The Fairy-Tale of Everyday Life in Cuba

Janis Hernández

The very low salaries of Cuban workers is a constant topic of conversation.
The very low salaries of Cuban workers is a constant topic of conversation.

HAVANA TIMES — The paltriness of Cuban salaries is the topic which is most repeatedly discussed in all gatherings on the island, formal and not.

Hoping to finally hear that changes are coming in this direction, people expectantly follow the ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly and even listen attentively to any address delivered by the president during a commemorative ceremony.

The fact is that the raising of wages, the consolidating of the two currencies into one and the de-regulation of Internet access are the three main measures the Cuban State has yet to implement.

However, the salary issue is foremost in people’s minds. This is because basic articles of crucial importance continue to be prohibitively expensive for Cubans, as becomes evident by looking at the average income of the population.

As has been said on hundreds of different occasions, in view of their measly salaries, Cubans face the eternal dilemma of deciding what basic purchases to prioritize and which to postpone.

This dilemma rears its ugly head as much on payday as when a relative or friend living abroad sends a little money as a gift, or when one wins the local community lottery (which, though prohibited by Law, almost everyone secretly plays). Then, Cubans start to behave like the Cucarachita Martina (“Martina the Cockroach”).

Don’t laugh, allow me to explain. La Cucarahita Martina is a popular fairy-tale that everyone knows in Cuba, no matter what generation they belong to.

It tells the story of a cockroach that finds a coin on the ground while sweeping the entrance to her house. Not knowing what to do with this coin, she goes from place to place asking: “What will I buy with this coin, what will I buy?”

The cockroach finally decides to buy a makeup kit, which she then uses to pretty herself up and woo a mouse by the name of Pérez.

It was a friend of mine, a woman with a keen sense of humor, who made me see this fairy-tale could be read as an allegory of everyday Cuban reality, for Cubans, needing much but having little to buy with, always have to ask themselves the question: “what will I buy with this (measly) coin?”

And it’s true: all of us in Cuba, at one point, behave like Martina the Cockroach.


6 thoughts on “The Fairy-Tale of Everyday Life in Cuba

  • May 7, 2013 at 8:16 am
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    My sister-in-law in Guantanano. Pensioners receive between 120 and 160 pesos cubanos (my wife’s grandfather). Besides, even if it were 18 cuc, a pair of size 36 (eur) simulated leather flat shoes for a female teacher in the classroom costs 20 cuc. A cotton blouse (non-designer nothing fancy) appropriate for a teacher to wear to work costs 15 cuc, and so on. Salaries are criminally low and unchanging while prices for just about everything continuue to go up.

  • May 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm
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    Tell me one teacher that makes just 8 CUC. Thats what a pensionary gets. I guess you forgot the ten.

  • May 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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    No insult intended. If your argument is that hedgefund managers earn MORE than they deserve, I agree. So do NFL quarterbacks, and all of the main actors in the five Twilight movies. But, at least school teachers in the US, who clearly deserve larger salaries do make a living wage. My school teacher sister-in-law in Guantanamo makes about 8 cuc per month. She can not live on just her salary. That is what is really pathetic.

  • May 3, 2013 at 12:49 pm
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    Salaries are indeed ” una sola verguenza”, they are a shame. Ok , on markets where you can pay with moneda nacional, it`s ok, because prices are so low, that hardly you can express them in Euro- cents. The problem is, that lots of articles have to be paid in CUC. And some of the prices make you pop put ypur eyes: a package of tomato sauce, which costs in Europe between 40- 80 cents, costs around 4 CUC. God knows why. And that`s the case with many articles. Raul Castro promised to do something about the salary misery. Lets hope he does it quickly. because this is certainly one of the most urgent matters that has to be resolved in Cuba. As specified by the article.

  • May 3, 2013 at 10:59 am
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    lollll i agree that cuba’s wage system needs to be immediate changed
    but you do not get what you work for in the U.S, hedgefund managers gain the entire salary of a school teacher’s life in a month, doing nothing but moving money around, their argument is that not anyone can do what they do, what they do is useless and without any social value, theyre just financial pawns moving money around in a increasingly pathetic and financially dominated economy like the U.S and U.K,
    so Moses please dont insult anyones intelligence

  • May 3, 2013 at 7:06 am
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    For the rest of the entire world, it is assumed that the more you prepare yourself academically and professionally, and the harder you work in your job, the better off you will be financially. Roughly speaking, you get what you deserve. In this respect, Cuba is upside down and inside out. Engineers earn less than barbers and doctors earn less than cabaret dancers. The highest peg on the socio-economic ladder is crowded out by the prostitutes who work the high-end tourist hotels. There are more and better clothes sold on the street than there are sold in the stores. The Cuban ‘fairytale’ is unlike anything or anywhere else on the planet.

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