Cuba Layoffs Viewed from Guantanamo

By Rosa Martinez

Bicycle Taxi, photo Ihosvanny

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 19 — Workers in Cuba are preparing for a process that will result in the elimination of more than 500,000 jobs in the dominant public sector of the economy.

Although many Cubans trust in the benevolence of the Revolution and its main leaders, more than a few are worried about what may happen to Cuban families affected by the coming changes.

The mere mention of “employment reorganization” and the “relocation of jobs” to wherever these might be necessary has created a wave of uncertainty among people, especially given the lack of information in the national and local media.

A book would be needed to reflect the varying opinions among workers, students, housewives, and the young and old alike. In any case, I wanted to share with Havana Times readers some of the perspectives of people who I ran across on the streets of my city, Guantanamo.

I talked with one 21 year-old who has complete confidence in the Revolution.  She said she was sure that no one would be abandoned to their fate, and believes that not a single Cuban family will be left without sustenance or any child without food.  However, she doesn’t fail to recognize that this will be a difficult situation faced by people.  “But this isn’t the first time,” she noted, “The Special Period economic crisis was fierce.  There wasn’t anything to eat, and yet we survived.  And we’ll survive this too,” she asserted.

However an activist of the Communist Party of Cuba was terrified over the impending process.  She commented: “Even without salary restructuring there were already many instances of young people without jobs and having terrible social records.  So what’s going to happen in society when the number of unemployed people increases even more?  It will not longer be possible for folks to demand that the unemployed get a job to contribute to society.  And what’s going to happen to those laid off who can’t go into agriculture or construction for whatever reason?”

A Cuban history teacher at the university says that what worries her most is the threat posed by increased violence across the country.  “Every day more people want to live without working, though this occurs at the expense of those of us who sacrifice daily.  Violence and theft are two curses that will become more widespread with the layoffs.  The restructuring process hasn’t even been applied and neighborhoods have already begun experiencing more incidents of burglary.  Now vagrants will have more of a justification for their being in the street, and we’ll have to be more protective of our properties against crooks – who are going to multiply; you can be sure of that!”

Vegetable seller - Photo: Lina Marcela Lasso Silva

Many university students are worried, for example, by what this process portends for their futures as professionals.  A student of sociocultural studies wondered what will happen with the thousands of youth who have recently graduated in that field in the last few years.  “If it was already difficult to find work,” she said, “imagine how it’s going to be now, because we’ll be subject to this process of reducing inflated payrolls.”

A varying perspective was offered by a longtime worker at the provincial library.  She said: “Before, at least when people talked about inflated staffing in Cuba, the higher ups would offer retirement to people who were close to retirement age.  But now it’s not going to be like that; on the contrary, in recent years many retired people have return to work since they have more experience and have demonstrated their suitability.  This could displace young people in their current positions.

A young bicycle-taxi driver who I talked to in downtown Jose Marti Park made sure to first insist on anonymity, only after that did he make the following comment: “Those of us who are considered redundant are way at the bottom, beneath those on top.  I’m sure that no one higher up will be considered dead weight.  They can apply all the alternatives they want, but it won’t affect them at all.  Up until yesterday the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and in Party circles where analyzing the situation where there are numbers of unemployed people.  There are people who have done time for peligrosidad (“dangerousness” or vagrancy) for not working, but now they’re saying the payrolls are inflated?  I don’t get it. The truth is that no one really understands what’s going on.”

I have a neighbor who recently quit her job after 15 years of service.  She doesn’t understand why people are so worried if most regular jobs don’t pay the bills anyway.  Many people have started engaging in illegal black market businesses that bring them in four or five times more income than their previous positions. “What they should do is get rid of all the obstacles and let people to move forward,” she insists.

I met a carpenter who was visibly worried because he’s sure that at least two carpenter positions in the workshop where he’s worked for 20 years will be considered redundant.  He’s wondering what will happen to him and his family if it turns out that he’s not deemed suitable given his health problems.  Although he’s several years short of retirement, he has no idea what else he could do to support his three kids and a wife, who is a homemaker.

Photo by Ihosvanny

“They say that licenses will be issued for non-State trades such as those as photographers, hairdressers, barbers, manicurists and other occupations.  But in my neighborhood there are already more manicurists than women.  What are we going to do with so many people in the same occupations?” voiced one cuentapropista (self-employed worker).  She added: “I believe that the people who will be most affected by all this will be professionals.  Imagine telling an engineer, a doctor or a researcher that they have to go into agriculture permanently, despite their not being physically suited.  Nobody in Cuba even wants to hear about that type of work; everybody wants to be a graduate in something or another.”

