Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cuba: Hunger and Despair

Cuba: Hunger and Despair

I know you tourists and capitalists want to believe that you are somehow helping Cuba. I just finished a four hour conversation with; well…I’ll call him Fidel for the irony of it all. But I’m protecting this person. But the irony is Fidel didn’t really care really anymore. Though, I suspect Fidel would feel differently if the worst were to happen and Fidel had to go to the death camps or dungeons.

I asked Fidel: “What’s the mood in Cuba?”

Fidel said: “Sad…hopeless…”

Then Fidel told me how hungry he was just for something to eat. That it would be a good day if Fidel could just fill his stomach. Although he has a better than average job, meaning he earns $20 per month instead of the average $15, it was not adequate to buy enough food to stave off hunger. Most Cubans are not starving, though a few are out of sheer neglect, they are being denied adequate calories to lead a healthy life. They are consuming less than 1000 calories per day. They are not receiving adequate intake of protein, vitamins and minerals. Meat is rarely available unless you have hard currency. Their health is, as a nation, in a slow decline. Adding to Fidel’s woes, his father needs medicine but the marvelous Cuban health care system can’t provide it – at least not to regular Cubans. In his father’s case, this WILL lead to his premature death. But you will never hear it reported that way by the Cuban health authorities who even tried to cover up a dengue fever outbreak so as not to scare away you tourists.

So why is this all happening? Well it is sort of a hybrid between a southern slave plantation and the company store in Cuba. It is a slave plantation because Raul Castro can tell anybody on the island what to do, forbid them to leave and execute or imprison them. This is the definition of slavery. But Cuba is also like the company store run by the old West Virginia coal mines. The store owns all the housing and can raise the rent whenever they want or kick you into the street. Yes Cubans pay rent to Raul’s government so who owns Cuba? But in this perverse setup there is a dual marketplace in Cuba or two company stores. One is for the average Cuban where food cost almost nothing but in these stores there is virtually nothing available to buy. The other company store is well stocked with provision but you must pay in dollars or euros. Fidel tells me a Cuban cannot live on his government salary. They must find some way to hustle a few dollars or they WOULD starve. But earning any income outside of your government salary, whether through prostitution or just selling candy on the street, can bring you a steep fine. But no matter how much hard currency Cubans earn Raul can always raise prices. He’s got the only company store in town. So if you think your tourist dollars are helping Cubans you are mistaken. No matter how many dollars filter their way down to regular Cubans, and that is a microscopic amount in relation to Raul’s take, the company store can always raise the prices. Then Cubans are right back where they started – hungry.

What’s the answer? It is so very simple. Cubans will survive the next six months if you stop supporting Raul’s plantation with your tourist dollars. But without these and the western built tourist infrastructure Raul surely would not. Raul has very adequate holdings in other countries to satisfy the needs of him and his family. He will not spend them to stay in power. As soon as he cannot make anymore money he will leave. Then we can get these lovely people a decent meal and show them how to fend for themselves.

Tomás Estrada-Palma

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