Getting Crowded ‘Under the Table’

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — Recently an article about the problems of education in Cuba caught my attention.

The author, whose name escapes me at the moment, gave examples of how education here is undergoing a discreet and gradual process of privatization.

They referred to the “little gifts” that teachers expect to receive from their students, with so little interest in studying.

The article also referred to crash courses and class reviews given by private tutors — paid for by parents — when the classes given at schools are substandard.

It pointed out that many of these teachers are the same ones who work during the day in schools, with their shoulders being the very ones on which rests much of the responsibility for instruction having have declined to the poor condition it is today.

Today, in fact, I remember listening to my stepfather talking about something similar related to his experiences with the “somaton,” the inspection that all motor vehicles have to periodically undergo to determine whether they’re in suitable shape to be on the road.

So what happened to my stepfather? He had to pay 5 CUCs (over a week’s salary for the average worker) for an “approval rating.” “He who doesn’t sweeten the pot doesn’t pass the inspection,” crudely explained one member of the crew.

Nowadays they don’t even care if your vehicle meets the required standards. Each and every vehicle inspected has to pay that amount, except for larger cars – the price is even higher for those.

These inspectors try to rationalize their actions: Their wages aren’t enough to live on; life is hard, they’re young and have to live, or they have families and their kids need shoes.

When presented with opportunities, this is how many officials abuse the power granted to them by the state, for reasons we shouldn’t ignore either.

Almost everyone is charging and collecting for their work “under the table,” and any employee or official who hasn’t started doing the same will soon begin feeling the consequences of their principles when they sit down at their dinner table.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

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6 thoughts on “Getting Crowded ‘Under the Table’

  • And corruption is not endemic in the US? “Oil and glue” is nothing. Try mother’s milk instead – closer to the capitalist teat.

  • If “Corruption occurs when the people have no trust in the integrity of the system” then the rampant corruption in high places in the US, not the low ones ‘Moses’ lists, – the Bernie Medoff level of corruption – tells us something about the US.

    But you said it for me perfectly:

    “When the rule of law is arbitrary, when those in high places are seen enriching themselves and are never held accountable, when it is impossible for the poor to survive by merely following the law, corruption flourishes.”

  • It seems there really are some differences between Cuba and the US and Canada. I read every day here about, financiers, CEOs, government officials, company managers, government officials, executives, mayors, governors, bond traders, stock brokers, investors, lawyers, judges, senators taking bribes, making fraudulent deals, cheating on tax returns, skimming from clients, buying votes, stealing from company funds, stealing from employee retirement funds, and more.

    Cuban graft is pocket change in comparison. The graft here regularly destroys lives and peoples’ retirement funds. You can at least understand Cubans’ motives – there is not enough money to go around. But the unmitigated greed that crime in high places represents in the US seems incomprehensible.

    It’s not, really. When you live in a system that says ‘greed is good’ and is based on self-interest at the expense of others, the hallmark of capitalism, you just follow the norm.

    If Cuba can shake off the US blockade and enjoy more imports and exports, corruption will obviously go down. There’s no hope for capitalism, however.

  • Corruption is endemic in Cuba. It is “part and parcel” of the system.
    It is – to paraphrase Octavio Paz – the “oil and glue” of the system.
    The oil that makes the machinery work. The glue that keeps it together.

    Lots of news about corruption in Cuba:

  • Corruption occurs when the people have no trust in the integrity of the system. When the rule of law is arbitrary, when those in high places are seen enriching themselves and are never held accountable, when it is impossible for the poor to survive by merely following the law, corruption flourishes.

  • I personally know or have directly witnessed Cuban doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, arquitects, CDR presidents, University of Havana registration office workers, professors, teachers, state construction workers, immigration office staff, policemen, hotel security, ETECSA (telephone company) technicians, youth computer club workers, casa particular inspectors, cabaret inspectors, lab workers, truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, bartenders, restaurant staff, pharmacy staff, elementary school directors, CUC store workers, butchers, and santeria priests ask for and accept bribes or other forms of personal payment “under the table”. I never saw a fireman take a bribe. See, it’s not all bad.

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