Janis Hernandez

Soap in the hard currency stores. Photo:Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — On the Cuban TV news, they often talk about of the global economic crisis. “What evil walks the world!” we say to ourselves in front of the set. The images they show us of capitalist societies are stunning: massive joblessness, increasing taxes and sky rocketing costs of living.

And yes, it’s true that in financial terms things don’t look very good out there in the world. But what about here?

It has been a long time since we’ve had the basic necessities, especially those related to personal hygiene. Those were removed from our ration books and became products sold at much higher unrestricted prices.

The question was whether they would become scarce from time to time or even stop being sold – thereby creating chaos. Such a situation would make these products only available in hard-currency stores, where they would be impossible for most of us to purchase – especially those living on some trifling pension or only their meager wages.

Any such doubts are often dispelled when these products do in fact disappear from the new markets. But what’s worse is when the prices are raised under the pretext of providing “higher quality.” A good example is bath soap, which had cost between 5.00 and 6.00 pesos but now goes for a staggering 11.00 pesos.

Nonetheless, no explanation was given on the news. They tell me about the increased cost of admission in theaters and cinemas in Spain, and that in Greece even the firefighting services are going to be privatized.

But what does it matter to me if the price of going to a movie in Madrid is sky high if I have to adjust and readjust my budget just to come up with a way to buy soap to last the month.

The strange thing is that friends and relatives who live abroad complain about how things are bad there…but nobody wants to return. On the contrary, those who leave manage to stay.

The best example is the number of desertions there has been among athletes over the past three months.

On June 19, five players from the national basketball team slipped away in San Juan to begin applying for residence in Puerto Rico. Likewise, at the recently concluded London Olympic games, journalist Luis Lopez Viera, the sports editor for the Juventud Rebelde newspaper (and who had often been seen as a panelist on the Mesa Redonda television program), also decided to stay, seeking “political asylum” at the British Embassy.

And most recently, in the Fifth World Cup in Edmonton Canada, held from August 10 to 19, four of the players on the National Women’s Baseball squad didn’t miss their opportunities and decided to leave the team for the United States.

But the Cuban news reports didn’t say anything. They continue talking about other countries in crisis, those which everyone wants to leave for and from which no one is returning.

While I do my household bills and I see that I’m short, the deserters have other concerns about getting residency in places in crisis where there’s no problem about the price of soap.


10 thoughts on “Countries in Crisis and the Price of Soap

  • Lawrence, as stated by ex-President Bill Clinton so eloquently in his convention speech this past week, “if you are betting AGAINST the US, you are going to lose your money”. In the last 200 years, time and again, haters like you have looked at the numbers and predicted the downfall of the “Empire”. Hitler did it, Kruschev did it, and now you. Each time, the US has suffered economic setback, we have emerged stronger and more powerful.

  • In fact, US GDP has grown since the financial crisis:

    2008: GDP = $14.22 trillion
    2009: GDP = $13.86 trillion
    2011: GDP $15.1 trillion

    Of course the US & Europe are affected by world economic conditions. Nobody suggested otherwise. US unemployment is still very bad. Officially over 8%, the real rate, if one included those who have stopped looking for work, is about 15%. The labor force participation rate is now the lowest since 1981. Clearly, Obama’s economic policies are not working.

    The tourism industry is keeping the Cuban economy alive, for now. What happens if/when the Eurozone crisis gets worse? Spain is already experiencing capital flight as their banking crisis gets closer to the brink. If Spain becomes the next Greece and defaults on their sovereign debt, it will trigger a new recession in Europe. That will cause a drop in tourism to Cuba.

    The Cuban unemployment rate in 2010 (last year with published information) was 2%. The estimated rate in 2011 was 1.7%.

    There is a lot of underemployment or idle employment. With average salaries at such a low level, $18 per month, and paid by the state, it makes no difference to the national budget to lay somebody off and pay them welfare.

  • By way of comparison:

    College undergraduates in the US from the class of 2010 on average left school with $25,250 in student loan debt

    Cuban student debt: 0

    The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 49.9 million residents, 16.3% of the population, were uninsured in 2010 – and it’s increasing: – up from 49.0 million residents, 16.1% of the population, in 2009

    Current US unemployment rate: 9%

    Cuban unemployment rate: 0

    And the capitalist countries have been unable to stop the economic slide that started five years ago, in 2007.

    It is the US that “cannot isolate itself from the economic winds blowing through the capitalist economies.”

  • ‘Moses’ writes, hard times stories Americans tell “only represent a minority of Americans. MOST Americans live comfortably.” Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

    Unfortunately, ‘Moses’ has crossed the line from writing more or less honest propaganda to outright lies. We must keep in mind, however, where he comes from. In perhaps an unguarded moment he wrote about going out for an evening on the town in San Francisco and spending $200 for dinner as if it was a common occurrence for him. No big deal. If ‘Moses’ is ‘real’, how would he know how most Americans live? If he’s not lying, he’s at best an unreliable source of information.

    The stories ‘Okasis’ tells are more typical of the ones I hear when I’m in the US. Last week I entertained an American who came to Toronto for a visit. She is university trained, living in Florida with her husband. They have two incomes, or would have if they could find steady employment. They have no health insurance. She told me about how she and her husband spent an evening recently wrapping loose change they had accumulated in a bowl over months to take to the bank as they were short of money.

    To paraphrase ‘Moses’, “What [‘Moses’ is] failing to understand is that in [the US], ROUGH TIMES are the norm!”

    ‘Moses’ feels” lack of shaving cream or cologne or sometimes even toothpaste” makes for hard times, not lack of health care, education, a job, or a place to live. Really???

    ‘Moses writes he knows “regular Cubans who eat a bread roll and cafecito for breakfast, buy a cheese pizza on the street for lunch, and rice, boniato, and beans for dinner every day.” and “maybe once a week they throw in an egg for breakfast and a piece of chicken for dinner”, without realizing how incredibly more nutritious that is than the typical American diet.

    Morbidly obese people hit you in the eye when you travel to the US, even more so than in Canada. ‘Morbidly obese’ is a medical definition. Anyone of normal height that is over 300 lbs, or 136 kg is morbidly obese. Most poignantly, you see it in the US in young people – younger than 13. They are everywhere.

    It’s the result of the incessant merchandising of junk food. Capitalism has no values or shame in this regard. Shortly after returning from Cuba last spring, I was in downtown Toronto, on a busy corner where corporate hucksters like to promote their junk. A young woman was giving away free samples of Pringles potato chips.

    You can buy Pringles in Cuba, at CUC stores, but no one is relentlessly pushing them in your face, giving them away, hoping to addict you to them. Pringles, without question – but who knows, ‘Moses’ may deny it, as he denies most rational things – is totally junk food. To encourage people to buy them in downtown Toronto was an act of promoting unhealthy eating. Yet this is business as usual in a capitalist society.

    I would not have had the same perspective if I had not just recently returned from Cuba.

    ‘Moses’ writes that “on your son’s worst days he is still much better off than the average Cuban.” Capitalism regularly appeals to unthinking gut emotionalism. “Just do it” as the infamous Nike shoe commercial put it. He is counting on you not thinking about what happens when you get sick, are unemployed, can’t find an affordable place to live.

    ‘Moses’, “manger ma merde”.

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