The Difference

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo

Teresa Navarro, a 52-year-old Costa Rican woman, told me she wanted to be a lawyer, but since she was 13 years old, she had to work. According to her, she suffocated and lost her goals. At 19 she ended up married and has had five children born into poverty. She lives in a shack without a door, floors, windows, partitions and no ceiling. She told me that she is not the only one living in those conditions.

Ms. Navarro did not study, but she had the opportunity to become an independent entrepreneur. She manages a health marketing network business for the company 4life through which she can sell to customers anywhere in the world. Do you know how many Cubans are fined every day for doing business? I am not speaking of leading companies. I mean the act of selling cakes on a street corner, of hawking a string of garlic or an onion on the street.

Doesn’t she know that the government prohibits Cubans from engaging in any individual economic activity? Would she be surprised if I said that sanctions range from a fine of 1,500 pesos national currency, the basic wage of a worker for a half-year, to loss of all property. Is that the fault of the U.S. blockade?

She told me also that the government of her country needs permission from the Catholic Church to undertake family planning policies.  She told me of the corruption of state officials, and that social assistance is conditional upon the participation of citizens in political campaigns of the government of the day. On these points the differences with Cuba are few. The upper echelons of power are corrupt and the Cubans who disagree with the policies of the leaders are treated as non-persons.

To make me see the difference between her reality and mine she tells me that “at least Cuba produces the best doctors in Latin America.” In that she is entirely right. Cuba produces doctors to export, to the point of leaving the national health system without professionals.

I also recognize that employment is guaranteed for all, but abstinence from labor is widespread. How could it be any different, where wages are a pittance. They are insufficient to meet the most basic needs of workers for five days a month. The rest have to live on remittances from abroad, those who have family who send them money, or from illegal activity, simply to appease the hunger of the Cubans.

These problems may be the same or worse in other Latin American countries, with the difference that they can go in search of their dreams, and then return to their land if they want to. Having done well or badly, they can always return.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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