A Cuban Trait or the Result of a Sociological Experiment?

By Repatriado*

Havana barber.

HAVANA TIMES — I don’t know if living by day by day is a trait of the Cuban people or whether it’s another result of the sociological experiment that has been carried out on our people, but this conversation with my barber (which I’ve transcribed word for word) has left me thinking about the Cuban people’s apparent lack of concern for the future.

– What’s up?
– What knew, Felo.
– The same as always?
– 0 on the sides and 3 on top; it’s quiet here today, no?
– Yeh, man, but you know I take it easy, I have my regulars.
– How much are you making more or less?
– I leave with about two hundred pesos a day (8 USD)
– In profits?
– In what?
– Are you making a clean 200?
– No, hell no, I then have to pay the company, the rent on the place, the electricity, the ONAT (National Tax Administration Office of Cuba), so I pocket about 150 a day.
– Nearly 4,000 a month.
– It’s about 150 pesos a day more or less.
– And is that enough?
– Maybe there’s more business somewhere else, but I don’t have a boss here, I work from 9 to 1 and I’m at home having a siesta at 2, living the millionaire’s life.
– Are you saving?
– For what?
– Felo, you are like 60 years old, you’ll retire in a few years, what are you going to live off then?
– Barbers don’t retire.
– And what if you get sick, have an accident, your fridge breaks, you break your wrist having sex?
– Hahahaha, don’t talk crap. If I think a little more about that, I wouldn’t step foot on the street.
– Is your daughter helping you out yet?
– She can’t, man. She’s been in the States for two years and things are tough. She’s working in a Nursing Home illegally, because she hasn’t been able to validate her nursing qualifications. She says that when that happens then she will be sending some help. Although her mother and step-father say that they get priority and that when she starts sending anything, it’ll go to them first… that damn bitch.
– Felo, you remember when I was your student?
– Not really, to tell you the truth, as I’ve always seen you around the neighborhood, I don’t associate you with the school. It’s been years since I left that hellhole.
– How much will you get for your pension?
– I don’t know, about 300 pesos a month.
– 15 dollars per month for the rest of your life, brother.
– Hell, forget that old man, look let’s talk about women…

Some people would argue that this is a display of security, because they have faith in the system. It might be.

Personally, I believe that this is due to something that psychology describes as “Learned Helplessness”. In general, this is a chronic passive attitude, which has been learned via the experience of their actions having little impact on their future. It produces selective blindness in the face of possible opportunities, you become stuck and lax.

This Learned Helplessness is directly linked to suicide, depression and anxiety levels, I don’t have comparative stats for Cuba, but at a simple glance, I’m guessing these are quite high. The lack of drugs in pharmacies makes alcohol the national tranquilizer. You can get drunk for free just walking around my neighborhood and breathing in the foul smell of cheap alcohol that congregations of regular customers emit, who make their doorways and street corners their own private bar.

Every time a friend of mine with a business complains about having problems with his staff, the common thing they say is “it’s not that I don’t pay them, I pay them well, but they don’t work hard, you tell them that if they do x you’ll pay them more, but nothing. It’s as if they were asleep, they’re so lazy.” I have also personally suffered this when I had a business with employees here in Cuba.

The difference is huge if you compare it to any employee in any other place I have been.

However, when a Cuban leaves Cuba, they normally prosper; they work and work and work. It’s not that they become better than others, they just stop being worse. This reaction is also very typical in Learned Helplessness, as it’s conditioned to a specific environment.

In a nutshell, every time a Cuban asks me for advice, knowing that I have lived many years outside of Cuba, I don’t hesitate in telling them, “LEAVE if you get the chance.”

*I’ve used a pseudonym because I’m afraid that my humble internet account might be taken away from me or that I might be harassed financially. This might be a fear without grounds, but I don’t know for certain and as I’m not brave, I avoid the risk because what I most fear is losing the mask that I put on in front of my beloved and “revolutionary” grandfather

5 thoughts on “A Cuban Trait or the Result of a Sociological Experiment?

  • Cubans used to have so much spirit. The last vestiges of Cuban initiative, drive and optimism seem to only exist in the exile community. Cuban-Americans have made Miami what it is; I have personally seen this develop from year 1. As one of my University of Chicago grad school colleagues from Brazil exclaimed when I told him I was from Miami – “…ah, the capital of Latin America….” So true.

  • Depressing!

  • living in nada world is like a virus…you have to find your own personal cure. Survive by finding and surrounding yourself with positive reflection your alive. Go read some articles about refugee camps in Africa if you think your life sucks. Sitting down each day is easier than giving yourself a kick in the arse.

  • This post is spot on. I agree with his conclusions 100%.

  • “Learned Helplessness”: In general, this is a chronic passive attitude, which has been learned via the experience of their actions having little impact on their future. It produces selective blindness in the face of possible opportunities, you become stuck…”

    I’ve lived in Cuba more than 3 years (I’m an American), and I have observed this phenomenon, too. You can only be thwarted so many times before you simply stop acting on any ambitions or desire to change one’s lot in life. It’s just not worth the effort, many Cubans have learned. Cubans do hustle (luchar) for survival. But that takes so much energy that there isn’t much left to try to “mejorar” (improve) one’s condition, unless you have familia afuera who send in money.

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