HAVANA TIMES — “I don’t care how bad things in Spain are. I’m not going back to Cuba, there’s no future for me there,” a Cuban woman said to me in Barcelona, where she has lived for the last 10 years. She has been working as a house cleaner since arriving in Spain and does not pay social security taxes (which means she also won’t be entitled to a pension).
A friend of mine who has a prosperous business on the island has also decided to emigrate, “because there’s no future for my children in Cuba.” He has two teenage sons whose US college tuitions he will not likely be able to afford.
Practically everyone who decides to leave the country repeats this ready-made phrase, even though it is far from accurate, as there’s a future for everyone everywhere. The days ahead of us may be better or worse, but they still await us, even after death, when we turn to dust.
Politicians promise common folk a better future everywhere in the world. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, for instance, promises she will continue to reduce poverty and unemployment, broaden medical coverage and build hundreds of thousands of homes. She offers people hope.
In Cuba, however, the future is uncertain. Nearly no one knows where the country is heading and many fear a regression to the times of Soviet-styled socialism. No few of Cuba’s self-employed have told me they have set up their business now to “take advantage of the situation while it lasts.”
Cubans move forward without knowing their final destination, experiencing agreeable moments in which doors begin to open and absurd prohibitions are eliminated, and bitter ones, in which restrictions as irrational as those recently applied to private 3D home theaters are imposed on them.
As though this toing-and-froing weren’t enough, the government makes a point of repeating, time and time again, that the country isn’t undergoing reforms but a simple “updating” of its economic model. Ironically, Miami backs this assertion, saying that these are mere cosmetic changes.
However, and no matter how much people on either end try to conceal this, some root structures have been changed, such as substituting radical egalitarianism with a formula that consists in giving all citizens the same opportunities while allowing for different levels of income.
With the authorization of self-employment, a type of employment which already accounts for half a million Cubans, Cuba tacitly acknowledged the legitimacy of private control over the means of production (even though it continues to be restricted to small-scale properties).
This includes the possibility of hiring personnel, something which legalizes the operation of small companies in some production and services sectors. To facilitate the process, new businesses do not pay any taxes for the first 5 employees they hire.
The concept of “proletarian internationalism”, through which Cuba aided other countries free of charge, has been transformed into “South-South” cooperation and has become the country’s main source of hard currency revenue, securing incomes above those brought in by remittances, tourism and nickel exports combined.
The opening of the borders has a conceptual scope that goes beyond the mere simplification of migratory procedures. It is an acknowledgement of Cubans’ right to travel and emigrate on behalf of the Cuban State.
It isn’t hard to see the changes that have taken place and it may be possible to discern those on the horizon, but the fact is that no one knows for certain what kind of society the Cuban government seeks to build.
Young people don’t know whether they will be permitted to travel more than their parents were, new businesspeople don’t know how much they’ll be permitted to grow and workers are unaware as to how much longer they will be expected to live on measly salaries and the elderly on their miniscule pensions.
After a decades-long standstill, the train has suddenly been set in motion again and is now making slow progress down the rails. The citizens, sitting inside the wagons, watch the stations go by but very few know for certain where they are heading.
This uncertainty is what makes many Cubans think that neither they nor their children will have any future in their country. It is what drives many to leave the country in search of a train with a clearly-defined destination, even if that involves cleaning houses for a living.