousand wealthy and very wealthy socialists in the group of 25 million who could donate much more for those who could not give any. Still, that $250 million boost is not so far-fetched. Do you think that in the world of capitalism, Belgium or Greece would be allowed to fall off the economic abyss? Of course not. My admittedly outrageous point is the same. For you socialists, it is all talk, no action
          By the way, the embargo is not working and likely will never work. However, I support it being continued until the Castros die or leave power under other circumstances. Why let off the pressure now?

          • Luis

            You are comparing apples with oranges. Greece received funds from an association of countries, not from the spontaneous contribution by the people from these countries. If you had suggested that ALBA could help Cuba, then I’d agree with you.

            If the embargo is not working and likely will never work, why support it?

      • Eric

        Moses: “…send Cuba a coupla’ billion dollars to tide them over until whenever. This is exactly what German people and the EU are doing for Greece and Spain.”

        That’s hilarious; topsy-turvy. The money is going to bail out banks and enable the state to continue increasing the debt that working people will have to pay. What do the people get? Cuts in wages, services, pensions, etc. + the long-term debt.

        I especially loved your words of compassion for the subject of this article, now buffeted by the capitalist direction you champion: “If Odalis can’t compete then she needs to change professions.” You’re all heart.

  • Luis

    “But with the new manicurists who have started their private businesses in the neighborhood (younger ones and with greater selections of services), as well as the tendency for people to only wear imported clothing, all of this has contributed to less money coming in to Odalis.”

    It’s interesting to point out that the recent introduction of elements of economic liberalism in Cuba have turned things worse for people like Odalis. That’s the cruelty of the market – some win but others lose.

    • Moses

      Luis, that’s not cruelty, that’s natural selection. Adapt or die. There is nothing more fair. If Odalis can’t compete then she needs to change professions.

      • Luis

        Now that’s a perfect example of a naturalistic fallacy, which is the basis of social Darwinism you present here. Assuming that the “natural” is inherently good is false because there is no “natural” when it comes to sociology. We construct our own nature.

  • Lawrence W

    Rosa Martinez writes, “Unfortunately, in our country it doesn’t matter much if you’re a professional or a technician. Someone who has studied or works harder doesn’t live any better than anyone else.”

    “Moses” writes re Cubans not working hard, “The number of patients that a Cuban doctor will see all day as compared to his US counterpart. The time spent remodelling a kitchen by a contractor in Cuba in comparison to his Mexican counterpart. The crop yield for a Cuban farmer compared to his Chilean counterpart. Anyone who has every visited Cuba can attest to the work ethic of Cuban in the service industries. Have you ever eaten at a State-owned Cuban restaurant?”

    For both writers, the benefits of ‘working hard’ has been set by the capitalist model which is unraveling before our eyes, yet again. Moses declares that “the US is nowhere near civil war”. Perhaps, but civil wars, aka revolutions, are notoriously difficult to predict. And capitalism has been remarkably successful at propping itself up – at the expense of the 99%, of course.

    It doesn’t take a political genius, however, to see that capitalism has again fallen on precarious times. All it will take is for one western country to break with the neo-liberal agenda to seriously shake the capitalist house of cards, which is why capitalist countries are desperately baling each other out and propping up their banking and financial industries.

    I won’t fall into the trap that Moses did, stating a likely timeline, but sooner or later it’s obvious capitalism, as currently practiced, will fall. It serves neither 99% of the planet’s population nor the health of the planet itself. Humans have undertaken suicidal policies before, but we wouldn’t be here if destructive practices had persisted for any period of time.

    “Moses”‘ examples of productivity achieved by working hard are naïve in the extreme. In Canada, similar to the US but not as bad – at least yet – guidelines are given doctors for how long they are allowed to see you. From personal experience, this means they have little time to address your concerns and answer questions you may have. I have had a doctor walk out on me when I was half way through my questions that were carefully researched beforehand and written down. I know of no one who thinks this is good medicine – neither doctors nor patients – but the system is forced on us in the name of affordability. The 1% travel overseas or go to the US and pay top dollar for the best health care they can find. The rest of us get “efficiency” – assembly line medical care.

    “Productive” contractors will remodel kitchens or anything else in your home in blindingly fast time but the quality of workmanship sucks if you contract with one of these ‘speedy Gonzales’ types. Homeowners quickly learn you get what you pay for. Friends of mine who haven’t learned are burdened with recurring visitations to fix what wasn’t done right and many times have to threaten legal action before problems are rectified.

    Increased crop or animal yields in more “productive” countries inevitably come at the expense of increased use of pesticides, added hormones and petroleum-based fertilizers. More advanced elements here eschew these practices in the name of personal and planetary health.

    “Productive” service industry workers, forced into stressful jobs, working long hours, many times at more than one job, and decreasing wages and benefits, are prone to substance abuse, anti-social behaviour and a dysfunctional family life. There are few if any happy wage earners here from my personal observation and from accounts in the media.

    And no one I know eats “at a State-owned Cuban restaurant”. We eat at paladors and local restaurants serving Cuban creoles dishes. The official restaurants have the same problem that private restaurants in the big tourist hotels have – the chefs are primarily cooking non-Cuban dishes they are not familiar with, cooking what tourists are accustomed to eat, but not doing it well. It’s not a public vs private issue but a training issue.

    Rosa Martinez thinks it is ‘unfortunate’ that more fortunate Cubans – professionals and technicians – who ‘study and work hard’, don’t “live any better than anyone else.” Her assumptions are certainly right out of the capitalist playbook – that more fortunate individuals deserve to live better than ordinary workers and that the privileged class automatically are harder workers than other workers.

