The Miracle Workers: On Cubans Living Abroad

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Havana Airport.  Waiting for friends and relatives.  Photo: Caridad
Havana Airport. Waiting for friends and relatives. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Unconsciously, a great many Cubans long for a brother, cousin, friend, son or anyone they know to come see them from abroad, in the form a prodigal, generous, miracle-working visitor.

On hearing of such visits, their special senses begin to tingle as they anticipate trips to discos, outings, meals at restaurants and everything in between. But, what is that actually happens?

A little while ago, a friend of mine came to visit from Italy, with his Italian wife. After he’d invited us out several times, paid for a number of meals at restaurants, bought us cell phone credit, purchased food for the house and gave us other gifts, we went to a coffee shop, where we stayed a while to chat after paying the bill. During this conversation, she bluntly asked him: “Why do you always have to pay the bill, even when they invite you out?”

I tried to explain something which is rather embarrassing for me. She’s right. I have a job and I could invite them out, if I had a real salary, that is – and that’s not the case in Cuba. The money I earn isn’t worthy of the name salary. I earn an average wage which doesn’t go far, and is certainly not enough to invite others to places that charge in hard currency or its equivalent in Cuban pesos. I simply can’t.

Explaining to her that one does not pay for healthcare or education in Cuba, that certain rights are guaranteed here, or about the damage caused by the US blockade, and so on and so forth, didn’t change much. In the end, she said to me: “This has nothing to do with the blockade. I’ve seen people with more money here than in Europe. Perhaps you are not aware of this, but, as tourists, we get approached by all sorts of people. We work very hard back home and though everything is tough, he has two jobs so we can do what we want to do. Many of the problems you mention have to do with Cubans, nothing else.”

It ain’t easy. It is a deeply-rooted attitude that emerged during the Special Period crisis that began in the early 1990s and which today needs to go.

6 thoughts on “The Miracle Workers: On Cubans Living Abroad

  • “Dependency on others” is a key feature of ANY society, capitalism included, even though libertarians pretend otherwise. The “key feature of communism” is the absence of exploitation.

  • Dependency on others is a key feature of communism. As the failed system is slowly overturned, individuals will have more independence. Already some make enough to self fund their life.

  • It is a very unfortunate state of affairs, of course, but as long as it exists, I recommend that you are up front about it. Make sure that foreign friends are aware that they are expected to pay. New visitors to Cuba cannot be expected to know about this, which may lead to humiliating and/or embarrassing situations for both parties.
    Back in 2006, I was in Cuba with a group of Scandinavians for salsa classes. One night, a Danish woman and I went out for a meal of pizza at the Marina Hemingway with two of our Cuban dancing partners/instructors and one of their friends. However, the woman, a well-know Danish writer, ended up humiliating her dancing partner, insisting that he had invited her and consequently had to pay for the meal. In order to avoid the humiliation, I paid for everybody. Including beer, the bill for five persons came to 20 CUC, a ridiculously low amount compared to the price of a similar meal in Denmark. In the case of the Danish woman, vanity rather than a lack of money made her insist on humiliating our Cuban friends.
    However, Cubans should be aware that some tourists arrive in Cuba with very little money to spend. In particular very young people may have saved for years to be able to afford going, and some of them get a bad impression of the country because they are taken advantage of by street hustlers in Havana who exploit their naivety based on the hospitality experienced in their previous encounters with Cubans.

  • When I first decided to visit Cuba for a holiday I had very little idea what to expect. At times i felt as though I was being exploited because I had spare cash, which i had worked hard to acquire. I felt at times that all people wanted was a handout because they felt exploited.

  • Over the past few years I have noticed a lot more Cubans in resorts as guests. Some were in on their own coin and others guests of family from off shore visiting Cuba.

  • Your friend’s wife obviously has no idea of what life in Cuba is like for the average person. If only they would read up before visiting Cuba or any country for that matter.

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