HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 29 — “Next year will be very difficult for all Cubans,” a co-worker said to me, sharing her perspective for the immediate future. “Life is imposing a lot of changes, which is what the Party is saying, but we need them for the better, otherwise we’ll be lost forever.”
“Every year is more difficult than the previous one. When will we reach the end of a December saying that we’ve resolved most of our difficulties, that the next year will be better, that our economic and financial problems will be less severe?” complained another co-worker.
Only a couple days from the end of 2010, there is much concern in Cuban households as to what will happen next year. Not only is the country’s political future at stake, but also its economic and social survival, which will affect everyone – or almost everyone.
The public understands perfectly well the need for many of the economic measures that will be implemented in the next five year period, but this doesn’t keep them from being alarmed.
According to one university professor, “People remain skeptical because while they’ve heard a lot of speeches, they don’t have complete confidence in the government’s ability to solve the problems.”
Wages, the ration book and layoffs
Most citizens have three main concerns: 1) low wages, 2) the gradual elimination of the ration book, which is a necessity for a high percentage of workers; and 3) the reduction of the inflated government payroll, which will force more than 500,000 workers out of the state sector.
In fact, though the food staples that can be bought by the legendary ration book aren’t enough to get through more than two weeks out of any month, most people here completely depend on those products that are sold at highly subsidized prices.
“I’m worried about the elderly mainly, people who live strictly off their retirement checks. What will happen to them without rice, a little sugar or eggs for less than a penny a piece, for example? Many families depend exclusively on these foods to subsist, and that’s no secret to anybody,” said a member of the Young Communist League.
A self-employed bricklayer says that the main problem in our country is the low wages, because pay doesn’t correspond to the work that each person does. “When the country is able to pay to each citizen for they do, according to their capacity, according to their training, and this money is enough to buy food and clothing, as well as to address people’s most urgent needs, when this happens there will be less theft, less corruption and people won’t even remember the ration book,” he explained.
Including or excluding the youth
One social worker believes that the biggest challenge faced by Fidel, Raul and the other historical leaders of the Revolution is to recover the trust of the younger generations. If the youth believe that the leaders will solve the current economic problems and that they will have a brighter future, where their ideas and opinions are heard, perhaps the professional brain drain will decrease and more of us will stay to work for a better Cuba.
According to a foreign friend of mine, “Cuba has endless potential; there’s so much human capacity here. However, if the ideas and initiatives of the youth are crushed or ignored, it’s like annihilating the generation, and to do this would be to also kill the Revolution. Now is the time to learn from the errors and to promote true ongoing citizen participation, not just calling meetings related to a given crisis caused by the errors of the leaders themselves.”
Will the unemployed be protected?
In President Raul Castro’s own words, no one will be “abandoned.” But how can we understand such a claim when a half million Cubans are about to get the boot. It’s difficult for parents to internalize those words when they — by themselves — will have to look for work.
Ana Maria, a young housewife, said she hopes what Raul expressed is realized, but she’s worried that when they put into practice the law of supply and demand, the cost of people’s basic necessities will become excessive — even “abusive” — especially because they have no right to protest or complain.
There is a common saying in our country that Cubans either don’t reach their objective or they over do it. Up to now the government has controlled everything, to such a degree that we can say no one owns a house, a car or anything else; the government owns everything. Now they want to take off so much of the load that they won’t intervene between the “individual-individual” dealings. We need that opening to work for the good, especially for those at the bottom, those of us who are suffering the consequences of mistakes and arbitrary actions.
In Guantanamo for example, several owners of private cars have already put into practice the law of supply and demand, and as a result the fares have doubled while the wages remain the same. So, where does that leave me?
We Cubans need our socialist model to work better. We need our ideas, proposals and suggestions to be heard. Everyone, or almost everyone, who lives on the island wants the country to “rise up” with our own solutions. We must all contribute, each according to their ability and their work, so that we can have a better future for our children, a future where everyone counts.