Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

Cuban Professionals: Emigrate or Suffer

Daisy Valera

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.

  • Moses

    Anyone who has spent anytime in Cuba doing more than going out salsa dancing at night, going to the beach in the daytime or drinking mojitos all day on Calle Obispo has met a Cuban engineer who is making more money selling avocados or Cuban chemist who fixes cell phones. While the unemployment rate in the US at around 8% and falling still casts a painful shadow on the US economy, it is far worse in Cuba. Dislocation and underemployment exacerbate the unpublished but well known 20% unemployment rate in Cuba. Worse still, is that even if you are employed in the field of your study, your salary is only 25% of your living expenses. Cubans continue to risk their lives in makeshift rafts attempting to escape the suffocating poverty in Cuba. While many sadly end up shark bait, the few who make it to Cancun or Miami find only low-end subsistence level jobs and still they come. The failure of the Castro regime, like socialism itself, continues to plague the Cuban people.

    • Luis

      Not only you insist on the ‘first trolling’ on every single post, now you are making numbers up. Or taking truth out of propaganda sites. And spilling more propaganda slogans. Like if we haven’t got enough of that.

      • Moses

        Why do you have a problem with how I choose to spend my free time? Furthermore, having lived in Cuba and through marriage, having a family that continues to live in Cuba, I stand on my credentials to have my own opinion about life in Cuba today. My truth is based on real Cuban-based studies,published and unpublished. My experience, at times, anecdotal, is still anchored in today´s reality and not on some Marxist-Lenin pipe dream or anti-capitalist hypocracy.

        • Luis

          Yes I do have a problem with you sir. Because of your poison you spill. I told I had debates here on HT with a Cuban whose ideology is diametrically opposed to mine and we could learn from each other. Not only single time he has called me a ‘Marxist-Leninist loonie’ or called the anti-capitalist struggle ‘hypocrisy’ like you do.

        • Luis

          Oh! I forgot!

          Argument from authority detected!

          Nonetheless, the way you defend tooth and nail the US policy on Cuba is the big reason here. This person, Julio de la Yncera, at least didn’t act like he was a CIA agent like you do.

  • The employment situation you portray in Cuba, Daisy, is heart breaking.

    And the inability of productive and patriotic citizens, in a socialist country, to “found a cooperative of translators, or form a group of designers/architects or an association of lawyers” is almost beyond belief.

    Socialism, authentic socialism, has not failed in Cuba; but the state monopoly form of it apparently has failed miserably.

    When will the comrades of the PCC reexamine the core economic hypothesis proposed by Engels and Marx in 1848, and realize that it is erroneous?

  • Michael N. Landis

    Can’t help but thinking that the upcoming generation–both within and without the Party–will change things for the better. Although there have been stretches where the Cuban Revolution has followed the Soviet model too slavishly, those times are over, and it now seems to be following a more pragmatic model. Also, the times Cuba followed the Soviet model were the times when it had to pay the piper, so to speak. Now there is no reason to continue following such failed policies. As Chairman Mao himself once said: “Let a thousand flowers bloom! Let a hundred schools of thought contend!” (Err, unfortunately, shortly thereafter, he crushed those flowers and closed those schools; however, History, as Marx said, never exactly repeats itself!)

  • John Goodrich

    Not many of us see the future in which automation, driven by machines that are not just the dumb program-driven robots that we see today but true thinking machines which are expected to reach human equivalence by 2030 , will eliminate most or even all jobs now done by humans; certainly to the extent that there will not be meaningful employment in production of goods and services such as both socialists and capitalists cannot imagine life without .

    Accept for the moment that I and other futurists are correct . What happens to state socialism and/or capitalism when there are no workers.?

    The world will continue to produce all the goods and services every human on the planet requires in a much more efficient, cleaner, cheaper way than it is now done by human only labor.
    What will have to change is capitalism which simply will cease to be because you can’t have capitalism without a workforce.
    Robot workers don’t buy things.

    Anarcho-syndicalism; the utopian and democratic worker-run society will not have any workers to run the society.

    That said – full automation of the necessary goods and services means the end of capitalism and the beginning of democracy which is capitalism’s antithesis.
    Last year Foxconn, the giant Apple electronics giant in China installed a robotic assembler that replaced 250 human assemblers.
    Next year Foxconn intends to install one million robotic devices .
    Foxconn is an example of what is going on right now and that most of us are not seeing for what it is.

    We may well evolve into a communist/communal society where all decisions are made democratically in communal groupings . We will ALL have the time to take our part in this democracy because there will be NO regular jobs for anyone . We all will have to be trained to chill out and find those things in life that we each really WANT to do or feel we can do best. . It’s going to be a huge leap for human societal evolution and not only can capitalism not avoid the demise automation means for it, it must join in as fast as possible in order to just survive its more automated competition

    That future, that end of human employment and capitalism is about twenty years off .

  • Hans Saurenmann

    John ist correct, this are the problems nobody is thinking about, and keep in mind my generation, I am 69 now, is maybe able to make it until 130 years old, and all our SS Systems will fall apart. Cuba and its people has the opportunity to position itself in the market of “Health System for retiree’s and leisure”, for sure not in the production side as required today in the global world. The service industry will survive, “hotel and maintenance” will be a must, and the infastructure will follow suite, education is key, one man’s opinion, do not shoot the messenger, twenty years? it will start in about 5 years, we will see fast what the future brings.