Cubans Aren’t Citizens

Kabir Vega Castellanos

Cuban linesmen. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES – Nearly every Cuban analyzes the perks of a public sector job, not the salary but the extras they can get out of it (normally goods that are obtained illegally).

Here are some examples:

If you work in construction, there is always an opportunity to “divert” some of the materials that have been assigned to state-led building projects (bricks, cement, paint…) and sell them on the black market; or use them to do up your own home.

At a bakery, employees can take home bags of bread, flour and they take turns to take home a bottle of oil a month (all of the ingredients that are needed to make a decent loaf of bread). The same thing happens if you work at a state-run restaurant or cafe, or even in a kitchen at primary schools or day-care centers: they sell bags of rice, bottles of oil, etc., reducing the quality of children’s lunches.

A career in medicine is almost surreal if you take a look at the perks. If a health professional isn’t lucky enough to go on an international mission, they will always receive a steady stream of presents from their grateful patients: a bottle of shampoo, soap, even garbage brought from abroad because “everything is worth something” here.

This reality might seem far-fetched for a foreigner because doctors are well paid in any country, and even though it was one of the privileged sectors here in Cuba that received a pay rise, wages still continue to be “disrespectful”, as I heard a nurse once say.

Gifts are also teachers’ main compensation and bribes for public servants to get papers and redtape done. It’s the natural way to survive which the socialist system itself introduced, where not only one’s dignity has been lost, but reality has been twisted to such an extent that Cubans choose these ways to prosper and see themselves as proud “fighters”.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about the benefits the State gives out legally, according to your job position.

In the highest ranks of the Armed Forces (FAR) or the Ministry of Interior (MININT), a great perk is being able to buy the same oil that the State sells for nearly 50 CUP (1.95 CUC) for just 11 CUP. They can buy other objects in the same way and even coveted devices like a plasma TV, receiving this radical discount. On top of that, they receive a package of provisions every month, a kind of luxury replica of the classic “rations booklet”.

In other words, your job becomes a wonderful discount voucher with some bonuses. I’m sure that Cubans who are less perceptive of our reality find this fortunate. However, it’s nothing but an astute retention measure.

You can spend your whole life wallowing with plenty of food and basic comfort, but because wages are still low, you will never be able to do anything that requires a higher level of capital, where you are the supplier and the beneficiary. Money is the key to society and if you aren’t given money then you are just a pedigree dog who is on the Government’s leash.

Let me give you another example, a much more unfortunate example:

Young athletes receive high quality food every day because of their physical development needs (which will then be exploited for the sake of honoring our nation), and they also serve as employees.

As an employee at a company providing security services to INDER, I remember the poor wages perfectly, less than 240 CUP per month. Nevertheless, none of the workers (adults or young people who were serving their alternative 2-year alternative service like me) criticized their wages. Instead, they saw the free food they received as a great perk.

Three elderly people who had led quite hard lives stressed this point and a woman made sure she ate food at the athletes’ canteen, trying to take extra portions home so that she didn’t have to buy food.

It’s shocking that Cuba has lost sight of something so basic: food is the minimum that workers should be able to buy with their wages, no matter how poor these may be. If we are paid with food then we aren’t any different to slaves, or livestock, not the ones who graze freely but those who live in the mud, waiting for their owner to come and feed them.

In global society, money is key, it’s the thing that human beings use which distinguishes us from other species. In addition to freedom of speech, money is the first sign of freedom.

Kabir Vega

I am a young man whose development in life has not been what many might consider normal or appropriate, but I don’t regret it. Although I am very reserved, I dissent strongly from many things. I believe that society, and not only of Cuba, is wrong and needs to change. I love animals sometimes even more than myself since they lack evil. I am also a fan of the world of Otaku. I started in Havana Times because it allowed me to tell some experiences and perhaps encourage some change in my country. I may be naive in my arguments, but I am true to my principles.

