Things I Don’t Understand Here in Cuba

Veronica Vega

Resignation. Photo: Luis Angel Guevara Polanco

HAVANA TIMES — A movie from the ‘70s has stirred a curious doubt within me. “Metello”, the Italian social drama whose plot unfolds in Florence in the early 20th century, touches upon the struggle of the working class.

At one point of the movie, a group of workers have summoned a strike to demand better wages. When they come face-to-face with the boss, one of the workers says: “We’re only on strike.”

This phrase really caught my attention: “only on strike”, that is to say, they aren’t committing a crime.

How can I not compare this situation with that of my own country, where noone I know lives off of their state-paid wages and much less a pension, which is the sum of years of devoted and selfless work? However, I have never seen this issue even become subject of public debate.

Recurring to the sacred and holy Wikipedia offline we have access to, I found:

“It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when social democracies were becoming widespread, that the right to strike was internationally recognized as a worker’s essential right constitutive of freedom of association. It is one of the second-generation of human rights, which today recognizes the majority of national laws and international agreements of global scope such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights…”

Far from clearing up my doubts, they just multiplied after reading this.

The “rebellious” ones in the movie were anarchists and socialists, ideologies which are inseparable from the defense of workers’ rights.

Cuba has a socialist system. One trade union exists. However, the average salary here is even less than 1 USD a day, which is globally recognized as the benchmark for extreme poverty.

If socialists are fighting for workers’ rights, what does the reward of such a victory involve? Why are we socialist?

For free healthcare and medicine, which is discounted from the deficit of wages and is life-long in nature, you get very sick, a little or never; whether you study or not?

What do workers celebrate on May Day in Cuba? What rights does the labor union defend?

The only protest I’ve learned about demanding an increase in wages (and not through any government media), was carried out by Jeovany Jimenez Vega, a doctor from Guanajay, along with a colleague who later emigrated to Spain.

What was the outcome? They were expelled from their workplace and Jeovany wasn’t allowed to finish his specialist studies that he was studying at the time and then came six long years of useless legal complaints. He had to resort to a public hunger strike which was disseminated via the internet so a resolution could be created which allowed him:

– To receive six years of wages without practicing his profession against his will.

– Completing his chosen specialist studies.

– His colleague in Spain to be able to validate his job title abroad.

And all of this without an increase in wages, of course. This case is exemplary enough to spread the virus of a lack of solidarity, in this or any other professional field within the island. Although the majority of Cubans never even found out about occurrence. The price of rebelling in Cuba is sensed, it’s carried in the air. Labor strikes don’t need to be a crime: they just don’t exist in our learned and allowed vocabulary.

The pay increase that health workers and employees in other sectors received later, continue to be just as symbolic as their original incomes.

The endemic wage malfunction is offset against tacit and sheer overtolerance: diversion of resources, “gifts” from customers, missions abroad… Regardless of how unsustainable the system is, nobody is surprised anymore.

What continues to shock us though is how names and the exquiteness of rites are kept, even though they are scandalously belied in practice.

Has Cuba signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights…? Does it need to for its official politics to ensure basic rights which is what socialist workers fought for, at the beginning of the last century?

One thought on “Things I Don’t Understand Here in Cuba

  • Cuba has a revisionist economy and does not have a firm dictatorship of the proletariat. Read J.V. Stalin’s foundations of leninism.

Comments are closed.