Difficult Times

Luis Miguel del Bahia

Classroom in Santiago de Cuba. Photo: flikr.com

HAVANA TIMES — My girlfriend is a teacher. She earns 500 pesos (22 USD) and her salary is never enough. Her mother has to help the best she can.

In August, she ran out of money near the first of the month. We survived by selling things.

We eat very modestly: rice, eggs, beans, and hotdogs when we have more money. We spent about a week wolfing these things down: eggs, white rice, and sometimes boiled potatoes.

We have a child in the house, but we don’t know if or how he’s growing, given his poor diet. He’s super skinny.

Much is said about Africa and capitalism, but what about us, what about our children? The Cuban state can’t expect a person to live on that miserable salary.

She can’t “hustle” in the street, nor does she want to. She hopes to earn a decent living. But it seems that “werewolf values” aren’t restricted to life under capitalism.

We looked at stands where they sell things in hard currency. The prices aren’t affordable to us.

Why do the most essential things, like milk, cost so much.

The revolution was for the poor, but the truth is that today the only ones who can have full stomachs are those with the wealth.

She works eight hours a day, some Saturdays, educating the future generation. Meanwhile, others hustle and live a luxury life.

Is that social justice? “Down with Batista the murderer” isn’t only applicable to him.


Luis Miguel del Bahia

Luis Miguel del Bahia: I am not from anywhere – I am born only of Being, or so I seek to be. In truth, I was born in Havana’s neighborhood of Bahia in the year 1989. When I reached adolescence, I felt I didn’t fit in here and managed to leave for Spain. Working at a factory, I came to understand what capitalism was and that I didn’t want it for the rest of my life. I decided to return to the neighborhood, where I currently work as a computer programmer. From time to time, I open a philosophy book to try and understand the System.

13 thoughts on “Difficult Times

  • Addressing point by point:

    RE: discussing “the situation in Cuba not Canada”

    Propaganda, by definition, is telling a one-sided story. I can, for instance, paint an absolutely horrid picture of Canada by writing about everything I can think of that is negative here, and by using whatever anybody writes as an excuse for emphasising these negative elements. If I did this, I would have an obvious agenda – to foment unrest amongst my fellow citizens and to encourage them to bring about regime change, peacefully or violently.

    Although the negative elements I wrote about would be true, the overall picture I presented would not be an accurate one. The only way a reader would know this, would be to compare it to a real world picture, typically one they know from living in their own country.

    Thus, for the propaganda to work, propagandists have the task of trying to suppress information derived from outside perspectives. They do this by claiming you are off-topic when you introduce it, and by writing, “Lawrence, you don’t seem to understand that most people enter this site to discuss the situation in Cuba not Canada.”

    RE: seeing Cuba “through tourist eyes and a tourist budget”.

    I’ve written a number of times about how I stay off the tourist track. My wife and I have travelled and lived extensively throughout the world and are quite expert at doing this. With the large Canadian presence in Cuba – visitors, residents and workers in Canadian companies there – I have a big advantage at seeing more ‘inside’ Cuba than an American would, for instance.

    Resident Canadians have given me access to natives who are not hesitant about airing their complaints about what they would like changed, as much so, perhaps more, than Cubans who do not interact with gringo Canadians.

    I feel there is not much I have not seen or heard there, the good, the bad and the ugly, as in all countries. My view of Cuba, Cubans and their government is a mosaic of my experiences there. I think I’ve heard most, if not all of the complaints, expressed openly in private conversations and in the famous Cuban ‘sideways glance’ in public places.

    Obviously, I’m not a long-time resident myself in Cuba. My travels have taught me there is a line between being in a country for too short a time to get to really know it, and too long, where the ‘forest disappears amongst the tree’ – that is, you lose your overall perspective about where you are living. Many writers on the HT website, like the current one, seem to fall into the latter category.

    RE: spending “more in a day than most Cuban professionals make in a month” for “legal housing in Cuba”.

    It’s unclear what you are referring to. According to HT, “legal housing” refers to reforms put in place last year by Raul, where Cubans can buy, sell, or donate their home,s with the ban on owning more than two houses remaining in place. This was not allowed previously to prevent speculation that drives up prices.