    Beware of propaganda and brainwashing, whether it comes from socialists or capitalists.

  • Moses

    Wow, Lawrence W., where do I begin? Your criticisms of US doctors, kitchen contractors, and farmers has merit. Your examples, however,do not represent the norm but do occur with sufficient frequency as to merit acknowledgement. Should I assume you would prefer a Cuban doctor who rode the P11 bus for an hour to get to work hoping to see as patients who can afford passing 5cuc under the table to see him. If not, he spends most of his day stressed about how he will buy food for his family to eat that day? Oh, and by the way, that is if he is not spending a year or two on a foreign mission so he can buy a TV for his family and a bicycle for his child and maybe a computer for himself. Would you prefer that your kitchen work is done at the pace Cubans have grown accustomed? That is to say, that as your contractor can find and purchase the stolen tile and mortar available on the black market, he can proceed with the work in your kitchen. All the while your fingers are crossed that your jealous neighbors don’t tell the state you are doing work in your house. If so, inspectors knock on your door and ask to see receipts for the concrete you must be using. If you can’t produce receipts, you risk large fines or worse. Perhaps you are suggesting that Cuba’s version of natural or organic farming that generated a sugar yield this year of 1.5 millions tons (the lowest yield in more than 100 years in Cuba) is still better than using scientifically-tested safe fertizers which increase crop yields and leave the soil more enriched than when you planted. For all the many problems the US and Europe faces, the worst argument against our capitalist system that you can make is one that holds Cuba as the model of success. P.S. I was referring to the lack of decent service in State-run restaurants. Food quality is a matter of taste. But let’s face it, no one goes to Cuba for the food anyway.

  • Lawrence W

    ‘Moses’ has an unholy obsession with telling us what is wrong with Cuba – from his perspective – whilst shying away from supplying us with a realistic picture of the country he lives in. As such, he only offers one-sided propaganda, for what purpose? Unlike ‘Moses’, Havana Times presents us with a picture of what’s hot and what’s not in Cuba on a regular basis, giving us what he does not – a balanced picture of life in Cuba. Yet he insists on injecting a one-sided view of the US, stubbornly refusing to give us a balanced picture of what life is like in his presumably adopted country.

    It’s likely ‘Moses’ is not really aware of how bad it gets in the US, either more well off than many Americans, or maybe a wannabe, relating to an economic class he can only hope to be a member of, as many desperately do in the US. It’s a country I know quite well, having lived there several times and one I visit regularly. Let me tell you a story from one of my recent visits.

    I was in Florida and rented a car from one of the big car rental companies there. The man from the company who picked me up from where I was staying to take me to the rental office was a Cuban-American, born in the US. His parents had emigrated. I approached the subject of Cuba cautiously, withholding the fact I had been there, knowing there are fanatical Cuban-Americans, responsible for heinous acts of violence against Cubans, cheerfully tolerated and harboured by those wonderful champions of justice and democracy – Americans.

    My Cuban-American driver, when he learned I was Canadian, urged me to visit Cuba, saying how great it was. At the end of the rental period he drove me back so we had a bit of time to talk over the two trips and I heard his story. I have forgotten his name but for the sake of the story, I will call him Luis.

    Luis was married to a Cuban and went to Cuba regularly when he could afford it, visiting with his wife’s family. Luis was a victim of the so-called sub-prime debacle. Like so many Americans, he bought a house with a sub-prime mortgage, imprudently encouraged by the exploitive US banking industry. Luis was working two jobs to keep up the payments of US $1,000 per month, then lost both jobs in the economic downturn. His house was now worth a fraction of its worth when he bought it but the payments remained the same. He wanted to abandon it but the bank was not allowing it. Luis was frantic when I met him. Like all Cubans I meet, he was resilient and innovative at finding solutions, managing to get a job at the car rental company.

    I asked Luis if he would ever consider emigrating to Cuba. He told me that being American-born, even with a Cuban wife, it would be difficult to gain residence. He told me he felt Cuban children were getting a much better education than his children were in the US public school system, but his children were young and they would find it difficult to give up the consumer junk they were addicted to, living in the junk capital of the western world, so he would wait until they were older before considering a move.

    Luis’ story is not universal but it is typical for millions of the 99% in America, a number that is relentlessly increasing every month with no relief in sight as the capitalist ship wallows and sinks lower in the current disturbed waters of the economic sea. Whether it will founder or be successfully bailed out once again, we will have to wait and see.

    Do bad doctors, kitchen contractors, and farmers represent the norm in the US? Shockingly, most – not many but most – Americans I meet cannot afford health insurance and avoid going to doctors, electing not to be treated for serious afflictions like cancer as it would bankrupt them. Most Americans cannot afford a house, let alone a kitchen contractor and virtually all farm products on US supermarket shelves are raised and grown by mass-market agro-businesses using petroleum-based fertilizers and brutal conditions for raising and slaughtering animals. As for “scientifically-tested safe fertilizers”, none are safe for the planet and all put farm workers at risk for poisoning. Btw, if you eat at state-run restos, you are not going to Cuba to eat Cuban food. I look forward to indulging in creoles cuisine when I’m in Cuba. There are always plenty of opportunities to indulge my passion for Cuban cooking.

    In summary, I write about what I know well – life in Canada and the US. Havana Times writers write about what they know best – life in Cuba, the good, the bad and the ugly. So why does ‘Moses’ insist on comparing Cuba to the US, presenting a picture that 99% of the US population would have difficulty relating to these days? There can be no doubt about it – the US is a great place to live if you are rich. And if you are not, it is one of the worst.