Leaving Cuba

Ideas and Issues International

Havana, Cuba: I leave Havana for Santa Domingo with more questions than answers.  Our hosts with the CDC had been sincere and gracious.  The delegation had been open handed and welcoming.  We had all learned a huge amount in a relatively short period of time.

Some things just did not add up, but perhaps it really did not matter that much one way or another.  Take tips in the tourist trade.  It is easier to believe in virgin birth than that tipped workers pool all of their tips.  First, let’s be clear – there is nothing good about tips – period!  Employers should pay a fair wage – customers should demand that that is the case and accept that when they pay for a meal or whatever that part of the surcharge is providing labor with its just due.  Why in a communist society are they even talking about tips at all?!?  Search me.

In theory then if the customer were forcing workers to take tips, then why wouldn’t there be a system of equal sharing?  Pooling all tips would be a dream come true, and certainly that is the rap we heard continually.  In truth even if something between a piece and the whole pie ends in a tip pool, the effort alone is a huge accomplishment compared to the practice in the States.  But, why then were we constantly being hustled for tips by individual workers?  And, why if we were led to believe in more than one location that all tips were going to the Cuban cancer fund, were we not making a direct contribution from our delegation to the fund, and eliminating the middleman?  One of the union officials in Matanzas in fact had been frank at lunch with me off to the side and said, “hey, everyone loves money, we do the best we can” or words to that effect.  Sounded right.  I can totally believe that.

Take the cab drivers we met the first day.  Even conceding that they made a $35000 contribution to the state’s cancer fund, 150 drivers working every day and making tips would sure come up with more than $1.00 equivalent in tips for the day, and the simple math means that it did not all go to the cancer fund.  So, why gild the lily?  It’s overkill.  The effort enough is cause for applause, so why take it to a point where it erodes the earlier hope and admiration by stretching past credibility.  As I said, more questions at the end than answers.

Cuban society has much that speaks to all of us.  It is refreshing to not be constantly barraged by advertisements and commercials.  One feels safe on the street.  There are lots of security patrols.  People are friendly.  There seems little racial discrimination. We spent a couple of hours the last day walking through the beautiful and excellent Museo de Bella Artes, and then walked over to the old governmental palace, which is now the Museo de Revolution where from floor to floor one can trace the heroic period when the “bearded” ones came down from the Sierra Maedras and chased Batista out of office. 

And, Havana is an elegant and beautiful city in its own special way.

I will have to puzzle this out for a while.