Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brain Drain or Brain Squander?

Brain Drain or Brain Squander?
July 28, 2012
Dariela Aquique

In Cuba you will find highly trained specialists in many fields working as taxi drivers or waiting on tables.

HAVANA TIMES — Much has been said throughout all periods of history about how the major economic powers have promoted the so-called “brain drain” from less developed countries.

Of course the wealthiest nations have always managed to plunder the resources of the poorest, and human capital has not been an exception to this rule.

But in this specific case, other factors come into play, namely that this supposed theft (which isn’t so much theft) is achieved with the consent of the person whose intellect is being stolen.

These brain drains are always consensual: those who have economic capital make offers and those who have intellectual capital respond.

Of course it’s not very ethical to take advantage of the needs of others, but those are the laws of the concrete jungles. For centuries, prominent figures of science, literature and the arts have gone to the great metropolises, for whatever reasons.

But a phenomenon is occurring in Cuba now that has some bearing on this. Though looked at from another perspective, it’s what I call “brain squander.” Many professionals in the country do not exercise their careers so as to pursue other jobs that are better paid.

I have a close friend who is a biologist, having graduated with honors for being exceptional in her field. She finished school just five years ago and was well recognized during her initial period of job training. She was then relocated to another workplace and began studying for her master’s degree, which was really exciting.

But it turns out that in the last year she has felt that she wasn’t doing anything really important. What’s worse is that she didn’t do anything edifying as an expert. She was still receiving a minimum salary, which wasn’t enough to cover her basic needs and those of her newborn child.

To make matters worse, her boss didn’t allow her to go to Havana to defend her master’s thesis. He argued that the content of her research wasn’t relevant to her job and nor was working on it included on her list of work responsibilities.

My friend — who by then was extremely frustrated — decided to quit her job. Now she’s making cakes and pastries for private restaurants and other individual’s orders. She says it’s going well; she now makes in one week what would have taken her two or three months to earn in her professional position.

My friend has a brain that wasn’t robbed by the capitalists. It’s a brain that was squandered here in this country.

Last week I went to have lunch in a private restaurant, one that had an unbeatable menu, moderate prices and excellent service. I was invited by two ex-actress friends of mine who now live in Spain.

The owner of the place is very charismatic, and after eating he joined us to talk and have a few beers. In that conversation I learned that he was an ophthalmologist, specializing in pediatrics, but he gave up his white coat and stethoscope for self-employment in food services.

He says that as a doctor he couldn’t make ends meet. The same is true with many sociologists I know who are waiters in hotels and engineers who sell snacks on the street.

In short, I know of many brains that haven’t been exactly stolen, but they have been squandered by real-life circumstances and personal choices.

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