By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – I’ve been waiting for COVID-19-related expenditure for a while now. I was finally given the pleasure this week, when the minister of Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolanos, appeared on TV show Mesa Redonda and informed us about what had been spent due to the pandemic, up until the end of August.
In April, I commented that Cuba could have prevented all of this if it had closed its border in time.
I did the math and we would have spent more in just a month than if we had stopped the virus from entering the island. When the government announced that borders were closing, there were 30,000 tourists on the island. They were distributed between state hotels and private facilities, and if each of them were to spend a thousand dollars (which is a pipe-dream), that would have been 30 million USD that the country would have lost in revenue had they been denied entry.
But it hasn’t been just a month, it’s been six now, and this figure is a joke.
The Financial Cost
According to Bolanos, and I don’t doubt her one bit, the country has spent 991 million pesos up until the end of August, in its fight against the virus. This accounts for COVID-19 test kits, admission of patients and contacts at isolation centers or hospitals. It also includes subsidies for every worker who is at home without contributing to the State. Additionally, the purchase of equipment and reagents for tests, and gasoline for ambulances, food distribution trucks and worker transport.
Let me repeat that figure… 991 million pesos. If the math hasn’t changed, that’s $41.29 million USD, at the official exchange rate. This doesn’t include September, marked by a new outbreak in different regions. Nor does it account for electricity costs, which is also subsidized by the State.
Millions of Cubans are at home consuming electricity, which is unsustainable for the National Grid in the long term. There’s a news report about this every week, and most provinces are already way above the electric use plan.
This is the economic price, but human lives have no price, and we already have 120 people dead, lives that could have been saved had this virus never entered the archipelago. Not to mention the emotional toll with families separated, the psychological price during lockdown, not being able to go to school, the money that hasn’t come into many businesses because they aren’t operating normally and the stress of anyone who has had a loved one infected with COVID-19, even if they eventually recovered.
Of course, none of this was Bolanos’ intention when she revealed this figure. I’m also not sure whether this is just the expenditure in national currency because she didn’t specify and I doubt that she is talking about the total cost.
The objective was to show the State’s concern and pull on the population’s ears a little more, so they understand the effort the country has made to keep its achievements going, although many are oblivious to them. While this is partly true, we must see the flip side of this coin.
Why are we in this situation? Because somebody refused to shut Cuba’s borders when the time was right. Some people will say, but that’s already happened and there’s no way of going back and changing it. That’s true, but I would like an apology, at least.
I don’t know whether it should be Raul, Diaz-Canel, the Prime Minister or the Minister of Public Health, but somebody should stand before a microphone in front of the entire nation and recognize that they made a mistake when they made tourism a priority over Cubans’ safety.
It won’t do a lot of good, but I need it at least, to convince myself they are a little upset about making the wrong decision. Maybe people who have lost loved ones also need this apology. It won’t bring them back, but will at least console them a little.
Fidel Castro publicly recognized his mistake with the 10-million-ton sugar harvest and he wasn’t crucified because of it. Maybe the blame is shared right now, but the people responsible still need to come forward.
Millions of Cubans have spent months in distress, and we didn’t deserve it.