    According to HT, the changes were expected to have long-term adverse effects – “the loss of the current social mix that exists in neighborhoods, where for decades the relatively rich and the poor have lived side by side.”

    Also it was “expected that the new law will gradually produce mass relocation, where more resourceful Cubans will buy the biggest houses in the best areas while lower-income families will try to economize and look for housing away from the city center.”

    You will make no headway arguing your point with Torontonians who are undergoing another massive housing speculation period that makes real-estate developers wealthy and housing in the city unaffordable for most Canadian families.

    The last time this happened, a progressive mayor put in rent controls, but this was dismantled over time. It’s typical of capitalism – sooner or later they always are successful in clawing back laws that protect the 99%.

    RE: “Salaries that can’t even feed people adequately, let alone dress, and cramped, dilapidated housing”.

    There’s nothing unusual here for the working poor in my country and yours. We have more social safety nets in Canada but of course Cuba has the biggest one. Everyone understands they need to supplement their government incomes to get by but no one is hanging on by a thread as they do in your country.

    I did volunteer work for the Anglican Food Mission for a year, giving food donations to families that could not feed themselves. I met many of these people. Believe me, there’s nothing like this in Cuba.

    RE: blaming “the [blockade] on all”.

    No, not all, but think about what lifting it would bring. No one disagrees with the immense difference it would make for the well being of the Cuban people. If you really cared about them you would focus on this, something YOU, as an American can do. Instead, you just insist on relating your one-sided story over and over again.

    And I will continue writing about Canada to offer a perspective.

  • Lawrence, you don’t seem to understand that most people enter this site to discuss the situation in Cuba not Canada. That said, seeing a country, any country, through tourist eyes and a tourist budget can make a big difference. You fit well into that category. If you are using legal housing in Cuba you spend more in a day than most Cuban professionals make in a month. Digest that a bit. Salaries that can’t even feed people adequately, let alone dress, and cramped, dilapidated housing, are some of the real problems the smiling tourist often seems to miss. Of course you blame the embargo on all that, but not everyone agrees.

  • RE: “America has never promised that everyone would succeed, only that everyone would have a fair chance to do so.”

    It’s certainly a crap shoot in the US, and like all gambling, the odds are stacked against you and most end up in the 99% basket – worse off than they would be if they lived in a country with a social safety net. That’s what “America has never promised” – you a rose garden? means. Sounds a lot like the small print on the bottom of a shyster contract.

    Re: the “setbacks” on having a “fair chance” of success.”

    ‘Setbacks’ include having the best political candidates that money can buy, higher education only the well off can afford, first class health care that people like the Shah of Iran can afford but not US citizens (remind me to tell that story some time), public transportation only the poor would take and bonuses for the bankers and Wall St folks who brought on the worldwide meltdown.

    RE: “I believe that you admire Cubans because you really don’t know what life is like in Cuba.”

    You mean if ‘jerzy’ knows what life is like in Cuba he won’t admire Cubans? As I just wrote elsewhere, that’s not Canadians’ experience when they go to Cuba.

    Of course, ‘jerzy’ is denied knowing what Cubans are like and what their life is like because the US won’t let him travel there. Actually, a penny just dropped for me, as the saying goes. I’ve been thinking the US travel ban was solely to deprive Cubans of tourist dollars in order to cause economic hardship for the Cuban people, to encourage them to rebel against their government.

    But their’s another equally plausible reason. If Canadians universally fall in love with Cuba and Cubans when they visit there – 60% of tourists are Canadian – no matter what government Cubans have, then it’s likely the US government is trying to prevent its citizens from having the same feelings and love affair.

    RE: Your famous TV wife only getting paid what everyone else gets paid in Cuba and having to live on it, forced to wear “her own clothes on national TV”! Shock, horror. And having to pay for her own transportation, like non-famous people do! Ech! Having “to find a taxi on dark Cuban streets”! How dangerous! Actually, not, at least anywhere I’ve been in Cuba after dark in the wee small hours.

    You see, Cuba is just not that dangerous a place to be at night, even in Havana, as the guidebooks tell you. In North America, big cities are equated with danger. Canadians jokingly refer to the low crime rate in Cuba as one of the advantages of having a police state, but I saw less cops on the street than I see in Toronto.

