Friday, September 17, 2010

Cuba's Coming Layoffs: Even the Party Faithful Shudder

Cuba's Coming Layoffs: Even the Party Faithful Shudder
By Dolly Mascareñas Thursday, Sep. 16, 2010

The word from on high in Havana shook the entire island. President Raul
Castro had decided that Cuba's economy needs to be fundamentally
restructured and, as a first step, 500,000 state workers are going to be
laid-off by next spring. The government employs 90% of the country's
more than 5 million workers and so Castro's stripping of what Cuba's
official labor union described as "inflated payrolls" is sending shock
waves through all of Cuban society.

Victor, 61, who helps manage a factory, is just one who is deeply
concerned. "All my life I have worked for the state, I know nothing
else," he told TIME in a phone interview. "It has cost me a lot to be
where I am today; I am a party member, have done everything by the book.
We have had many downfalls and critical moments, but at least we knew we
had a secure job and a daily meal in the factory. I do not know what
will be the criteria to fire people, I am worried because of my age."

Victor asked not to have his full name published, nervous — like all the
people TIME reached — of repercussions from Cuba's watchful bureaucracy.
Despite the creakiness of the economy, the Castro brothers, Raul and his
ailing but still talkative brother Fidel, have managed to retain a firm
hold on the way Cubans live their lives. But the antiquated communism
that they have used to organize their support may more than ever be
rusting away. Says Isis, 20, a shopkeeper, "I am a member of the
Communist Youth movement, but I am scared. What if even we are not safe?
My family has no family outside to help us; we all work and we are loyal

Maria (not her real name) has worked loyally for the communist Central
Committee for decades. At first she echoes the official line: "This is
something that, if Raul says has to be done, then it has to be for
everybody's good." But she has many personal and family problems and
admits, "I am scared. If I am fired what can I do? I hope that they look
into my record or help me find another job."

Some Cubans, however, sees opportunity in the uncertainty — especially
in the President's declaration that private enterprise must take up the
slack and absorb the newly unemployed. Isis' boyfriend Ramiro, 24, who
studies history in college, has been dependent on funds sent monthly by
relatives in Europe. But he is excited by the news. "This is a great
chance to have a business. I have been thinking about possibilities
since [the announcement]. I am sure my family will send me money to
start my own business. I can do lots of things and I have always been
good with my hands."

Older workers are just hoping they can be pensioned off. Carlos, 64,
works for the government-owned taxi service. He remains proud of his
job: "Our company does not rent cars to us for a flat fee, as other taxi
companies do; we are the top, our cars are the best, so it is all
government." He is banking on his connections and his years of service.
"I have a good relation with the top manager of the company and have had
several commendations in my job. Because of my age I will try to get my
retirement so at least I have a small pension." But he too is worried.
"I think they will fire the oldest drivers first, so it is better to
retire now with a little pension than nothing. We have not been told if
the people that would be fired would get a compensation, or be trained
and paid to do something else, but it is better to be prepared." He has
another source of funding. "My children are out of the country so they
will help, I am sure."

For those who can't get a job in the private sector or retire
comfortably, there is another recourse: leaving Cuba. Milton, 34, an
official tourist guide, his hoping to start his own business, but is
considering alternatives as well. "They will have to let us know what we
can do, how much the licenses [to set up a business] will cost and if we
have to pay taxes." Otherwise, he is thinking of moving abroad. "I am in
line for a visa for the States," says Milton. "My family lives there.
But if can open a business I will rather stay here. Life, they tell me,
is very hard in the States."",8599,2019652,00.html

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