Countries in Crisis and the Price of Soap

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”.

  • I live in Malaga Spain, and I saw Cuban refugeeon strike asking the Spanish goverment for free accommodation, a salary and they say their treatment was worse than in castro dictatorship ,these people were cheated by capitalist propaganda, the actual fact is that million of Spanish people have to decide between paying the water bill and eletricity bill or eating every day, every da more than 500 people become homeless, don’t blelieve in the lies of capitaslim, in muy humble opinion fight for a more democratic socialism, but you should understand that capitalism is hunger and misery for the majority

  • Moses,
    I never said we were ‘poor’, I said we were broke – and there is a big difference! As for how well off everyone in the US is, maybe you should visit some of the working-class and more run down neighborhoods where you live.

    Ever go grocery shopping on the 1st of the month? The people who just received their Food Stamps and WIC allotments are so numerous the lines are twice as long as they are the last 2 weeks of the month.

    You should try it sometime, and then you can glare at all those free-loaders in disapproval, like so many others do. I read many letters to the Editor about what is in their grocery carts, and how extravagant they are. But I am certain those letters cannot all be written by you.

    You and I belong to the most fortunate generation in the history of the US. We got the advantage of all the New Deal programs, and educational opportunities. Plus, the economy was booming. I was an Engineer, as was my husband. Even as a woman in the ’60s working in a ‘man’s’ profession, and being paid half to a third less than my male counterparts for the same work, I still had the advantage of rising wages and great benefits.

    Not only that, but we’ll probably check-out before it all goes to Sh-t. College Graduates in the US today owe more in school loans than I earned in 20 years. And, they have half the education I got. Then there is the endless war – it seems like a new one every month. Or Global Warming, and unsafe Nuclear Plants, and unsafe roads and bridges. The list seems endless, just pick your favorite nightmares.

    People under 50 are going to have it 10 times tougher than I ever did. I don’t think it matters where you live, btw. The Global Economy and ‘Just in Time’ Global Trade is in trouble. The money system is failing everyone but the Plutocrats. Jobs are vanishing everywhere – even China is posting economic losses.

    I am very optimistic about the future for myself and my children. I am also very glad that I have NO Grand Children. We are leaving future generations one lousy World to try and repair. How they will manage, I have no idea, but I do think Socialism has a much greater potential than Capitalism.

  • The stories you tell are real I am sure buy only represent a minority of Americans. MOST Americans live comfortably. Those who have lost jobs are having a rough time but as yet it is not the norm. What you are failing to understand is that in Cuba, ROUGH TIMES are the norm! Only a few Cubans live without a daily worry about how to buy food for that day. Most Cubans do not buy in a year what your sons during hard times are able to buy in a month. I know 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. OK, maybe once a week they throw in an egg for breakfast and a piece of chicken for dinner. New shoes? Jamas! Bucanero or Crystal beer? Only when I come to Cuba. They can’t afford clothes or shaving cream or cologne or sometimes even tootpaste. You can not compare the two countries. It is much, much harder there. Here is the difference: in Cuba, just about everyone you know lives like you do. You know you are poor but you have lots of company. The Miramar, Santa Fe crowd pretty much keeps to themselves so they don’t count. Poor Cubans don’t feel as poor as Americans do because whereever we go we are bombarded by images of wealth and good-living. The US is a tough place to be if you are broke. But the fact is, on your son’s worst days he is still much better off than the average Cuban.

  • Everything is relative.

    My youngest son is unemployed. He is paying $350 per month to continue his Medical Insurance for at lest 6 months. That is 25% of his unemployment. He cannot afford to drop it, as he has some health problems that need treatment NOW. His rent is $550. He drives a 20 year old Honda, and has no other assets. He’s not yet 50, has no pension plan, no IRA, and no real assets. You can do the math, if he is not re-employed somewhere soon, he will be sleeping on a relatives couch.

    My oldest son is closer to 60, and has been disabled from a work injury since he was 35. He gets $200 a month state disability, plus the cost of medical treatment. So far he has had 4 major surgeries, and will undoubtedly need another one before he is old enough for get Medicare. If his wife didn’t work ALL the time, or is she’d left him when he was injured, he would be sleeping on my couch.

    This is life at large in the good old USA for college educated, so-called ‘Middle Class’ people. Nothing either new or strange. It’s actually very similar to the financial situation I grew up in and lived in all my life.

    The difference is that when I was younger, education was affordable, especially if you lived at home. Jobs were plentiful, and they usually involved a good, guaranteed retirement program, plus good Health Insurance, and excellent disability insurance if you ran out of sick leave. I know this, because I spent a year on disability, and in and out of the hospital with multiple surgeries when I was 30. The insurance was enough to pay the basic bills, and keep a roof over our heads.

    Another difference, and it gets to the heart of the matter is that in the ’50s, ’60’s and ’70s, we believed that everything was possible. All we had to do was work hard, educate our children, and they could live good secure lives too.

    Then we elected Ronald Reagan, and the American Dream went on life support. He broke the Unions when he fired the Air Controllers; raised taxes of the working class, and cut them for the wealthy; and instituted ‘Trickle Down Economics’. They are still pissing on my head, but that is about all that has trickled down!

    If my oldest boy had become rich and famous as an actor, which he was well on his way to doing before he broke his hip, he’d be just another Celebrity today. Oops! Too Bad!

    If NASL [North American Soccer League had not gone bankrupt in the early ’80s, my youngest might be a famous retired midfielder, and coaching a pro-team today.

    And, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. That freely translates as ‘Lose a few, lose a few.

    If, you have the skills to play Major League Baseball, by all means, emigrate. All you have to do to take advantage of the ‘dry-foot policy’ for Cubans only, is sign away your Cuban Birthright and pledge allegiance to the US. That’s similar to what Esau did back in Biblical times, and most of us know how that turned out. I think he got a bowl of pottage.

    My electricity costs over $200 a month, and is metered. I have Medicare, but I pay an additional $130 a month for Medical Coverage, plus $15 to see a doctor, and $10 for ‘covered prescriptions’. We too have no reliable public transportation, so I pay $4.50 a gallon for gas for my car, plus all the maintenance, insurance, etc. It’s 9 years old, so I not buying a new Cadillac every year, either. Soap? anywhere from $2 to $7 a bar, and that’s CUC, not pesos.

    I am lucky, I am old enough I have a Union ‘Fixed Benefit’ Pension plus Social Security. It is not taxed as income in Hawaii, but is by the Feds. That means I won’t see my pension vanish as many younger people have and will. But, it sure won’t get bigger either.

    The grass is always greener in the neighbors yard. That’s usually because he spreads more BS. That goes for many of the Cuban emigrants, as well. At this point what can they do but brag about how good life is. They cannot very well whine to you when their kid loses his job and moves back in with a wife and 3 kids…

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