    And my city has just decided to put even more cops’ boots on the street due to a couple of recent high-profile incidents. Capitalist societies habitually favour using force against its citizens over understanding – for obvious reasons – understanding what capitalism really means – the well-being of the few at the expense of the many – would be its death knell.

    Less and less people in Canada, I think, are enamoured of the rich and famous, thinking sports figures, media personalities like your wife and entertainment people deserve more than what everyone makes, let alone the six and seven-figure salaries they shockingly command.

    I must admit ‘Moses’, you are doing a very good job at selling socialism.

    There’s a very real and significant distinction between being able to criticise your President and writing a thinly-disguised call for the violent overthrow of your government as is written here. I am somewhat shocked that you missed this, coming from a country that ostensibly is opposed to fomenting violent overthrows of governments.

    Well, actually only shocked if I ignore the numerous examples to the contrary. But they were all ‘bad guys’, right? Well, there was Allende, and a number of others – actually a lot of others. Oh, I see.

    Canadians, for far less reasons, find themselves on no-fly lists and worse, renditioned to Syria – when Syria was a US good buddy that is – as with the notorious case of Maher Arar, with Canadian government complicity.

    Arar has been totally exonerated, the Candian governemt has apologised for its role and compensated Arar to the tune of $10 million but he still remains on the US no-fly list.

    It seems no-fly lists in your country are like economic blockades – they just go on and on without apparent justification or reason, unless it’s just to see how unpopular you can become in the world’s eyes, keeping in mind every country in the UN has condemned the blockade – save the US and Israel, of course.

    You write that “No thinking person believes” the lack of freedoms Cubans have compares “to the circumstances in the US.”

    Just wondering what those circumstances are – having the freedom to live on the street, have no hope of employment, lose all you have – declaring personal bankruptcy – to pay medical bills, drop out of school due to not being able to afford tuition fees, and lots more.

    By god, now that I look at it, Americans sure do have a lot of ‘freedoms’ – none that anyone in their own right mind would want, however.

    On the evidence at hand, you seem to have omitted “non” in front of your “thinking person reference.

  • I once took a cab from LA Airport. The driver spoke good English with an accent. He told me he emigrated from Russia and I asked him how he found it living in the US. Canadians, at least the 35 million of us that have decided they would rather live in Canada, always wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to emigrate to the US – well, okay, there are a couple of deep winter months when we start to think twice about it but spring arrives and we quickly return to our senses. [smiling].

    Well, my question opened up a floodgate. For the entire ride, my ears were filled with a litany of complaints about what was wrong in his new country – things he took for granted in Russia – the same things Cubans take for granted – health care, education for his kids, guaranteed housing, etc, etc. I’ve also heard the same perspective from people who emigrated to Canada from ex-Soviet bloc countries although at least we have a universal health care system.

    With the latest immigration reforms just announced, allowing Cubans who emigrated illegally to return, it sounds like the government is calling the bluff of US propagandists who woo its citizens away with preferential treatment. An option for expatriates when the dream fantasy turns sour…

  • Luis Miguel,

    I can only second what Grady wrote. Your last sentence seems to be an ill-disguised call for the violent overthrow of your government. No mainstream media in my country, or any non-mainstream media, for that matter, would ever dare carry anything like this. But perhaps the Cuban government is more tolerant than its detractors give it credit for.

    Your short article has been titled “Difficult Times”. That may be appropriate. Traditionally, those who struggle to get by call it ‘hard times’. My experience in Cuba, and I’ve talked about it a lot with Canadians, both here and in Cuba, is that, while on the surface people seem poor, no one is starving, few are begging on the street, there are no ‘street people’ – the homeless, crime and drug use is minimal relative to here, and there are nor long lines at unemployment offices.

    Doctors and nurses are seen EVERYWHERE. My favourite picture that went by before I could get my camera out was two nurses in white caps on a bike, one pedalling, the other riding on back – on their way to or from work.

    Another favourite picture, also seen everywhere, were children in school uniforms going to school in the morning and coming home in the afternoon. The only children I’ve seen in other Latin American countries I’ve visited have been begging in the street for pesos or selling one-peso packets of chiclets. Where I live, in Toronto, children are driven or walked to school due to fear they will be assaulted by paedophiles. How healthy is that?

