A while ago, Felipe Perez Roque, who was recently relieved from his post as Cuba’s foreign minister, presented an analysis at the United Nations. From his speech, one could deduce that each Cuban is not only a millionaire, but that with very little money he or she can buy a tremendous amount of things.
It’s a shame that these conclusions don’t reflect our true standard of living.
Felipe said that with one dollar a Cuban could buy X pounds of rice, beans, sugar and powdered milk. Sure, he was making reference to products bought using our ration books, through which the Cuban State subsidizes a minimum amount of food for each person. But this quantity only lasts a week -at the most- and then we have to look for products that cost considerably more.
Here things get a little complicated, because the minimum wage is 225.00 pesos, which equals 9.00 CUCs (the island’s other “hard” currency). For a package of two or three pounds of chicken we have to pay between 2.00 and 3.00 CUCs, and 2.20 CUCs for a liter of vegetable oil, or 2.20 CUCs for a liter of tomato puree.
Transportation also costs as does membership in unions and other mass organizations, and though these costs are less, after adding everything together I don’t have enough left to buy even a soda when my blood sugar level drops while in the street.
That’s why people here have come up with the word “inventing.” Almost everyone invents with almost everything. People buy and sell things brought here by foreigners or Cubans working on missions abroad or stolen from state run businesses and offices or from individuals. They sell products made by themselves, created from stolen materials or rummaged from out of the garbage.
There’s also prostitution. If it’s a woman she’s called a “jinetera” (horse jockey), and if it’s a man he’s called a “pinguero” (penis jockey), because he does it with other men.
It’s true that education and health services are free, but that’s only half the story. Because though many of us have studied up to the university level and we have been treated by doctors for free (even getting operations that are extremely expensive in other parts of the world), it’s important to note that everything produced in the country is made by us, the working class.
The leaders only distribute -albeit fairly equally- according to the budget of a revolution that up to now we’ve supported. That’s why I believe that the government doesn’t “give” us anything.
On the other hand, the relativity of this gratuitousness becomes apparent when we think of school supplies -costly for us- that parents have to buy because not enough are distributed to their children in school, and the gifts that you have to give doctors so they treat you the best they can.
I am among that multitude of people who, according to Perez Roque’s analysis broadcast on TV, have lived the life of a millionaire but have ended up with nothing in our pockets.