By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Things are bad! This is “a common phrase you hear, that sounds very different…” when you and the people around you, who you love, are the ones suffering. Paraphrasing a very popular song by a Mexican singer, because we really are suffering in our everyday lives here in Cuba.
Many decades of hardship have passed already, the burden of which we’ve been carrying on our shoulders, as well as years of severe crisis, where finding the basics to live has become an odyssey.
This is how we see “the situation”, this modern version of the “Special Period”, as coined by Fidel Castro. He was the historic and ideological leader of the national disaster that continues to be called “revolution” today. Yet we don’t know what was so revolutionary about it aside from constant and repeated failures.
Giving you a list of all of the things we need would be very long. There’s little of anything and if something does appear, its price is through the roof. Just over a month since the Tarea Ordenamiento (economic reforms process) kicked off, with inflation and the real value of new wages compared to old ones, has dropped, destroying all hopes some had, any fantasy about things getting better.
For example, my father earned 300 pesos for a pension (12 USD) and it was a very small amount, pennies to tell you the truth. However, he was able to buy 50 pounds of raw cane sugar with that amount. Then, it was being sold freely at market stores or on the street, up until recently. Now he gets 1500 pesos (62.5 USD) but that only buys 30 pounds of sugar. That’s because when it does appear, it costs 50 pesos per pound.
So while pensions went up five times, the price of sugar went up over eight times. As have most other basic essentials. In reality, he has lost approximately 40% of its purchasing power.
We’ve reached a point where, for the first time, Cubans are planning to live an entire month off of the food they buy off the ration booklet. However, we all know the quantities are only enough to feed us for a maximum of ten days, in normal circumstances. But this isn’t a normal situation, it’s a time for survival because the country is going bankrupt. The pandemic took it by surprise, with its low efficiency and production, which heavily relies upon tourism and remittances.
Within this context, I feel somewhat priviledged for having my own plot of land, the same plot that saved us from starving in the 1990s. I have dedicated some of my father’s hectare to family consumption, and I currently have cassava plants, pumpkins, plantains growing, bananas, okra, peppers, garlic and beans. Small amounts of each, but it will help out a lot.
Thanks to a well built by my predecessors, I can irrigate them with a water pump. The same one that I installed a while back to ensure that I would alwys have water at home, as public water services are unstable, with regular leaks, and it’s never enough.
I had to protect the well with a little metallic structure to stop anyone from robbing my pump or even the electrical breaker switch. That’s the way the world is… when there’s a very serious crisis, theft increases. Everything becomes more valuable and many people’s moral values are crushed. It seems inevitable.
We have no other choice but to reinvent ourselves so that we can get through this storm. One with stronger flashes of lightning, more than we did in the good old days. For no improvement lies on the horizon under the current system. It’s just as incapable of achieving progress at it is skilled to keep itself afloat by force.
However, amidst the painstaking day-to-day, there are winds of change in US-Cuban relations. Likewise, if the pandemic falls back under control by next summer with a progressive vaccination strategy and tourism breathing life back into the national economy. It’s like the piece of driftwood amid the sea’s waves after the shipwreck, or the illusion of an oasis amid the desert.
However, more than an external event that gives us a breather, we need substantial reforms that move us closer towards democracy and popular sovereignty. More Rule of Law and more human, social and economic rights.
New spaces open for challenging the status quo. Demands for dialogue and logical reasoning for these changes we Cubans long for and urgently need, all in favor of more rights. This is the path. Finding ways to survive and also pushing for the changes that Cuba needs. We have no other choice.