“Cuba, Covid and Cubans” – Report

What is the state of social rights in Cuba? And how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected citizens and their day-to-day perspectives? Was the country hit hard, similarly to other Central American countries? Or did the pandemic just highlight one more habitual step on the path of a country that has been living under embargo with its citizens suffering severe restrictions for nearly sixty years now?

Answers to these questions can be found in a new report, “The state of social rights in Cuba”, recently released by the Observatory of social rights in Cuba. 1,141 Cuban citizens have been interviewed, over a period that ran from the 25th of June to the 19th of July 2021. The findings are very telling and even surprising at times.

Cuban(s) suffering

First, who is it that really suffers in Cuba? The answer is clear: almost everybody. Members of the political elite will not feel the consequences of the socioeconomic situation. But when asked, Cubans explain that adults in general (73% of the people surveyed), people without income (55%), as well as unemployed persons (51%) are the most vulnerable categories of the population. Especially under the pandemic circumstances.

In contrast, and somewhat surprisingly, self-employed persons (according to 22% of people surveyed), the youth (according to 15%) as well as women in general (14%) are not seen as people that paid a high price with the situation generated by the pandemic. Nor are prisoners (9%) or black people (3%) considered people that would have reasons to complain…

Cuba’s problems are very basic: they have to do with survival. Cubans mention three main problems that affect them in particular: the food crisis (for 60% of the people surveyed), the health crisis (59%) and the consequences of the “Tarea ordenamiento”, a pack of economic reforms that the Cuban government had adopted officially in November 2020 – with limited success, obviously.

When it comes to access to basic needs and services, electricity cuts have been felt as one of the most problematic issues by Cubans (80% of Cubans say they have experienced regular electricity cuts between April and June 2021), together with the average cost of life unreachable for most (71% of Cuban households live with less than 3.8 US$ per day and 40% of Cubans recognize that they are struggling to simply survive), difficulties to find a job and to earn a livable salary (70% of the population says that it is enduring a severe economic crisis), as well as little faith in trade unions that they belong to (57% of Cubans affiliated to labor trade unions do not think that those are defending their rights).

Finally, one other piece of relevant data pulled from the survey relates to what poll participants call “labor discrimination”: 55% complain that they have been discriminated when they were looking for jobs in the tourism sector. The reasons, according to them, stem from the following: their political ideas (72%), their criminal record (64%), their friends and social relations (36%), their sexual orientation (33%) or even the fact that they are from specific parts of the country (25%). Now, one can imagine that many Cubans may also be looking for scapegoats, or excuses… but this does not contradict one obvious fact: Cubans are indeed suffering greatly.

What can we expect for Cuba and for Cubans?

In 1962, a film was released, called “Soy Cuba”, where the producer attempted to convey a message: Cubans were living a corrupt reality up to 1959, but the rise of Fidel Castro to power had finally engaged Cuba on the right path.

The reality is starkly different. There is little to no point of talking about any kind of success in Cuba. The country has not moved forward economically speaking since the 1960s. Its public debt equivocates more than 50% of GDP, its traditional suppliers for goods and oil (such as Venezuela) are facing problems themselves, inflation keeps running at a high pace, and the official unemployment rate for 2020 (3.87% of the working population), accurate or not, still runs more than twice as high as what it had been the years before (an average 1.5%, officially speaking).

In a country where 70 to 80% of the food is imported, more than 30% of children aged two suffer from anemia, rationing is not working anymore, tourism – one of the country’s main incomes – was crippled with the pandemic, and Cubans do not expect anything in particular from a government that faces the effects of an embargo. But without looking for ways to adapt and enter in the 21st century, one can only be worried about the Cuban tragedy. And there is little room left for optimism.

There is no agreement under pressure, according to a saying. The problem is that pressure in Cuba has been accumulating for decades. And the future of the country is uncertain, though surely not reassuring. Cuba will not necessarily explode on the short term, especially with security and intelligence forces and the military having the upper hand on perspectives and crushing any attempt to rise against the current system. But one can keep in mind this Cuban proverb, up to when it turns into reality: “un cubano cuando no llega, se pasa”: even in hard times, Cubans always find a way to manage. Which does not mean that their patience would be without limits.