Omar and the Remittances

remesas

He is 23 years old and has a high school diploma, but Omar doesn’t want to work. He spends mornings sitting in the park talking with friends. In the evenings, well dressed, he drinks a few beers at Ditú at the corner .

His lifestyle caught the attention of the chairman of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and the sectors’ chief of police. A social worker visits his house weekly offering him work, but nothing suits him.

Those responsible for prevention in his neighborhood insist on finding him a job. Based on his qualifications, all that was available were positions in construction, agriculture, and community services. The salary is 375 pesos. Too much effort for so little pay. As expected, he refused to work.

Omar frequently receives remittances from abroad. His father lives in the United States and sends fifty dollars a month. After paying the mandatory 20 percent tax, he is left with 40 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) or about 1000 pesos when changed into national currency. With that income, does it make sense to work for a monthly salary of 375 pesos?

But the authorities are threatening to apply the “law of the slacker.” He could serve up to four years in prison for pre-criminal dangerousness, a criminal charge often imposed on those who persist in not working in jobs linked to the state.

This is one of the problems that will worsen when all restrictions on remittances from the nearly two million Cubans living in the United States are lifted. What will happen when thousands of families in Cuba start receiving remittances on a large scale?

For “the reflective comrade”* the  measures are insufficient. At the same time that he challenges, he sows doubt among his few readers about the possibility that the current U.S. administration will end “the genocidal blockade.” But we know it’s lip service. The recently approved measures will cause chaos for the regime.

What argument will the government use to force Cubans who receive remittances from relatives abroad to work? What justification will be used now for punishing young people who, like Omar, receive money from relatives abroad and refuse to work for a miserable salary?

Hopefully, one answer will be to eliminate the odious and arbitrary tax of 20 percent. A brazen robbery from those who toil and sweat to work in their countries to help their families on the island.  They do not have to contribute to the maintenance of a state that seized their properties when they left the country.

Cubans appreciate the new U.S. policy toward Cuba. Believe it or not, these measures benefit the Cuban people more than the government. The economy certainly will benefit from the entry of more foreign currencies, but … what about the workforce needed to increase production and productivity?

Laritza Diversent

Photograph: Getty Images

Translated by: LJM & Tomás A.

*Translator’s note:

“reflective comrade” is a reference to Fidel Castro. Since retirement Mr. Castro writes a newspaper column titled “Reflections.”

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