Monday, May 13, 2013

The fear that drives them

By Kelly Montgomery, Havana

Monday, May 13-Day 3

            We started off Monday with a visit to the  U.S. Interests Section in Havana where we spoke to Economics-Political officer, USIS, Havana Thomas Palaio. There was a wide array of topics covered as people asked questions regarding the embargo, the economy and the process Cubans go through to come to the U.S. Here, we learned that Cubans receive approximately $19 a month in remittances from the government. Because everyone is generally paid the same no matter what, there is a lack of motivation to work. Why work for your $19 a month when you will receive it without working?

 This amount of money is not nearly enough to survive on, which has sparked many Cubans to shift their line of work. Many Cubans are now pursuing random jobs in order to earn money on the side, including food stand startups, driving taxis and selling things on the black market. Palaio said that specifically there has been a tremendous increase in prostitution.  
            It seems as though there is an idea of underlying fear in Cuba; fear of not being able to survive, fear of punishment and fear of the future. Palaio said that while the government has become more lenient towards those who speak out, they are treated with anything but civility. Instead of throwing someone in jail, torturing them, or even killing them as done in years past, the government will find ways to make a “traitor’s” life unbearable—and a “traitor” can be anyone who manifests a group of three or more to discuss the issues of the country, speaks out about the corruption, gets caught doing something the government doesn’t like, or simply talks to the wrong people.  Palaio mentioned an example of someone getting shoved into the trunk of a car and being dropped off 6 hours later in the middle of nowhere. They then have to find their way back to Havana. Other examples included people losing their jobs, their housing, or enrollment at universities. Living on $19 a month, these are risks Cubans simply cannot take. Again, fear.
            You can see why many Cubans attempt to leave the country. When driving by the embassy, we saw hundreds of people in line attempting to get the proper permission to either visit or move to the U.S. Many of these people have waited two or more years to even get an appointment, and out of the thousands that flow through the gates each day, few are permitted to leave. We passed an elderly woman clutching her family as she cried, and our guide explained that she had just waited two years, saved all of her money, and gotten all the required paperwork for her appointment, only to be denied. This happens every day. Yet Cubans continue to wait.

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