I think of Martí this very instant. I remember his fired up words on that document he named “Vindication of Cuba,” where, in name of the voiceless, the Master answered a diatribe of The Manufacturer newspaper that accused us of being inefficient and soft, weak on the thought of establishing a true nation. It also accused us of laziness.
Today it is not The Manufacturer who marks us as lazy people. It is called Granma, and it is this country’s official newspaper. Whoever follows its pages daily knows what I’m talking about: the constant and increasingly more aggressive terms in which its journalist refer to an evident phenomenon in current Cuban society: all the willingly unemployed among a great part of the population, especially among the youth.
Paying attention to what our mass media proclaims, it looks like the offensive words of such newspaper are revealed in our current Cuba. What does this mean? That our most recent crusade undertaken by the Cuban officials is against lazy people, against whom even our Penal Code establishes measures under the title “Social Dangerousness.”
The Granma editorials say: “We have to eradicate them. We have to cut out the laziness by the root.” For my part, in order lay out my argument, I allow myself to demonstrate elementary concepts.
FROM THAT SIDE OF THE OCEAN…
If there’s something that this fertile land produces, aside from fruits, cigars and baseball players, it is working men. Men who, behind any adversity or impossible task, find the way to accomplish their endeavor, always with effort, always with work. We have a legion of laborers who get up from their beds every morning without knowing what they’ll be able to eat for breakfast, what they’ll leave for their children to have for lunch, on what transportation they’ll get to work on time, with what tools they’ll perform their functions during the eight or ten hours they must stay at their post.
And just like these, we also have another legion that got tired of that bitter litany and decided to test their luck in other shores at their own risk.
How many immigrants do we have scattered around the world? It is a figure we’ll never know with precision. But the undeniable truth is what no one, neither the journalist from Granma nor any executive dreamer can deny: the vast majority of Cubans who migrate live from the sweat of their hard work.
We receive them by the thousands, mainly newcomers from Miami. There, they leave an unstable job, a job they don’t know if they’ll still have when they get back. Most of them leave debts. But they live. They don’t subsist.
And they would live a lot better if they didn’t have family members here, that just like involuntary leeches need to suck a percentage of their income to eat a little better, to not dress in rags, or to give ourselves that handful of pleasures that are so limited they end up being exceptional.
What do those Cubans, sons of the same land that Martí vindicated with his prose do to sustain a lifestyle so superior compared to the one they would’ve had had they stayed in the island? Are they all mafia members who traffic drugs, fire weapons, or launch human beings from their prows of their speedboats? Do they all receive salaries from the CIA for planning terrorist attacks against countries or presidents? No. What they do is work. And as we Cubans say: they work like mules.
They work two or three jobs. With a tenacity and formality they never learned in their native country. If they don’t do it for love (which in many cases they do) at least they work with responsibility. They’re not “absent people” who take days off on their own, they’re not bad-tempered people who mistreat any client from their Olympian viewpoint.
And they don’t do it for two reasons: 1. Because they want to preserve their job, and 2. Because that job, even though is not enough in many cases, serves to satisfy their basic needs, including the ones of the family members in Cuba.
And I’m talking about the simple cases. I am not referring to the talented, the attorneys, the excellent engineers, the sportsmen, the businessmen who, without the obstacles of an economic axis centralized to point of asphyxia, are able to prosper at a surprising rate. I am not taking for as example the great economic success of the few who are not so few: I am talking about the honest work of many.
Because those are our family members. Not the millionaires, but the middle or lower class. The ones who come and with their presence, with their money and salary (citing Frank Delgado), fill their family member’s souls with joy.
What allows it, what brings them to Cuba like the Three Kings of Buenaventura, satisfying shortcomings, soothing necessities? Their jobs. The twelve or fourteen hours they daily dedicate to having a life from their own sweat.
… AND FROM THIS
OK, so let’s go back to the beginning: are we a lazy people? Are we that nation of incapable men that The Manufacturer proclaimed we are, or the society infected by incorrigible idiots that the Granma newspaper suggests? We are not. What we really are, with no room for doubt, is a country where work is only a decorative concept.
We are a country where no one, absolutely no honest worker is able to accomplish any level of quality of life with 300 pesos that is earned after a whole month of harsh work.
We are a country that has had to become thieves, ruthlessly stealing from each other (the chef steals the cheese and later sells it to the mechanic, the mechanic steals the parts that the dentist needs, the dentist then steals the anesthesia or the amalgam needed to be used on the grocer as dental filling…), everyone hustling and passing the money any chance they get because the salary received in more honest ways is not even enough to fill one’s own stomach.
Where does this bitter reality take us? It leads us to accept that in Cuba, the sense of ownership towards work is an idealistic dream. The ones who, instead of stealing from work actually live from the salary earned by it cannot profess any type of gratitude towards it.
Cubans cannot like working because they receive very little or nothing from it. The ones that sacrifice themselves the most hang their diplomas or distinctions on a wall or keep them in a drawer because they will never be able to use them to feed themselves or clothe themselves. The accomplishments acquired by their sleepless nights turn to food for the moths, to dust collectors.
That is why I not only don’t denigrate, but understand, so many young people and so many wasted fertile hands hanging around on the corner, in the parks, sitting behind a domino table or what is worse, attached to rum bottles. Those, have learned either by experience or intuition that they will have a better lifestyle by reselling items on at central plaza in their neighborhoods, earning ten convertible pesos for an occasional sale, rather than dedicating eight hours a day to a job that will give them the same amount, but in a month.
We are one of the very few countries in the world where unemployment is not an issue. Our issue, is that employment doesn’t help.
That is why the media gets angry: it so happens that those lazy people are a genuine product of this very society, not reminiscences or a surplus.
UTILIZE YOUR THUMB, NOT YOUR INDEX FINGER
No Granma newspaper, no National Television, we are not a lazy people nor social scum. We don’t need to undertake new bloody crusades with police operations that imprison whoever doesn’t have a stable workplace, nor launch harassment campaigns: we have already experienced that and know it doesn’t work.
Beforehand, it is necessary to ask ourselves what is really happening, why young people on this side of the ocean don’t think about working, why they want to move to another country, why they’d rather steal or traffic, why they choose the uncertainty of not knowing what they will earn daily in their juggling instead of the stability and security of an honest salary at the end of the month.
The complicated thing is looking at our entrails. It is easier to utilize our index finger than to appeal to our thumb. The complicated thing is to answer for ourselves those questions that underlie each accusation that the official media publishes or the leaders prefer, the answers that they all know none of them want to hear.
This time, it is not about vindicating Cuba. Before defending the physical and geographical platform, it is only fair to defend the truth of all Cubans. And overall, with the same dignity with which Martí reduced to ashes a series of slanders, and with his limitless honesty remembered:
“Freedom is the right that all men have by being honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy (…) A man who hides what he thinks, or doesn’t dare to say what he thinks, is not an honest man.”