Who Can Straighten Out Cuba’s Inverted Pyramid System?

By Aurelio Pedroso  (Progreso Semanal)

Médico de la familia. Photo: Juan Suarez
Médico de la familia. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago, a former vice-minister for the economy told me, keeping a straight face, that an unpublished study had revealed that the State employees who missed the least days of work were hotel bell boys and pump operators at gas stations.

This was so, in the first case, because of the juicy tips in hard currency they were given and, for the second, because of the profitable sale of gasoline under the table.

Sometime later (the issue branches out in time like a tree), the director of a bank enthusiastically told me he was thinking of trading in his shirt and tie for a humble T-shirt. His office, which was separated from the parking lot by a pane of glass, afforded him a good view of the custodian.

The accounts and numbers man could see the little guy in his “docking and undocking” maneuvers, receiving and seeing off the cars of bank customers, while the parking lot employee could not see him past the wall next to the place he sat, a wall that, incidentally, bounded with the manager’s office.

There, a place the custodian thought shielded from prying eyes, the manager would see him count the day’s takings. The best part was seeing him open the small, 25-peso cardboard box he kept a few steps away, which carried a pork steak, rice and beans and a salad. “This man earns more and eats better than I do,” the Metropolitan Bank’s highest authority mused.

A bit more recently, a surgeon friend working at a provincial hospital told me he dreamt of finding a job akin to the woman who mopped the floors of the hallways and wards, a woman who, according to him, earned more with the mop than he did with the scalpel.

On the subject of the surgeon, he must still be out there, this fellow who, during an operation, began to move the scalpel in his hands as a conductor would a baton. According to an anesthesiologist who’s a relative of mine, the physician had not had a bout of Parkinson’s at the operating table. Quite simply, his daily problems ganged up on him and he had to be relieved mid-duty.

Very shy measures have been implemented in the health sector in terms of the monetary and other forms of recognition these professionals receive. The last development is that those who had access to Infomed, a caricature of the intranet, can now have full access to the Internet for 25 hours during the month. It’s a step forward, no doubt.

Under the current system, a car parker can earn far more than a manager.
Under the current system, a car parker can earn far more than a professional.

What tops things off for me is something I read in a local paper, an article written by a colleague

The article is very well written and exposes the reader to the humanism that moves a doctor in Pinar del Rio, to his complete devotion to the profession. I would say he comes a little short of being an angel come down from heaven, to see to those in need 24 hours a day. This man arrives at the hospital, sets up a wooden table (used as both a desk and stretcher) out by the entrance and, putting to work his keen medical eye, begins to receive children from the area and beyond without asking for anything in return. No few times, the mother who brings the baby to him also gets a checkup. The doctor’s name is Sergio Piloña.

Telling of his full commitment to the profession and patients, Dr. Piloña calmly informs journalist Ronald Suarez that he gets up every day at 4 in the morning and that he hitches a ride both to and from the hospital. The ride isn’t short, it’s about 25 kilometers.

We need not wait for a definitive end to the embargo or for this singular pediatrician to be sent abroad, where he can save up some money and buy the vehicle he dearly needs for his duties.

Even if he was given one ages ago, his attitude and devotion are more than enough to reward him, if not with a brand-new vehicle, at least with a used one, capable of negotiating those 25 kilometers, and, why not, the occasional trip to the beach.

It is time to start undoing this inverted pyramid that also defines the Cuban health system.

4 thoughts on “Who Can Straighten Out Cuba’s Inverted Pyramid System?

  • Gordon, I know quite a few millionaires who started out flipping burgers and mixing shakes. It’s a start and in Cuba it would be a God send. In fact, I’m doing OK in the USA and was 7 selling Christmas Cards in September and had a great year buying candy, seeing movies and collecting baseball cards. It’s called hard work and doing what you need to do to get by and move ahead. This is sadly lacking in Cuba and yes i’m all for ending the embargo but the system is as sad now as it was under the bad guy Batista. Little motivation outside of the entrepreneurs and underground economy but this isn’t helping the average Cuban outside of the major cities. By the way, baseball players who become pro’s deserve every penny they get for being the best out what they do!

  • What a dysfunctional system. Communism only works on paper. In the real world effort needs to be rewarded. A system that does not naturally allocate earnings based on effort is destined to under perform. Helping those in need does not require that the state control everything. The state can do many things via indirect regulation and taxes to lesson disparities. Bringing the bottom up is right approach.

  • Are you arguing that the athletes should earn less or the food-service worker should earn more? Either way, their salaries are decided by the market to a great extent. In Cuba, a bunch of over-fed communists make these decisions. Therein lies the problem.

  • It is also not fair in Canada where baseball players make million of dollars a year and a fast food worker makes $ 10.50 an hour.

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