Hard-up Cubans snub graduate jobs for higher pay
Rigoberto DIAZ • AFP May 29, 2017
Havana (AFP) - As a trained nurse, Jose Antonio Torres can help save
lives -- but in Cuba's labor market, he finds riding a bicycle rickshaw
a surer way to feed his four children.
"I can earn the same in a day doing this as I would in one month working
as a nurse," says Torres, 38.
The communist island's gradual economic opening-up has created an
earnings gulf between the few private workers and the many employed by
Torres and others like him -- even television actors -- are turning to
the private side to work as waiters, taxi drivers and more.
- Free training, low pay -
Torres owes his nurse's training to the system of free universal
education and healthcare introduced after Fidel Castro's communist
In a country hailed for the quality of its healthcare, he was employed
in one of the best hospitals -- for just $20 a month.
Meanwhile more and more foreign tourists started arriving with cash in
their pockets to pay for rickshaw rides. The economic pull was too
strong to resist.
"It was not an easy decision," he says. "But I had to find another way
to keep supporting my family."
- Fairy tale -
Beatriz Estevez, 26, is about to finish her state-funded university law
But instead of heading to work in a law firm, she is dressing up as a
fairy and going to stand still for hours while tourists put money in her
"In a law firm I will not earn even half what I earn right now as a
living statue," she tells AFP.
She can earn $20 a day as a fairy. The average monthly wage for a public
sector worker -- which includes lawyers -- is $29.
- Private earnings -
UNESCO says 3,300 out of every 100,000 people went through higher
education in Latin America overall last decade -- but the figure for
Cuba was five times that.
Yet university enrollments have since plunged, from more than 600,000 in
the 2009 academic year to 173,000 in 2014, according to the national
The Caribbean island is facing historic changes. Fidel Castro died in
November and his brother Raul has announced he will step aside as
president in February 2018.
Following the gradual reforms of recent years, about half a million of
the island's 11 million inhabitants are now self-employed.
They earn four times as much as state employees on average, official
"I do not mind admitting that I studied law but don't want to practice
it," says Estevez, as she puts on her makeup in front of the mirror.
"Everyone knows why these things happen."
- Low wages -
Defenders of Cuba's communist system say its social security provisions,
with food subsidies and ration books, protect the poor.
But experts warn ordinary Cubans are suffering from a wonky economy.
Despite Raul Castro's reforms, Cuba is lagging in its search for foreign
Its dual currency system fuels inflation.
"Buying a pair of shoes takes up your whole month's salary," says Torres.
Raul Castro himself admitted in April 2016 that current salaries and
pensions "are not sufficient to satisfy basic needs."
Salaries have never fully recovered from the economic crisis sparked by
the collapse of the Soviet Union, says Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at
Pontifical Xaverian University in Colombia.
"I cannot imagine how any worker in Latin America can survive on $25 a
- Boosting production -
Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that to regularly afford the
basic necessities, a Cuban would need to earn four times the current
Experts are skeptical about the government's hopes of boosting the
island nation's state-controlled industries to get out of trouble.
"It is not about sitting down to wait for production to drive up
salaries," said another Cuban economist at Xaverian University, Mauricio
"Production is not rising due to restrictions the government itself
Source: Hard-up Cubans snub graduate jobs for higher pay -