HAVANA TIMES — The joke going around these days on the buses of the Ministry of Science goes:
Manuel asks his neighbor (who works for a company in the upscale Miramar neighborhood) to help him get a job for his son.
The neighbor replies: ‘No problem, I know of a position as supervisor where he can earn 500 CUCs a month.
“No!” Manuel shouts, annoyed, “My son needs a position that will force him to exert himself.”
“Ok, that’s fine,” responds the neighbor. “He can be a mail boy and make coffee for 200 CUCs a month.
“That’s not what he needs either,” says Manuel. “It has to be a job where my child will understand what it means to sacrifice, one of those where he’ll earn 300 or 400 Cuban pesos a month (about 15 CUCs, or around $17 USD).
A bit annoyed, the neighbor ends the conversation saying, “Well, Manuel, that’s not going to happen. Your son isn’t a college graduate.”
I am also one of those people here on the island who have a mania for laughing at our misfortunes. I smiled, but then I became frightened.
Perhaps it was because my degree in radiochemistry is collecting dust in a drawer somewhere. Maybe it was because that at least one day a week I work to determine mercury levels in sediments of the Almendares River.
The more than a half a million professionals here experienced a less than encouraging 2012, are looking towards a 2013 characterized by immigration reform.
Many hopes are pinned on buying a one-way ticket to Spain, Canada, the United States, or wherever.
Some people dream of obtaining a work contract related to their professions, while others would be content with any job.
All of them fear being classified in a “sector that is strategic for the economy and national security” [and therefore unable to immediately leave] and nobody wants to be in the shoes of a Cuban doctor.
While we wait for January for them to tell us who has won the life-saving stamp in their passport, there’s one question that has been clearly answered: The state has nothing to offer these university graduates, five percent of the population.
The lineamientos (economic reform guidelines) were a kind of divorce between those who obtained a degree and the state/Party.
In 2013, the labor force restructuring will continue based on the principle of proven suitability, meaning that the state will distribute all those little papers for the raffle of who’s to be laid off among the recent graduates.
Wage increases remain lost on the horizon of increased productivity and will only help prioritized some industries (biotechnology, telephone services, nickel mining).
Finally, in its yearning to control everything, the government maintains a short list of allowed private initiatives, though it seems immutable.
One can now pursue self-employment in Cuba doing anything from collecting coconuts to making buttons, and yet it’s illegal to found a cooperative of translators, or form a group of designers/architects or an association of lawyers.
Added to this the act of restricting self-employment to the service sector — in a sexist society — means seeing primarily women being unable to practice their professions.
Given all this, the talk about of “women’s emancipation,” as trumpeted by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), will become obsolete in a few years.
In these changing times, Cuban professionals have few and poor options: They can see what fate holds for them in some foreign country, work for the government for a miserable wage or go get a license to sell fried snacks on the street.
Basically, the choice is emigrate or suffer.