    NO Canadian I have ever talked to feels anything but good about what they see after visiting Cuba. They recognise the general lack of money that makes it necessary to find ways to make ends meet other than what you get from a government salary – difficult times perhaps, but not hard times.

    As the world economy continues to tank and countries like Canada, relatively unaffected up to now, are starting to feel its effects – a forecast for tougher times just came out here this week – I think it might be best to start putting your difficult times in perspective to the hard times more and more people are encountering in their country. And that’s the god’s honest truth.

  • “America has never promised that everyone would succeed, only that everyone would have a fair chance to do so.”

    My ‘friend’, the most illusioned people here is you. You talk about a Cuban utopia that doesn’t exist as if the American dream wasn’t a myth.

    You talk about a ‘fair chance’ but some immigrants – Cubans for example – have more chances than others because of the Cuban Adjustment Act. While Mexicans are hunted down like pigs.

  • I am sorry to hear that you are disillusioned. There are millions of immigrants like you who have equally fared much better than you as well. America has never promised that everyone would succeed, only that everyone would have a fair chance to do so. Even on that promise there have been setbacks. However, from your story it does not sound like you were denied an opportunity by the color of your skin or who you chose to love. However, only you know if you had a fair shot. I believe that you admire Cubans because you really don´t know what life is like in Cuba. My wife was among the most recognized faces on TV in Cuba and yet she could not live on her salary. She wore her own clothes on national TV each day as there was no wardrobe budget. After budget cutbacks eliminated transportation for her at 4:30am, she had to find a taxi on dark Cuban streets just to get to the station. As there were no buses at that hour she spend more than her monthly salary just on taxi fare. I think you are well to imagine a utopian Cuba but that utopia does not exist.

  • I hear you on everything you’ve said, jerzy. I live in Santa Monica, California, which is a relatively nice part of the enormous Los Angeles area. The Audi and BMW dealerships are selling high-end cars constantly, while working people here and all over live hand-to-mouth and exist only to serve those on the top of the heap, especially the landlords.

    L.A. and the whole US is a land of tenement serfs, homeless wretches, arrogant drivers putting on airs, and pablum b.s. everywhere one looks. And yet, there are people who post comments to HT articles who spin the lie that capitalism works and is a glorious system.

    Thank you for stating the real truth of the American dream, that it is a phony illusion and more of a nightmare. I fear however that Cubans will never appreciate what they have, until they lose it.

  • “Things are tough all over, so don’t think Cubans have a monopoly on rough times.”

    I have observed that some Cubans like Luis have the EXACT same psychological issue as I do: compensatory self-pity. We sweat, sacrifice many opportunities to have fun to focus on study, and study hard, through a merciless college course and in the end… get nothing. Or very little. I myself am a highly qualified engineer but have no job – I live off my parents, have no girl much less the blessing of a child. So we feel we deserve more. We all do, in some way – a peasant or a trash collector can work hard, harder than anyone, and still stay in poverty through his whole life. And that’s usually what happens. That’s why I believe that meritocracy is a myth.

    I admit that I live a comfortable material life, with some luxuries like quality booze, but it’s only because I was lucky enough to have been born in a middle-class family and not in the gutter.

    Of course, I won’t compare the material conditions of Brazil and Cuba because that would be stupid, since Brazil has much more natural resources than Cuba and has had plenty of time to build a rather advanced and diversified industry. My country has advanced in the past decade regarding both the economy and wealth distribution. But I wonder how long this will last since this development was based upon structuralist economics which have serious long-term faults… the misapplication of this doctrine during the military dictatorship led to the ‘lost decade’ of the 80’s which produced the most unequal country in the world, with pockets of great wealth immersed in a sea of human misery.

  • Isn’t racism a crime in your country? Because here in Brazil it is. I’m surprised to hear you, who says is African-American, sees normality upon classifying people as second class citizens. This Barbara has committed a serious offense and I wouldn’t be neither surprised or ultraged if she eventually gets sued. Isn’t it that what you folks do? Sue everybody for anything?

