Looking at Cuba’s Social Spending Cutbacks

with our own spyglass

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban economist Jose Luis Rodriguez has brought a shocking fact to light. In an article by the former Minister of the Economy, originally published by Cubacontemporanea and re-printed by Cubadebate, Rodriguez lays bare several statistical reports on Cuba´s current economic panorama.

One of the most noteworthy figures is the decrease in social assistance spending by 60% and a nearly 67% reduction of the total number of families subsidized through such mechanisms.

I cannot help but bring to mind a song by the Cuban band Buena Fe, Catalejo (“Spyglass”). This piece alludes to the Cuban press’ deeply-rooted habit of criticizing what takes place in distant countries and concealing all local developments that are cause for concern.

Open any issue of Granma daily or its younger siblings at random, and you will most likely come across the most bitter criticisms of the US, Spanish, Greek, Cypriote and many other governments stemming from social cutbacks in those countries.

Coverage on the situation of the poor in those countries, and of the way they have been abandoned by states and societies, is extensive and crowned by bold headlines. Here, on the other hand, we get a mere slice of news, a hidden phrase somewhere, an article published by a medium that has a far more limited scope than Granma.

We must recall that, at the beginning of the 1990s, in view of the economic difficulties looming on the horizon, government authorities repeated ad nauseam that no Cuban family would be left to their own resources. This was perceived as a demonstration of the superiority of a socialist and altruistic society over capitalist and egotistical ones. Evidently, this policy changed. Today’s public rhetoric reaches never-before-seen levels of incoherence. It seems that, what with the storm clouds gathering above, there’s very little else that can be done.

Those affected by these social cutbacks are, obviously, the most vulnerable sectors of Cuban society. They are the ones most severely struck by poverty, by the reduction in rationed and subsidized food quotas – the notorious ration booklet – and by the generalized rise in prices of all goods and services markets. Our Parliament unfolds fabulous plans, points to future projects, speaks of the country’s need to grow, but says very little about these people. The slogan of “prosperous and sustainable” socialism doesn’t quite fit them.

It is often said that subsidizing products is not very productive, for both the needy and the well-off have access to such products. These subsidies, in our country, are in place chiefly for rationed food products and public transportation. An idea that has also gained popularity here is to replace this type of subsidy for one aimed exclusively at those who need it. Judging from what Rodriguez has revealed, they have opted for neither option.

Because of how things are done in this country, the figures above conceal a rather frightful number of very sad stories. Regional government officials receive a plan, on the basis of which they must reduce their budgets by a given percentage, and they have to cut corners wherever they can, because they simply get less money, period.

Social assistance subsidies are assigned to people who are unable to work because of severe health complications, physical or mental, or to people who are in better shape but are devoted solely to meet the overwhelming needs of a relative in such a condition. On no few occasions, journalist Jose Alejandro Rodriguez – not to be confused with the first Rodriguez – has published articles in Juventud Rebelde revealing cases in which pensions for such individuals have been suspended.

If only they had tried to consult how different communities feel about how to distribute what little remains of government resources. But insensitive bureaucratic mechanisms are incapable of respecting such democratic mandates. God forbid that some daring soul demand that what a minister spends on a hotel, a sports institution on an event that isn´t very popular or whatever is being spent on golf courses, be redistributed.

In short, Cuba’s official press will continue to use its spyglass to see what problems the moon, Mars and other far-away places have. Only citizens can turn that spyglass around in order to cast a closer look at our own shameful problems, and do something about them.

Photos: Juan Suarez

9 thoughts on “Looking at Cuba’s Social Spending Cutbacks

  • October 14, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    It’s obvious that no one in the government would dare to cross the Castros by demanding more freedoms and a more representative government. This will continue to be an evolutionary period where progress will be very slow and those who can will leave their beautiful country for greater opportunities. Those who can’t will continue to look like those people pictured in this article.

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