Sociedad Jose Marti

sábado, junio 04, 2005

Slave Trade

Sociedad Jose Marti
Originally published in The Miami Herald, May 9, 2005

By Jaime Suchlicki*

They come from all over the island. Women and men. Black and white, mostly young. They are the Cuban poor looking for an opportunity to save a few euros to help their families. They are eager to know and learn about the world and willing to travel to far, unknown places.

You find them throughout Europe, but mostly in Spain, on the land and on cruise ships. They work as nurses, musicians, waiters, entertainers. Their skills are sought by foreign employers looking for trained workers, in many cases willing to work for lesser wages.

They leave Cuba with the acquiescence of the Cuban government. There is a surplus of skilled labor in the island. Unemployment and underemployment are high. Opportunities few. Despair great. The Castro government benefits from their labor, collecting a large percentage of their wages, and stripping them of “luxury items” such as cameras, computers and household goods, which they attempt to bring back in upon returning home.

Cuban labor has become an export commodity. But this is not free labor, migrating to new lands, seeking opportunities. These are Cubans controlled and organized by a totalitarian state recovering on its educational investment. It rents its best and brightest for a price and collects a share.

The Cuban government rents labor on the island too. Foreign companies investing in Cuba hire workers from the state, pay the Castro government in U.S. dollars or euros and the government pays the workers in pesos worth 80 percent less than a U.S. dollar/euro. The Cuban worker receives a small percentage of the dollar/euros paid by foreign companies, the Castro government pockets the rest. No unions, no strikes. No negotiated contracts. No benefits.Workers who do not perform are replaced by others selected by a government agency. No protest, no recourse.

Arebeit Macht Frei – “Work shall make you free.” For the Jews of Europe, these Nazi signs, found mainly in concentration camps during World War II, meant death, not freedom. For the Cubans of Castro’s gulag, work doesn’t mean freedom either. It means a meager existence, marking time . . . and hoping for a better tomorrow.

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He just returned from a trip to Spain.