Kabir Vega Castellanos
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.