By Ronald Quinones
HAVANA TIMES – Carmen Rosa works at a hotel in Havana, or she did at least until COVID-19 made its way to Cuba. Even though she hasn’t officially left the hotel’s staff, which her managers have assured her, the reality is that she isn’t working today.
When the hotel shut down because of a lack of tourists, the majority of employees were relocated to other jobs, or sent home because they have a health condition.
This is her case, she has asthma and can’t be exposed to the possibility of becoming infected by the deadly virus, by doing the hotel’s work out on the street. Almost all of the men are currently doing renovation works, but she hasn’t got the skills for this, plus her health condition stops her from being anywhere near dust, which is produced by pretty much all of this work.
Gerardo is an employee at a Bureau de Change (known as CADECA), also in the capital, and has also been left without work after services were reorganized by his company, which has also been affected by the almost zero entry of tourists.
He doesn’t have a health condition stopping him, but when he went to look for work at the bank he was sent to, they claimed that they didn’t have any positions for new employees, so he is also on standby.
These are just two examples of the perhaps hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have been affected by the pandemic, such as the millions in other countries who have lost their jobs and live off, or barely live off, social benefits.
It’s true that the majority of Cubans are receiving 60% of their wage, which is a great expense for the State as it means supporting people who aren’t contributing (like we’ve covered in a previous article), but have lost their wage in terms of lunches and bonuses in CUC (hard currency), which is essentially why their jobs are so coveted among the Cuban population.
Even with this income, this wage isn’t enough to cover many basic needs – just like it doesn’t for any Cuban living off a state wage -, but cuts in the current situation make the situation even worse.
Neither Carmen Rosa nor Gerardo are the sole breadwinners in their respective households, but it has affected other families in which the only breadwinner (especially single mothers), and their situation right now is a great cause for concern.
Even products that are being distributed via the rations booklet in these circumstances are mostly being sold at market prices, and not the subsidized rate like the rest, which has made the basic food basket a lot more expensive.
The time will come when hygiene products and rations of chicken, which are also included, become impossible to afford for some people, if they don’t get their working wage back.
If the pandemic isn’t controlled soon (and there aren’t any signs of this happening), the State won’t be able to take on the burden of these cut wages, plus subsidized electricity prices, transport and supplies for hospitals and care for the sick, as well as other expenses I detailed in the previous article.
Right now, lines at many stores are a pain, but at least that means there are still products in stock. The time will come when this also ends because the majority of products being sold at our stores are imported from abroad, and this is a global crisis.
The government’s constant appeal to produce more (which has been going on forever by the way) won’t resolve food supplies for a country with an agricultural sector that has never managed to become self-sufficient; much less its livestock sector.
I don’t mean to be so pessimistic, it’s just clear that the horizon isn’t looking too bright right now, and it might even be a ticking social bomb.
On social media, videos of arguments in lines to buy chicken or toilet paper are going viral, but when these aren’t available, their disappearance might tear at the very fabric of society, which has already been worn thin by so many regular shortages.
According to what I have been able to see in these videos, the police are going over the top, with so many critical situations, and they are sometimes more fired up than citizens themselves, and they even commit abuse.
Looking at things through this lens, we are unfortunately on the brink of a grenade going off at any time now, and we have no idea what the consequences will be.