Although many people see the measures aimed at expanding small businesses as something positive, more than a few think this is no more than an opportunity for the government to saddle people with higher taxes, and many people believe that the obstacles to setting these businesses up will always be an impediment.

It’s been said time and time again that “the changes in employment policy will be applied gradually and progressively,” but the State also adds that “it will no longer be possible to apply a formula to indefinitely protect or subsidize the wages of workers who lose their jobs.”

For the time being, the only thing for sure is that no one knows with scientific certainty what’s going to happen or to what extent this process will be carried out.

4 thoughts on “Cuba Layoffs Viewed from Guantanamo

  • Se acabo el relajo- Se acabo “el maja”. Los vagos a trabajar- Igualito que en todo el mundo. Y no pienses que emigrar a USA es la solucion- Aqui hay que trabajar !
    An end to the slackers- The lazy must work- After all it is like that all over the world- And let the lazy know that coming to USA o la “Yuma” is not the solution.- Aqui si hay que trabajar-! … pero se obtiene recompensa-
    Here everyone works hard and there are rewards-

  • Good article, Rosa. A revealing snapshot of people’s feelings.

    In the “private monopoly” capitalist U.S. it is the working people who always suffer when the system needs a painful period of “correction.” It now appears that it will be the same for “state monopoly” socialist Cuba. But then again, they have been suffering, anyway.

    In my opinion it is time for the Cuban state to scuttle its legal monopoly ownership of all the instruments of production. This would allow both individual and cooperative entrepreneurs to build businesses to serve the tons of new tourists the PCC is expecting.

    How might this occurs? I don’t know for sure, but I suppose a national law might be promulgated to that effect. Such a law would reestablish private productive property rights and a free trading market–just what workable cooperative socialism needs.

    As long as the socialist PCC retains state power, and the mechanisms of private property and the market are guided properly, this may turn out to be a boon for Cuba. Let’s hope so.

    One thing is for sure: the old form of socialism must change, or it’s curtains for the Cuban Revolution.

  • As a former resident of Guantanamo, I am acutely aware of the extremely difficult financial situation that province is enduring. Only Baracoa, one of its municipality, enjoys a favorable financial situation. Still, contrary to what most, especially the local leadership have come to believe, there are sufficient untapped resources, to reverse the financial dependency of this province on the national budget.

    Presently there may be approximately 30 vacant secondry school buildings in the country with a potential capacity of 500 students each, while hundreds of thousands of Haitian school children living on the streets, could be housed, educated, provided healthcare, sports and culture, for a modest yearly tuition of $2000-3000.00 per year. Why not challenge the world, hundredes of humanitarian organizations and world institutions such as UNESCO, FAO, WHO, to pick up the tab, save these victims, while creating hundreds of well paid jobs for unemployed educators, healthcare, sports or culture professionals in Guantanamo?

    Hundreds of colonial buildings in downtown Guantanamo that typifies our culture, have been wrongfully turned into offices, others are in disrepair or have collapsed, creating an image of abandonment, while millions of retirees around the world, cannot afford the high cost of living in their communities, they live in fear of criminals preying on them and hundreds of other social ills, while thousands of these retireees could live within their means, freely walk the streets, sit in public squares without fear, while creating hundreds of jobs and millions for the local economy?

    The airport of Guantanamo with the longest airstrip in country, is surrounded by thousands of vacant land, abundant water resources, perfect connection by land and rail with the seaport in Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, remain dormant, under-utilized, which could be easily converted into the Latin American and Caribbean appliance and industrial distribution center, from where every major industrial company could export their products, saving at least 2 hours of flying time and requiring the employement of 15-20 thousands high skilled employees and capable of generating 5-10 billion dollars a year.

    These are just some of the immediate resources that are available to residents of the province of Guantanamo. No wonder someone once said, we are miserably poor while sitting on a golden toilet.

  • Clearly the leadership of Cuba is selling the workers out, whatever they say, and however they say it. That will become more obvious over time; but better people become clear on the scale of this betrayal sooner, rather than later — so they can organize to do something about it.

    I have to stress: this is indeed a betrayal because, decisively, the right thing was not done: involving the mass of the population in ongoing, intensive discussion about what is the best way forward in the island’s crisis. Which certainly means the formation of democratically-controlled councils at the local and regional level, to handle all issues of work and distribution of resources in the area under their jurisdiction.

    Having the cuban bureaucracy continue to dictate policy from above is not only a guarantee of eventual failure — at least as far as the mass of the population and socialism are concerned; but it is also a means for their continuing to rule in apparently their own, narrow, selfish — and criminal — interests.

    All Power to the Workers’ and Farmers’ Councils and Communes.

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