Making ends meet in downtown Havana
"Lucha tu yuca, taino, lucha tu yuca*," is the refrain of a catchy song highly popular on the island. Roughly translated it means, "Fight for your food, pal, fight for your food." The metaphor reveals a reality that the official media tries to keep hidden: the widespread need to resort to petty crime to survive amid the daily difficulties and excessive government control. Cubans cross the line into illegality with the tranquility of those who have been doing it since childhood, whether it is buying on the black market, "diverting state resources," as we like to call taking things home from work to sell or trade to others, or engaging in a profession without a license.
In an environment of total economic schizophrenia, a place where we have had two different currencies for more than fifteen years, the national obsession is the pursuit of the coveted convertible pesos. This is not the "national money," the currency of our wages, but rather a "tourist currency" that is tied to the dollar. This is the money we must have to open the doors of the shops full of goodies, where a quart of milk can cost as much as four days' wages. But even these multicolored bills cannot buy certain objects and services, among them a house, a car, a fixed telephone line, a foreign newspaper or an internet connection.
The illusion of changes that the transfer of power -- within the same bloodline -- to Raul Castro would bring, vanished several months ago into an immobility that promises only difficulties ahead. Confronted with yearnings for greater flexibility, the younger brother responded with the idea of military discipline to make the land more productive, and emphasized calls for sacrifice. But the effects of his political "belt tightening" still have not been reflected on our plates or in our pockets. In the face of such foot dragging, as well as the complete lack of any political compromise that could yield needed transformations, we convert our premonitions to music, humming that popular tune: "The chief is delirious, it's a worry, but you pal, you, fight for your food."
*Taino = A native Cuban, pre-Columbus. Yuca = also known as cassava or manioc. The root is eaten similar to potatoes; flour made from the roots is tapioca.
Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.