Cuban Professionals: Emigrate or Suffer
November 10, 2012
HAVANA TIMES — The joke going around these days on the buses of the
Ministry of Science goes:
Manuel asks his neighbor (who works for a company in the upscale Miramar
neighborhood) to help him get a job for his son.
The neighbor replies: 'No problem, I know of a position as supervisor
where he can earn 500 CUCs a month.
"No!" Manuel shouts, annoyed, "My son needs a position that will force
him to exert himself."
"Ok, that's fine," responds the neighbor. "He can be a mail boy and make
coffee for 200 CUCs a month.
"That's not what he needs either," says Manuel. "It has to be a job
where my child will understand what it means to sacrifice, one of those
where he'll earn 300 or 400 Cuban pesos a month (about 15 CUCs, or
around $17 USD).
A bit annoyed, the neighbor ends the conversation saying, "Well, Manuel,
that's not going to happen. Your son isn't a college graduate."
I am also one of those people here on the island who have a mania for
laughing at our misfortunes. I smiled, but then I became frightened.
Perhaps it was because my degree in radiochemistry is collecting dust in
a drawer somewhere. Maybe it was because that at least one day a week I
work to determine mercury levels in sediments of the Almendares River.
The more than a half a million professionals here experienced a less
than encouraging 2012, are looking towards a 2013 characterized by
Many hopes are pinned on buying a one-way ticket to Spain, Canada, the
United States, or wherever.
Some people dream of obtaining a work contract related to their
professions, while others would be content with any job.
All of them fear being classified in a "sector that is strategic for the
economy and national security" [and therefore unable to immediately
leave] and nobody wants to be in the shoes of a Cuban doctor.
While we wait for January for them to tell us who has won the
life-saving stamp in their passport, there's one question that has been
clearly answered: The state has nothing to offer these university
graduates, five percent of the population.
The lineamientos (economic reform guidelines) were a kind of divorce
between those who obtained a degree and the state/Party.
In 2013, the labor force restructuring will continue based on the
principle of proven suitability, meaning that the state will distribute
all those little papers for the raffle of who's to be laid off among the
Wage increases remain lost on the horizon of increased productivity and
will only help prioritized some industries (biotechnology, telephone
services, nickel mining).
Finally, in its yearning to control everything, the government maintains
a short list of allowed private initiatives, though it seems immutable.
One can now pursue self-employment in Cuba doing anything from
collecting coconuts to making buttons, and yet it's illegal to found a
cooperative of translators, or form a group of designers/architects or
an association of lawyers.
Added to this the act of restricting self-employment to the service
sector — in a sexist society — means seeing primarily women being unable
to practice their professions.
Given all this, the talk about of "women's emancipation," as trumpeted
by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), will become obsolete in a few years.
In these changing times, Cuban professionals have few and poor options:
They can see what fate holds for them in some foreign country, work for
the government for a miserable wage or go get a license to sell fried
snacks on the street.
Basically, the choice is emigrate or suffer.