By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Living in Cuba is pure agony, literally! Everywhere you look there are shortages and problems, obstacles and dead-end streets. Everything is hard and sometimes even impossible. Your brain paces at 1000 miles per hour, creating stress because nothing goes the way it’s supposed to. Everything is very complicated.
For example, trifles like me looking for cooking oil for a week, willing to pay whatever the seller is asking for it, and I still haven’t been able to find it. Everyone’s in the same boat. My daughter, who is a little fussy and will only eat all her food with fried plantain, is on a forced diet recently. You can imagine.
People say cooking oil is between 400-500 pesos per liter, around here. I’ve heard it costs between 500-700* pesos in Havana. But for families who have somebody working in the “enemy’s” land, there is an “informal” home business that hoards the little products available, as they pay 10 USD deposited abroad for it and then distribute it with agents here.
Pork is my favorite meat, but I haven’t tasted it since New Year’s. There’s no rice anywhere right now, and when available they are only selling two pounds per person this month, via the rations booklet, and the rest came afterwards. A sign of shortage and it being impossible to buy outside of the quota. People are desperate.
What do you think people are thinking about: how to repeat July 11th and be locked up for 15 years or about selling everything they own and emigrating via Nicaragua? The answer is obvious, although many people abroad still haven’t figured this out, because they have stopped understanding Cuba with an objective mind. Focusing on their new reality, not the reality here on the island, and of course there’s no way they can understand it.
My mother, who suffers from kidney failure, has luckily been OK for nearly two years, but she almost never has all the medicines she needs, and this worries me, because she’s in danger of having an irreversible relapse. The medicines we manage to sporadically find is really hard, and they are either donated by friends or bought on the illicit market, because it’s rare to find them at drugstores and for you to find out about them or get there in time.
We are all allergic at home and we have to suffer rhinitis, runny noses, burning eyes and related insomnia, horrible discomfort for long periods of time, because there aren’t any antihistamines around. Somebody might be able to give you some one day, or they sell you a few pills, but it doesn’t last very long. Quality of life in such conditions is a real pipe-dream.
Like most people here, we had a complicated case of scabies with staphylococcus, almost seven months last year because we didn’t have any medicine. Only seven months though mind you because it’s the period that they disappear on their own, with good hygiene practices. We really suffered a lot, especially the kids. Now, there’s a new outbreak and we’re panicking. Anyone visiting your home can leave eggs behind on the chair, passing them onto you and it’s not easy to get rid of them.
The list of problems is extremely long: cement so expensive that a 43 kg bag would cost a pensioner’s monthly pension; you need two minimum wages to buy a pair of poor quality shoes for your child to go to school; and so on. It’s best I don’t go on.
I understand those who leave, how many times have I weighed up leaving the people I love and sacrificing this treasure, to make their day-to-day lives easier with remittances and online purchases? I’m been weak up until now, putting being with them above our financial situation, but I’m not sure I’m a hero or an idiot for doing that.
I don’t want you to focus only on my case, it’s just an example to explain what I’m trying to tell you. I would say over half of families are in a worse-off situation than mine and a significant percentage are suffering a lot worse, living in extreme poverty. It’s really sad. People who don’t even understand what they’re living or what the truth is amidst so many different contradictory narratives of their reality.
It’s easy “to think it’s easy” to fix it, just take to the streets, like those abroad are egging us on to do or here, with a more dragged-out mindset because of years of frustrated struggle on the island, but totalitarianism is pressuring and coercing us, and that works. I believe that anyone that gets mixed up in politics should do it to understand and try to help, not to judge and defame anyone. That’s how I see politics.
For this reason, I understand our people’s spontaneous reaction to emigrate instead of fight. Emigrating might be the most natural and spontaneous way to fight against totalitarianism. 11J and 15N and the consequences they had for those who were brave, ended up convincing us all.
Luckily, they are also a part of the solution. The bravery of those protestors who took to the streets and stood up to the system has and will always have a positive result; reprisals with police brutality and legal persecution, even more so; just like mass migration is having and will have.
Getting desperate and blaming the Cuban people does nothing, it’s just another display of political mediocrity. It’s a fact that social change needs to mature within a process that can more or less exist, but the right time to break away inevitably comes, and this is the hope for a Better Cuba. It’s not here or closer on the horizon right now because of the opposition’s lack of political maturity, as well as that of our civic spirit, rather than because of how strong the system is. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long!
*1 USD = 24 pesos at the official exchange rate and 100 to 1 on the street. Minimum wage in Cuba is 2100 pesos per month.