HAVANA TIMES — “Speculating” comes easily to Cubans. And even more so, to its youth.
In public environments such as university, the FOC (Upper-Secondary Education for Workers and Farmers) or private courses, they wear nice clothes, show off their Smartphones, connect to Wi-Fi regularly and organize outings to expensive places.
However, and aside from the show they put on (borrowed clothes, luxuries at the expense of great shortages which they don’t mention), not even those who are border-line middle class can pay for this quality of life.
Those who are studying upper-secondary education or some kind of university degree, the young men who are doing their Military Service, and even those who have decided to leave school and still don’t know what path to take, almost all of them are living off of their parents or other relatives.
Those who have a parent serving an international mission or those who receive remittances from broad are among the luckiest. Other family members usually look after them, and so they spend their monthly allowance on their own interests: eating what they like, getting around in taxi, paying for their dates out with their partner. Many of them aren’t even aware about how much the food on the table costs.
As is well-known, the sad reality here is that no state salary can get you to the end of the month, with the exception perhaps of the salaries that diplomatic officials receive.
Young people who consider themselves lucky include those whose parents own a car and earn a living by “driving people around”, or those who can rent a part of their home or an extra apartment to foreign tourists. Pig farming is another common business that doesn’t do badly, especially when the end of the year draws near. However, profits are in the long-run (every six months) and you need to hold a second job down to be able to survive on a daily basis.
Other young people enjoy an acceptable quality of life because one of their parents works in a hotel, restaurant, or commercial areas such as shopping centers. By workplace theft, modifying prices and collaborating with a complicated embezzlement network, they are able to make a huge difference between their income that the government pays them and that which they “sort out” for their families.
On a lower scale of the ladder, but with some limitied buying power, are those young people whose parents work in bakeries, food halls, factories and other places where they can take away basic products, saving themselves from having to buy them and selling whatever they have in excess later on the black market.
A friend told me, with disappointment, that after her initial enthusiasm about having been accepted to study a course that would allow her to work in Customs, she discovered that they wouldn’t cover her transportation expenses, her lunch and that the salary was only 400 Cuban pesos a month (under 20 USD). The real advantage of the job comes from whatever you can “scrape” off of tourists. She wasn’t willing to do this but what made her give up the course was the fact that she would have to prepare a morning pep talk as part of the compulsory “ideological training” component.
This is why young people who are trying to become independent flock to the self-employment sector. However, in the majority of these businesses, it’s just the owner who is able to enjoy the profits, while employees feel exploited because they have to work long and busy days which never give them enough money to cover their ambitions, and so they end up quitting.
Some of them, who are helpless in the face of being unable to improve their lives, take a risk in the drug world, the most common product being marijuana. Others who are a bit luckier are able to get a job as “a pointer” in the informal “lottery”, or act as messengers by picking up the list from the different places where this lottery is played. Pornography, which is also forbidden, circulates quite discreetly between “weekly package” suppliers.
And there are others who get head-deep in the murky world of scamming others. They collect used products, “prepare” them at home, and then sell them off as new on the black market.
There are many ways in this world to get a hold of money, from the most sincere to the most disgraceful. However, once the results are in the public eye, how you got your Smartphone, Tablet, expensive watch, clothes and shoes doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you have them.