Interview by Osmel Almaguer
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 15 — Miguel Paneque Roblejo, 59, is a native of the town of Niquero (located in what was then Cuba’s Eastern Province and is currently Granma Province) but has lived in the capital since 1958. He has one daughter from his first marriage but later got divorced. In 1990 he married Maria de los Angeles Delgado, his current wife.
Fifteen years of experience as a high school math teacher and twenty-six as a housing inspector have won him the reputation among his friends as being intolerant of anything poorly done. He was kind enough to grant an interview to Havana Times to discuss the process of change that the country is going through at this very moment.
HT: Miguel, what benefits do you think you will receive through the measures foreseen by the revolutionary government this upcoming year?
Miguel Paneque Roblejo: Before referring to any hypothetical personal benefit, I would like to say that the government has as its objective to make the country’s economy more efficient, and consequently the improvement of day-to-day life. That’s why, for me, these changes could not be more opportune.
HT: Opportune, why?
MPR: Because to achieve our goal of making the transition to socialism, it’s indispensable that the premise is applied of demanding workers carry out their jobs efficiently and receive the corresponding payment for the products of their labor. In this process, new perspectives have opened up. Licenses have been created for self-employment in more than a hundred activities. If someone considers it necessary, they have a host of options from which to choose.
But reforms won’t only be made in the area of self-employed work, but also in the institutional life and in government enterprises seeking higher levels of efficiency and productivity. These are, in turn, changes that should rebound as more benefits for workers.
HT: Even so, do you believe that you’ll wind up needing to become a self-employed worker?
MPR: No. Also, as long as I can keep my job, I will try to do just that.
HT: Does your current status satisfy your material and spiritual needs?
MPR: It gives me an open schedule, which means I have flexibility with my time to plan my activities and take care of my problems.
HT: How do you visualize your immediate situation when they put the new systems of requirements and compensation into practice?
MPR: Requirements and standards are very positive for achieving efficiency. Me in particular, I like to do my job well. I have years of experience in work that has made me known as a straight shooter. For the work of the Housing Department it would be beneficial.
Sometimes, even though one wants to do their job well, if the other links of the chain don’t work correctly, the outcome is harmed. This in fact happens to me often.
On the other hand, if the wages were higher it could improve my standard of living a little. I calculate that at the moment, with the 345 Cuban pesos they pay me, minus my credit payments for 153 pesos (for my house, refrigerator, air conditioner), that leaves me with only 192 pesos [less than $8 USD] a month to live on, apart from my wife’s wage.
HT: And what changes do you expect in the housing sector at national level?
Supposedly the bureaucratic process is being reduced a little, and there are higher rates of housing construction in relation to the general improvement of the economy. It’s said that the sale of materials will be facilitated by construction at reasonable prices. But so far these have remained very high even in relation to wages. A sack of cement, for example, costs $6.60 CUC [about $8 USD], or more than 160 pesos in domestic currency.
The measures should benefit the country’s social and economic life. I’m waiting for the first results for the second half of next year. Notwithstanding, there’s an issue that’s worrying a lot of people: the most recent acts of violence and vandalism that flared up in the capital.
HT: Do you think the violence and vandalism has anything to do with the adjustments the government is carrying out in relation to jobs?
MPR: I would say that the enemies of the Revolution are trying to establish a relationship that doesn’t exist. It’s known by everyone that there exist groups in Cuba that receive payments to carry out this type of aggression. They’re trying to encourage people to reject some of the measures that I consider indispensable for saving our system.
For me, those people who have low instincts will engage in crime in any situation. Honest people will look for options that allow them to survive through their work, no matter how bad the conditions.
HT: Why do you think this socio-economic revolution was not carried out earlier?
MPR: Everything depends on the time in which one lives. The measures that are being applied now can result in positive outcomes today, though maybe in the past they wouldn’t have achieved the same results. The economic situation of the country in these moments demands an immediate solution since we’re not exempt from the economic crisis that’s circling the globe.
HT: So during the past fifty years we never needed those changes?
MPR: In the 1960s and ‘70s there were different conditions. It involved providing people with everything they never had. Those were times of growing pains, of excesses, of little rationality. The 1980s —though we were still not mature— would have been an opportune decade if the USSR hadn’t begun to practically maintain us.
We got comfortable with the good life. With full stomachs, no one was thinking about reforming our system. Then we woke up from the dream, but we crashed so far down in the ‘90s that we didn’t have the strength to react.
It was a struggle for survival, and the measures that were taken were geared toward that objective, which was finally achieved. Thanks to them I’m here answering your questions in the way that I am. Now’s the time to roll up our shirt sleeves and take matters into our own hands…and I think that you and me, with this interview, we’re already off to a good start.