Kabir Vega has 86 posts and counting. See all posts by Kabir Vega

4 thoughts on “Cubans Aren’t Citizens

  • Cuba is worse that any jailhouse here in USA with no future lighting the horizon no hopes, no freedom, and no brains, because the government controls and make decisions about everything Cuba is the past tense of the mistake created for a bunch of astutes rulers whose are slavering people for 60 years The communism was bad for yesterday and is an imcompetent regimen to everybody They are no socialism in Cuba only a group of intelligents criminal ruling the country We need to be free not only whose are living there are slaves we are the clowns of the system because they are living under the money of the good name The Miami Mafia Abajo el Comunismo! No funciona

  • wow ! . i have read articles and spoken with many new cuban arrivals about the cuban system . i came in 1968 with my parent’s and other family members..
    i was 5 years old. so the account is from the beginning stages of the system to the existing climate of change .
    this article is so simple so clean .
    simplicity is genius . to reduce all the complex issues that affect a group of humans inside a corral . a simple solution cut the fence and see how humans (cuba) will prosper..

  • I Have Lived In The Real Cuba As a Welcomed Outsider & Have Learned The Country People are Just Happier, Healthy & Complete. I was the First Canadian Permitted To live where there are No Cars I am sure, The Horse Rules The Mud Roads, I Have Learned to live with Little or No very Basic,s of daily life we think we can not live with out & How Happy & Healthy a Family Can Be with the State supply of simple food, We can have State Medical from a distance & many just choose the old ways of the Real Cuban Country life, I have Never been Sick in my Travels all over Cuba other then a Very Bad Coffee on Havana,s Water front walk way. I have Taken photo,s of the Sacs of bread flour being slimmed with a piece of tubing off the back of a truck, Right in front of the States Bread bakery in Havana. I have bought powder milk from a street Lady & learn that I have just taken from a Cuban Baby, A Baby,s Monthly supply of Milk. Why is this little Money Needed over our Children,s Nutrition. My Fight with This Canadian Taken into Cuban Culture Dose Take Something From our Soul. If you Meet a Cuban that Lived Before the Time, When there Life was Changed, Then Listen To The Old Ones That Do Not Speak our Language, Take a Look into the Eyes of a Cuban, Feel There Hands that make History to this Day & Do Not Judge What We Do Not Understand or ask Why they Live so far out from others in the Community,s. Will I Miss The 2 plus Km walk for a daily bath, Yes I would if the State would Not Permit To Return into the Simple Honesty Of Cuba. I am Healthier & Happier I have been Granted The Walk through Cuba with a Cuban Family with Four Generation & Growing. One Family More than 50 Strong Happy & Healthy spread all over Cuba, They all Watch Over My Life In Cuba, Is That a Tribe. I Have No Fear In Cuba I have Worries of My Family,s Food & Water when supply,s are late or lost to the street trades of Corruption . I have the $ Dollars & There is Nothing I can Buy other then some Organized Family,s operated Corrupt Street Dealings. I Now Begin My 4th Season & more then 2 years of time with My Cuban Family,s, Healthy Happy Hardships. I ask Myself Do I really Help or Have I Hurt The Cuban Nation. This is a Fear, Of What I Started & Where Cuba Has Had Little Growth interference From The Slow Change of Many Years Past. Should an Outsider From another Country & Culture Be Permitted To Open Other Doors. Should That Tractor Replace That Bull For The Man or Lady & There Walking Plow. I Watched The Lady Train (school) The Bull To Pull That Plow To Feed That Large Family That Work Together To Feed There Nation. There Bigger Family.

  • This is one of Kabir’s best articles. The abysmally low wages in Cuba have long been a topic covered over and over again on this blog yet Kabir’s perspective seemed fresh. Food as wages and equating this to livestock is painfully true. Keeping Cubans at subsistence level wages (actually less than) is the most powerful tool of oppression in the Castro toolbox. I have heard Cubans remark that the reason that Cubans don’t revolt despite their overwhelming frustration is simply because they are too busy trying to “resolve” or make ends meet. No one has time to worry about overthrowing the government when all of their energy is spent trying to put food on the table each day. Good post Kabir.

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