Stealing to live
Miguel was a laborer who spent five years working as a cook in a State company. He got up every day at three in the morning so he could be on time for his job more than 12 kilometers away. He followed the rules, he was highly valued and on two occasions, he was voted “most avant-garde employee.”
The salary he received was not enough to cover his economic necessities. Of course, his plans did not include the option of quitting his job. He had a wife and three young daughters to support. Some times more, some times less, he compensated for the shortcomings with what he could find, the food for his home.
Miguel would take part of the food destined for the lunch of other workers to support his family. Oil, poultry, fish, eggs, squid, vegetables, grains… the necessity impelled him to take whatever. His main responsibility was to ensure the immediate survival of the family living under his protection.
Occasionally, very furtively, he would sell some of the stolen things in his neighborhood. With that money he would cover other expenses. His daughters needed underwear and shoes. Things which were only sold in the hard-currency stores, and which he couldn’t get if he paid in pesos.
One day, someone informed on Michael. He was fired from the center, and because it was his first time, for the crime of theft the court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment in a correctional facility, working in agriculture. The sentence did not take into account the reasons that led him to commit what, in good Cuban, is known as “theft.” However, the penalty he suffers does not prevent him from continuing to take food from his new job for his home when he gets the chance.
Before the triumph of the Revolution, the Cuban penal code had the concept of the “starving thief.” A circumstance that, in some cases, exempted the perpetrator from criminal responsibility, and in others diminished the sanctions. It took into account when a hungry or homeless person took objects necessary for his survival and that of the people under his care.
Revolutionary justice eliminated this concept in the penal code. It was assumed that the government, inaugurated in January 1, 1959, would meet the needs of everyone equally. Supposedly vagrancy, unemployment, begging and other vices–causes of misery–would all be eliminated.
Seen like this, it seemed unnecessary to have this concept in the Cuban Criminal Code. For the socialist lawmakers, no citizen in the newly created conditions, would have the dire need that would compel him to commit the crime of “starving theft.” It was to be a country in which all citizens enjoyed opportunities and the right to work.
Ironically, today, it is precisely the proletariat class that finds itself in a state of necessity such that it is forced to steal the State’s resources to survive and support a family. It is one of the social problems most affecting the national economy, and one that the government confronts as if it is a “fight against illegalities”.
But what is certain is that the benevolent justice applied by the revolutionary society is more interested in punishing, so as to make an example, rather than in forgiving a crime committed out of necessity. Fifty years later, experience shows that the revolution is incapable of meeting all the needs of the population.
Idleness and indigence have increased and this has triggered graft and corruption. It is proven that full employment, by itself, is insufficient to remove poverty, and with it, the commission of “starving theft.”
Miguel’s story is repeated daily in many Cuban families. And it can take different forms with different people. The reality is this: the critical economic situation that has engulfed the country for decades, has led the majority of the workers associated with State enterprises to turn to “theft” as a way of life indispensable to survival.