  • Luis … chill down. Until you mentioned Cuba I thought you were referring to USA. Now please hold your breath and pay very close attention cose what I’m about to say here comes from the richest and oppressed by no one country. I migrated to US 30 years ago. I believed in capitalism like there’s no tomorrow. For years I was handling at least 2 to 3 jobs to move ahead. I never had life that I desired. Always stressed and overworked. I even hated the idea of “vacation” cose this is the time when you spend too much, earn nothing and by the time you’re done with your “vacation” my bills were piling up but no money to pay. And I’m not talking anything extravagant – just regular monthly bills which on a bare budget one needs to spent about $2500 every month. I didn’t come to US to work for company for their minimum wage. I worked my ass out in true no mercy capitalism cose I believed that if you work hard enough you get somewhere getting ahead of those “easy sopita” government or corporation workers. I was paying Mexican doctors to take care of me because I couldn’t afford simple medical insurance. Yes I could afford buy a new car after 10 years of hard work but by the time I paid for that car the interest accumulated twice as much that car was actually sold to me and after 5 years of using it it was practically junk. After that experience I started to work even harder. I hardly had a woman with me cose I was always on the get-go. That blew my family desires. So I invested in a house that I luckily sold with some profit few years later but by then our yo-yo economy plunged into another recession/depression. I say lucky because many people were not able to sell theirs and they became homeless with hundreds of thousands of debts on on their families. Within first 3 years I lost all my money I ever earned and saved, my teeth and health deteriorated to alarming decay but couldn’t afford mexican doctors any more. I rented cheaper and cheaper apartments and ended up in one room. I don’t receive so called “benefits” – so no medical, no unemployment, no support of any kind. But at least I learned every day about our military victories in other poor countries! Hundreds of thousands people killed were supposed to keep up my patriotic mood up. Last 3 years I save on food just like you do. I buy cheapest food I didn’t even know existed. There are times I have no food at all. I used my credit cards to buy food so bank made adjustment in my APR and now I pay 30% of interest and can’t pay even minimum. I dream about work like you dream about vacation. For last 5 years I live “american nightmare” struggling to understand – WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?!? I lost my life – I’m 56 years old and no retirement “egg nest”, no job ,no place of my own, no family, and no perspective of any kind for the future. Instead I have ginormous debts, rotting teeth, broken back and I’m getting old. And you know who’s complaining most about socialism in US? the very people that work for corporations, government etc. They have medical insurance,paid vacations, retirement options and so on. I’ve chosen capitalism because I thought I could.. now I know better. But you know what? I’m not alone here. There’s millions of homeless families as broke as I am or even worse. theres thousands of people who committed suicide and killed their families cose they couldn’t stand humiliation and being robbed of their life commitments , savings and believes. And get this: This country was never under any embargo, blockade or any other sanctions. In opposite we are busy killing people in poor countries. Wanna know what I admire today? Cubans! The CUBANS! Cubans from Cuba. Because they have chosen not to become anybody’s whore even if they have to pay dearly for that. I love Cubans for bringing freedom to others, I love them for turning oppression into music and dance, I love them for giving love where others seed death. So when next time you choose cheaper bananas – think of me. At least you still have something to chew them with.

  • Do you live in the United States of America? Here in the US, people not only criticize the President anywhere and everywhere, they call him names on the radio http://newsone.com/2021269/barbara-espinosa-obama-monkey/ and worse. Please do not compare the real lack of freedoms Cubans must endure daily to the circumstances in the US just to make your point. No thinking person believes it anyway.

  • Luis, you might want to moderate your language. If you were a citizen of the US, and were to make such an inference against the highest US government official, you might be arrested and charged with a serious federal crime. Don’t be surprised if Cuban officials should take offense at your incendiary language.

    Even so, I sympathize with the plight of all the Cubans who are being squeezed economically by the dysfunctional form of socialism being applied in that country, as well as with the criminal US blockade. Please remember that there are tens-of-millions in the US who are going hungry and are unemployed, more than the entire population of Cuba.

    When I was a kid in Texas many years ago, my divorced, single mother with 6 kids and no child support kept us in government housing, and worked in a factory for minimum wage. We lived primarily on pinto beans, free eggs from Aunt Lucy’s farm and an occasional piece of round steak. Things are tough all over, so don’t think Cubans have a monopoly on rough times.

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