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

  • October 27, 2012 at 6:51 am

    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.

  • October 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    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.

  • October 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    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.

  • October 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    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…

  • October 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

    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.

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