A Broken Pitcher

Alfredo Fernandez

Photo: Irina Echarry

I don’t know of another “animal exhibitor” in Cuba except for the man in the photo, the sole person who does this work listed by the Ministry of Labor as one of the 178 types of jobs for which self-employment is now permitted.

My luck was worse when I tried to find a “button fixer,” another of the job positions on that list.  After asking many people if they knew anyone in that particular line of work, a co-worker who lives in the Mantilla neighborhood told me that the only button fixer she ever knew was a relative of the writer Leonardo Padura who left the island years ago.

In that same vein, I don’t believe that someone will pay for a license to be a “palm tree cropper” – extremely dangerous work that is only needed by farmers on specific cases.  I have a cousin in the municipality of Santiaguero de Songo-La Maya who occasionally cuts off the tops of palms.  He does this to augment the food for his pigs or for thatch for some shanty he might build.  But I can’t imagine cousin Walfrido explaining himself to some inspector after being caught helping himself to the national tree.

When I was in one of our Sierra Maestra “countryside schools” (an obligatory forty-five day work period for each course), it was unanimously felt that those campesinos who worked as mule drivers had the most difficult job in those mountains.

These were people who — on any day and at any moment — transported anything up and down those hills with a column of mules.  They work to the point that they’re considered the Sierra residents who age the quickest.

On top of that, the wages they receive for their labor are rarely enough for them to afford any luxury.  But none of this matters; now, muleteers too will have to pay for a license.

The jobs permitted in the non-state sector appear to be what can only be compared to an “impossible love.”  The government is now trying to tell us — like a bad lover showering us with empty promises — that if it wasn’t that it already had made very similar promises in the past, we would believe it now.  But this time we’re receiving measures completely robbed of the hope-giving that all governments must provide their citizens.

“This pitcher was already broken well before approaching the fountain,” wrote Franz Kafka in his brilliant novella The Metamorphosis.  The Cuban government’s measures to solve the problem of unemployment for the initial half million workers who it plans to lay off is also a “broken pitcher.”

By throwing these workers into the unknown world of self-employment the government will wind up seeing many of these people experiencing a sensation similar to that of the book’s protagonist Gregorio Samsa, who one day wakes up to find himself transformed into a monstrous insect.

Amateurism in the economy has been one of the constants of Cuban socialism.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.



One thought on “A Broken Pitcher

  • Excellent article. Ir’s good to see intelligent reporting and discussion of issues happening in Cuba.

    Reply

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