An interesting detail in the daily economy catches one’s attention in today’s Cuba. The profession of security guard has turned into something quite prestigious.
Each ministry has its “Agency for Security and Protection,” and there also exist several companies that enjoy the status of a limited corporation; one can point to the famous SEPSA security guard firm, whose workers serve at embassies and other sensitive locations; and the TRASVAL company that transports cash.
There’s a certain military presence in this whole business, because the agents are usually former soldiers or police officers who have retired from active service. But there are also other people who work for these agencies, though they lack a particularly solid history with regard to the armed services.
Several of those agencies have patrol cars and alarm control systems, and one even provides private detective services.
The profession of security guard is now prestigious because through it one can generate a substantial income in a completely legal manner.
In addition to the periodic payment of a “stimulus” in hard currency, many companies provide their guards with special “modules” of free food and other basic products (such as toiletries), assured transportation to the work site and fancy uniforms. Plus, they get a snack (a can of soda and a sandwich), which is usually sold to passersby for 20 Cuban pesos or one convertible peso (about $1 USD) – and in this way generates extra income.
In addition to soldiers, some ex-engineers and former laborers work as guards. Then too, some are simply youth who have managed to secure this employment as their first job, which certainly they consider a comfortable position.
I met a young poet and rapper who had wanted to study philosophy but who ended up opting for the occupation of security guard. His perspective reminded me of that adopted by Albert Einstein, who once said that to be watchman in a lighthouse was the best job for someone who wanted to devote themselves to thinking about unusual theories.
Beyond the material privileges that distinguish these “simple mortals,” many guards enjoy important measures of power. The decision often rests with them as to who can or cannot enter an establishment.
Guards are usually part of special contingents separated from the rest of the workers because part of their mission is to enforce controls so that those workers do not steal the equipment or products of their work.
Moreover, given that we in Cuba are experiencing the heights of the informal economy, theft is often one of the ways of contributing to one’s subsistence or to climb toward a higher social category.
That’s why guards are usually “rotated” to other workplaces within the same ministry after completing an assignment for one month (or for some other fixed period) at a certain site. This prevents them and the workers they have to monitor from establishing relationships of trust; this distancing thereby ensures greater control.
The excessive power of guards, and the very fact that Havana is visibly full of them, derives in fact from the precariousness of the formal economic system in Cuba as well as from the strength and omnipresence of the informal sector, which is supplied to a large degree through the appropriation of goods from the formal workplaces.
The decision to combat this phenomenon through an increase in “control” has contributed to the proliferation of security guards in all official institutions.
Faced with this situation, some say that half of the work force is trying to steal while the other half is trying to prevent them.
I wonder if security guards will be the key to solving the economic problems of Cuban society. I also wonder just how many guards per capita would be necessary to accomplish that.