You Were Born to Be a Nail and You’ll Never Be a Hammer

Rosa Martinez

A conversation in Centro Habana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Born poor… is an article I recently wrote, in which I mention some of my personal experiences in my many attempts to have a steady income coming into my home, in a Cuba where the economy continues to dwindle. 

One of HT’s readers left a comment which caused me pain (I think that’s what I felt). He literally said: “You were born to be a nail and you’ll never be a hammer.” I believed those words to be a kind of curse that had fallen upon my head, which I wouldn’t ever be able to free myself from.

I wanted to respond to that impudent person with a few things of my own (none of which were pleasant mind you), but I controlled myself.

I didn’t answer for several reasons: first of all, over the years, I have learned not to counterattack when I am angry, as I could say or do something that I might regret later.

Secondly, Havana Times’ motto is “open-minded writing from Cuba”; I am free to write what I want (which I can’t do on any other Cuban media platform), but forum users can also comment with whatever they like. This is what our publication is about, about being able to freely give our opinions about the reality of our beloved Island.

And thirdly, and most importantly: the reader who left the comment was absolutely right, I was born a nail and I will never be a hammer. It hurts me a lot to admit this, but no matter what I do, whether I like it or not, this is my reality. And the worse thing, my dear friends, is that this is the same case for 90% of people on our green planet, who were born poor and will die just as poor or poorer even.

We don’t view this in the same way here because shortages are a part of everyday life for ordinary Cubans. And even though not very many people in Cuba consider themselves poor as such, the reality is that 88% of Cubans, or more, live amidst excessive hardship and with great financial difficulties.

The Cuban Revolution is rife with problems, and even though it has tried, it can’t resolve the things they proposed to do even before the Moncada barracks attack back in 1953.

Insufficient housing, public transport, wages and food… these are among the most pressing things that need to be resolved for ordinary Cubans, but they aren’t the only things.

Some people believe that poverty is a state of mind and that you can overcome it with a lot of willpower, but you have to really be determined to do this.

Reality has proven that a lot more needs to be done, there needs to be a lot more disposition and talent to make scarcity a thing of the past. First of all, people with financial resources can invest because they can save up, and they can save up because they earn more than their basic needs, which a poor person can never do.

Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences winner, Joseph Eugene Stiglitz, explains this clearly in his book “The Price of Inequality”, which exposes the lie of “meritocratic” competition and the theory of personal effort. 

According to Stiglitz, who studied the economies of different countries for over 10 years, 90% of children who are born rich, die rich, no matter whether they work for this or not, while 90% of children born poor will die poor no matter how hard they work.

So, my dear reader, if you believed that being poor was a matter of personal choice, and like me, thought that if you strived, worked and did the best you could to change your situation, well that’s not the case…

If you had the great fortune to be born rich, well you can sleep peacefully, because even though financial crises come, even though man continues to destory the planet, even if you waste what you have, it’s almost certain that you will always be rich; but if you were born poor, the most likely thing is that you are poor until your very last days on this Earth…

Note: Of course, being poor or middle class in Cuba isn’t the same as it is in the US or Canada. But, that needs explaining in another article.

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Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

Rosa Martínez has 150 posts and counting. See all posts by Rosa Martínez

6 thoughts on “You Were Born to Be a Nail and You’ll Never Be a Hammer

  • Carlyle, there is but one way to become wealthy in Cuba. It’s not guaranteed but it’s the only way. You have to be willing to be corrupt. The path to wealth (well, Cuban wealth at least) is not through honest and hard work. Even athletes, dancers and musicians who choose to earn their money abroad but continue to live in Cuba have to lie and cheat. I know several internationally famous and genuinely wealthy Cubans who, despite their financial means, had to pay bribes to bring back into Cuba hard-earned material possessions for personal use in their homes. Satellite dishes, wireless cell phone routers, high-end kitchen appliances, etc. were all smuggled into the country by paying off custom officials. Regular Cubans, who want to amass wealth inside of Cuba can only do so illegally. Odds are that they will eventually be caught because of a jealous neighbor or friend who tips off the government. Is it possible to be rich in Cuba? Yes, there are more rich Cubans living in Cuba than you would think. 99.9% of them became and remain wealthy through illicit means. The other 0.1% are named Castro.

  • Good article but I think another article needs to be written on just how the government stifles economic growth of the citizens so that people who have never lived in Cuba can begin to grasp the reality experienced there.
    Its true that the salaries in Cuba are generally not enough to save and eventually invest. But on the other hand when citizens can invest and start a business there are so many restrictions that are too many to be covered in this comment.

  • Fchow, do you have any views upon how a Cuban – take the brave Rosa Martinez as an example, can escape the regulations and controls in Cuba and become an entrepreneur? How can she avoid being reported by the CDR for example?
    And Ary Guan, I liked your comments, but did Professor Yunus explain how under the restrictions imposed in Cuba anyone could become an entrepreneur and build a successful growing business? Singapore and Cuba are at the opposite extremes of the business world. Even many of the poorest countries encourage entrepreneurs with the cell-phone and banks often playing a role – but not Cuba! China and Vietnam both adopted capitalism and although it improved the standards of living, Fidel Castro openly criticized them and opposed it.
    In Cuba, the sole hammer is in the iron grip of the Castro communist regime.
    I agree with you that Rosa writes excellent articles, but she reflects the reality of the effect of the politics of Cuba.

  • I would say the single biggest factor in success in business is probably personality. My father started with nothing on an island in the Caribbean (not Cuba) and became very wealthy. He had the personality of a successful entrepreneur. But I don’t. Furthermore I have three children and they each have different personalities. One has the personality of her grandfather (yes it skipped a generation and came back) and I have no doubt she will become quite wealthy. She dreams, she plans, and she doesn’t stop until she achieves her plans; then it’s on to the next dream and plans. Always in motion that one. I read a quote once from the father of Rockefeller (or perhaps it was another American Industrialist of that era) “When my son wants cake, pie won’t do; he must have cake. And I’ve noticed, he usually gets cake too.” She is like that. The other two children: one extremely intelligent and artistic – a big picture person; he sees and takes in everything around him, and he wants to make films. He might be poor his whole life, but he doesn’t care about money. The remaining child very intelligent, organized, and thoughtful. She will have a solid and commendable career – but perhaps no greatness. For myself, I simply ask for health, and a life in interesting times. And so far, I’m getting my wish. 🙂

  • There is a lot of fatalism in this article and I have seen with my own eyes the premise doesn’t hold.

  • Dear Professor Martínez,
    thank you for your thoughtful comments (“You were born to be a nail and you will never be a hammer”) and the example you set in choosing control over venting ire against your critic. Another Nobel Prize winner, Professor Yunus, argues that every person can be an entrepreneur and pull herself out of poverty. Singapore is a small island on the Equator and a rich country too. Even China and Vietnam show that it is possible to be born poor and make substantial progress toward middle class. No one is saying it is easy, and the truth is probably somewhere between Stiglitz and Yunus. But I encourage you to keep thinking and searching and working for a better future.; and to keep sharing your excellent writing with an open mind.
    Sincerely, Ary Guan

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