That Hard Place between Trump and Cuban Capitalism

By Repatriado

Photo: Phillip Alain Gilleron

HAVANA TIMES – When her husband was still alive, they were fortunate and made nearly 200 CUC per month. He used to earn almost 33 CUC as an Electrical Engineer in the public sector, between wages and bonuses, which depended on him attending union assemblies, keeping night watch 4 or 5 times a year and taking part in political activities such as the May Day parade. He earned the rest by fixing home appliances on the side.

With that kind of income, she could stay at home and dedicate herself to raising their two children and caring for her elderly mother.

In 2012, her husband caught hemorrhagic Dengue fever. He was admitted into the La Covadonga hospital for 6 days where he stayed in a room with an absolutely minimal level of hygiene. While recovering, he asked to go home because that “was a pigsty that he couldn’t bear”, but his condition took a turn for the worse at home and he had to return, he didn’t ever recover.

She was left alone with a 16-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son, her 74-year-old mother and a pension of 14 CUC per month which wasn’t even enough for her to pay the electricity bill. For the first time in her life, she had to go out and look for work so she turned to the only sector that was somewhat dynamic: the small private sector.

She was a waitress at a cafe working alternate days, she started her day by cleaning the place in the morning and getting it ready so she could then wait on customers until 10 PM when they closed and counted tips. Even though she was paid very well, 5 CUC per day of work plus tips, lunch and a snack, she had to leave it because the hours were impossible for her.

She soon found work helping out at a private bakery. She used to work every day from 4 AM until noon and she was paid 4 CUC per day. Even though it killed her physically, she was happy. Unfortunately, when the business’ owner was unable to continue to find flour on the black market, the bakery had to close down.

But, then she got really blessed. A former National Ballet ballerina, who was married to an Italian man, bought a large old house in her neighborhood and converted it into a 5-bedroom hostel. She was hired, along with another neighbor, to work Monday to Saturday from 6 AM until 5 PM for 50 CUC as a monthly income, which became 120 CUC or more thanks to tips. Plus, clients used to give her things like “a hairdryer and this great phone.”

In January, after two months of the dancer traveling about (and photos to document this in Las Vegas, New York, Chicago and Montreal, which she showed off to her hypocritically smiling employees’ faces), she told them that she didn’t need both of them anymore because their clientele was dwindling because of Trump so she was going to lay one of them off, “you tell me who”.

After a lot of begging, they agreed that they would both stay on working alternate days for 30 CUC per month. Even though pure capitalist logic justifies a reduction in expense in the face of less revenue, it is cruel and lacks any ethics, especially after the owner spent thousands going away on holiday. Now, she is trying to save 50 CUC per month by sacrificing one person’s job and livelihood. This insensitive human behavior is typical of the “new wealthy” and flourishes given a lack of legal protection for Cuban workers.

Ever since then, she has been living with less than 80 CUC, including tips, which is still more than double an average Cuban salary but isn’t enough for her to do anything. They have rationed food to the max, they take extremely good care of their clothes, the small apartment they live in hasn’t seen a lick of paint in years and they save on expensive electricity.

Herself, her daughter (who is already a mother too), her teenage son and the elderly diabetic woman who also has rheumatism, high blood pressure, lymphangitis and is always in a bad mood; continue to share this small one-bedroom apartment where they have lived their entire lives. Yep, you read that right, just one bedroom. Luckily, on the weekend, the daughter goes to her husband’s home which is even more crowded, although I honestly can’t explain how.

But at least, her son’s education is free and he is given a snack, which is why she is counting down the days until the summer holidays end. Her mother needs constant medical care. Sometimes the medicines she needs appear and sometimes they don’t, but the ones she needs aren’t the expensive kind.

Since the Cuban people have no idea what labor rights are, or what rights are altogether, she is incapable of thinking that what her employer did was wrong, she is unable to make any demands, and because she’s still earning double what she would working for the state…

While government propaganda continues to tell us that workers are treated worse than dogs in capitalist countries, she could well respond with a hearty ha, ha, ha, but instead, when anyone asks her who is to blame, she will quickly answer:  “Trump”.

4 thoughts on “That Hard Place between Trump and Cuban Capitalism

  • To blame President Trump is biting the hand trying to feed you. His restriction is aimed at helping the Cuban people by requiring us to use Cuban particulars instead of state owned hotels.

  • Guys–interesting debate. Of course the rich can do what they want with their money but what Repatriado is suggesting is something we used to hear called “noblesse oblige”–the obligation of the rich to be generous and support the poor in some way, not by law or because they have to, but because they can.

    Curiously, I haven’t heard the phrase used in many years. That indicates that the idea is also getting lost, with the words…The support and generosity meant by ‘noblesse oblige’ does not have to be a governmental program–and in the case Repatriado describes, with the ballerina, it would not have been a government program–just her own heart-felt generosity. Maybe she’d remember her own family’s poverty before her good fortune (and hard work?) made her more wealthy.

    Also interesting is the situation that Cubans are now in, with the new but very minimal private sector existing against the backdrop of everything else being run by their government. We want private sector opportunities for Cuban people, but we still want support networks. Because the private sector opportunities, and all other opportunities, are so incomplete and inadequate. We have this problem in the US too, but to a much lesser degree, because there are so many more opportunities to ‘make it’.

    There is no easy answer to this one. It’s easy to say ‘every man for himself’, but only until you are the one having trouble paying the bills…and then it’s easy to say ‘hey there should be safety nets’.

  • I don´t say that what the dancer did is illegal, but it is unethical and cruel, even, it is not good for her business in the long term point of view, a happy worker is a best worker, but what she did should not be illegal. But in the relationship between employer and employee in Cuba, the power is completely in employer´s hands because that huge army of hungers about what Marx talked about, so important for capitalism.

    I believe in the role of the state, as a representative of society, to protect workers, there is a long history of legislation in this way, in Europe and in USA, if Cuban government claim to be a people´s government, the government of the workers, how is possible that Cuban workers be so unprotected and depending on how cruel or not, their employers are?

    I believe in capitalism, but I don´t believe in a capitalism without regulations, mainly the financial capitalism that reign in the western world right now.

    And, why should not rich people to take care of poor? To be rich today depends a lot in the opportunities you have in live, and those opportunities depend too much on the neighborhood you live, the money your family have, the education they gave you, the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual options, the country or continent where you were born. I don´t say that rich people do not deserve to be rich, but to be rich is more a question of luck that personal merits, even so rich people should have the right to be selfish, while I have the right to criticizes that aptitude

  • Repatriado, why do you think that what the ex-bailarina did was illegal or even wrong? Both of these employees were “at will” employees. The owner has a right to spend her money as she pleases. If she spends it taking trips, so what? What it sounds like is that you see the rich (relatively speaking) as obligated to take care of the poor. When “her” husband was alive, how much did she save? Did she take care of a less fortunate neighbor (I am sure she had one). Now, to be clear, what the ex-dancer did was a selfish. But hardly illegal and depending upon the notice she gave her two employees, not entirely wrong. I would hope that we could all be our brothers keeper but the real world is a different place.

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