Who sees the growth in the Cuban economy?
The Government just announced that Cuba's economy grew by 4% this past year. What should that figure mean? Who is supposed to notice that growth? Where and how can it be seen?
"Oh, there was one year we grew nearly 7%," said Antonio, a retiree in line for a newspaper. "I've worked all my life with numbers, and I really do not understand how they ever could have reached these conclusions. Growth, just look ... "
Santiago, a retired military man, mentions Health and Education, although these are not exactly economic line items. "It doesn´t matter, they're achievements of the Revolution," he says so that everyone can hear him loud and clear.
"In Alamar we can't see any growth, unless you're talking about grass, or the crime rate. Perhaps the growth began in Vedado," Lourdes snaps sarcastically.
The El Falcon shopping center in Alamar is seriously undersupplied, although the management struggles to place the products so that it appears that there is a lot where there is actually little.
When it rains the town's main streets flood, the public lighting is deficient, or non-existent; septic tanks can overflow, their sewage spilling and seeping all the way to the coast; most of the buildings have not been seriously repaired in over 20 years; and the lack of collection and oil trucks still serve as excuses for the accumulation of garbage in the street.
"Here two things have improved: transportation and the houses being built for the military and the police. Nothing else. People still have no money," says Aylem, a hairdresser.
"The country should look like an animal that is growing," reasons Alejandro, a chauffeur and former student of Economics. "But the animal's movements are often faster and stronger than the numbers announced," he adds, trying to explain to his passengers what 4% economic growth means.
"The growth seems very small, but the truth is that in economic terms it's huge. And this animal looks sick," he says.
He stops in the streets of Old Havana that they have been repairing, although it seems to him more like they're being broken.
"They spend two months opening up holes and, you don't know how, but within two months they're bound to have to reopen them because they connected something wrong. But look at the big job being done on the police station here on the corner," he says.
"Maybe the 4% is going to rebuild the Capitol, or being spent on the Gran Teatro de la Habana (theater), or maybe things are improving for the jineteros," he jokes, as he alludes to the throngs of American tourists walking down the street.
"You can tell that they're Americans, just from the way they look," says Charly. "Look at them, with their linen blazers, their pricey Nikes, their Yankee scent and their English, but they don't give anyone a thing."
A waitress at the Italian food restaurant Prado and Neptuno is of the same view. "It's true that this is the high season, but because they come on organized tours, they never end up here. Well, look what time it is and this place is empty." Yet another corner of the city where no economic growth can be seen.
"Havana should be less messy, less broken down, people should be happier, and have more money," says a man in line for legal consultancy in Playa as he points at the street he's standing on.
"Look at the potholes. Not even the agencies that represent them (the Government) notice that 4%," he adds, referring to the building housing the Provincial Directorate of Education.
"However, that little stone house next door now has another office ... and the custodians say they're going to give it to a general. That one sure grew," he jokes. "Or do they grow with the amount of money paid by all of us who want to leave the country, who have to come here and deal with this red tape?"
In Miramar the number of private businesses is up. Perhaps the tax collection had to do with that figure of 4. But 3rd Avenue is riddled with gaping potholes, and the streetlights are so defective that those who walk along its sidewalks can barely see their own hands.
Nor do the employees at the publisher Arte y Literatura see any growth. This year, because they produced less than expected, they are earning even less than the average wage.
"They had the crazy idea of operating a company in Cuba, and what happened? Now they're earning salaries of a bit over 200 pesos because they never had the freedom necessary to set up an effective business, or because they have no idea of what running a business is really like, and for many reasons that have nothing to do with economics, but rather with politics," says a Culture official who preferred to remain anonymous.
"We must be careful because tumors also grow," says Nely, who understands nothing about economics. "This year I had to sell twice as many wipes and be three times more careful, with the number of police on the street."
While economic growth can be read about in the newspaper, on the streets there are more beggars, and ditches, and the economy continues to spur people to emigrate, or into crime.
Many people asked did not know or care about the statistics. They have stopped believing in the announcements "because you eat less, and have to scrimp and scrounge to dress up, or just to earn a few bucks.”