Brain Drain or Brain Squander?

Dariela Aquique

In Cuba you will find highly trained specialists in many fields working as taxi drivers or waiting on tables.

HAVANA TIMES — Much has been said throughout all periods of history about how the major economic powers have promoted the so-called “brain drain” from less developed countries.

Of course the wealthiest nations have always managed to plunder the resources of the poorest, and human capital has not been an exception to this rule.

But in this specific case, other factors come into play, namely that this supposed theft (which isn’t so much theft) is achieved with the consent of the person whose intellect is being stolen.

These brain drains are always consensual: those who have economic capital make offers and those who have intellectual capital respond.

Of course it’s not very ethical to take advantage of the needs of others, but those are the laws of the concrete jungles. For centuries, prominent figures of science, literature and the arts have gone to the great metropolises, for whatever reasons.

But a phenomenon is occurring in Cuba now that has some bearing on this. Though looked at from another perspective, it’s what I call “brain squander.” Many professionals in the country do not exercise their careers so as to pursue other jobs that are better paid.

I have a close friend who is a biologist, having graduated with honors for being exceptional in her field. She finished school just five years ago and was well recognized during her initial period of job training. She was then relocated to another workplace and began studying for her master’s degree, which was really exciting.

But it turns out that in the last year she has felt that she wasn’t doing anything really important. What’s worse is that she didn’t do anything edifying as an expert. She was still receiving a minimum salary, which wasn’t enough to cover her basic needs and those of her newborn child.

To make matters worse, her boss didn’t allow her to go to Havana to defend her master’s thesis. He argued that the content of her research wasn’t relevant to her job and nor was working on it included on her list of work responsibilities.

My friend — who by then was extremely frustrated — decided to quit her job. Now she’s making cakes and pastries for private restaurants and other individual’s orders. She says it’s going well; she now makes in one week what would have taken her two or three months to earn in her professional position.

My friend has a brain that wasn’t robbed by the capitalists. It’s a brain that was squandered here in this country.

Last week I went to have lunch in a private restaurant, one that had an unbeatable menu, moderate prices and excellent service. I was invited by two ex-actress friends of mine who now live in Spain.

The owner of the place is very charismatic, and after eating he joined us to talk and have a few beers. In that conversation I learned that he was an ophthalmologist, specializing in pediatrics, but he gave up his white coat and stethoscope for self-employment in food services.

He says that as a doctor he couldn’t make ends meet. The same is true with many sociologists I know who are waiters in hotels and engineers who sell snacks on the street.

In short, I know of many brains that haven’t been exactly stolen, but they have been squandered by real-life circumstances and personal choices.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.


11 thoughts on “Brain Drain or Brain Squander?

  • July 31, 2012 at 6:31 am
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    In common with capitalists everywhere, ‘Moses’ abhors “forbearance”. Or does he? The hucksters, of the world for obvious reasons would have you take the forbearance wraps off when it comes to consumer goods they want to sell – laptops, “suburban climate-controlled homes”, “fully-stocked refrigerators” and a “car in the garage”. But when it comes to decent health care or education, for example, forbearance is invoked. “We can’t afford it,” is cried, ignoring how countries like Cuba manages to have it. The forbearance of Americans when it comes to waiting for essential services the rest of the world takes for granted is truly remarkable. It is also appalling.

  • July 30, 2012 at 10:44 am
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    Nice try Luis but that’s incorrect. According to a recent study (http://www.etla.fi/PURE/Retunemp.pdf) the higher the national education coefficient, the lower the unemployment and in the case of Cuba, underemployment. In other words, the better educated a country is overall, the more likely doctors work as doctors and engineers as engineers. In poorly-educated countries, a college degree may not be enough to take you off the farm because society as a whole is lacking the infrastructure to fully employ every engineer or doctor or lawyer that it produces. That is too say, pay an adequate salary, provide adecuate working conditions, etc. Cuba is, not surprisingly, an anomaly to the norm.

  • July 30, 2012 at 6:55 am
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    Of all jobs created last year in my country only 6% were of collage graduates. I myself am an example of a ‘squandered brain’. Since Cuba’s offers larger access to higher education, it’s more likely to suffer this kind of problem.

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