If a radical militant leftist in Latin America, Europe or anywhere in the world were asked if he would be willing to live on a salary of $28 a month, he would think it was a joke.
But it's not. In the mecca of the Americas' left, Castroist Cuba, that is the average salary today, in a country that in 1958 boasted among the highest average salaries in the Americas, and ranked eighth in the world.
The year before the Castroist assault on power, Cuban industrial workers earned six dollars a day for an eight-hour day, and an agricultural worker, three dollars, figures duly registered in the statistics of the International Labor Organization (ILO), of the ONU.
That is, the salary of a Cuban industrial worker 60 years ago was $130 per month (the result of multiplying 30 weeks by 52 and then dividing by 12 months). That of agricultural workers was half that: 65 dollars monthly. And it is worth remembering that at that time the Cuban peso was on a par with the dollar, instantly exchangeable for it.
Of course, nobody in Cuba knows (he can't find out) that in 1958 that salary of six dollars a day was actually the eighth highest in the world, behind the US (16.80 dollars), Canada (11.73), Sweden (8.10), Switzerland (8.00) , New Zealand (6.72), Denmark (6.46), and Norway (6.10). The figures ILO's figures attest to this.
The salary of three dollars a day for Cuban agricultural workers, meanwhile, was the seventh highest in the world, after Canada (7.18 dollars), New Zealand (6.72), Australia (6.61), USA (6.80), Sweden (5.47), and Norway (4.38).
Of particular note is the fact that a 1958 dollar was equivalent to 8.68 dollars in 2018. Its purchasing power was nine times greater than today's dollar, according to the website El dinero en el tiempo (Money Over Time), after applying the appropriate formulas and taking into account the average inflation rate of 3.67% over these 60 years.
That is to say, in 1958 the working grandfather, "exploited" by the bourgeoisie, earned some $1,128 per month in today's money. 60 years later, his socialist worker grandson earns 27.92 dollars a month (670 pesos), a revelation made by his own National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), in 2017. In Haiti, it is more than double that ($59).
Paying 794 dollars for a kilogram of chicken breast
In 1958, not only was the nominal salary of Cubans five times higher than today, but their real salaries were infinitely higher, taking into account the salary/price relationship then in place.
At that time prices in Cuba and the US were very similar. Therefore, it is worth knowing that in 1958 in the US, with an average salary of $364 per month, one pound of steak cost 75 cents; a liter of milk, 20 cents; a 14-oz. bag of Uncle Ben rice, 19 cents; one loaf of bread, 19 cents, one gallon of gasoline, 24 cents; a postage stamp, four cents.
A simple Ford car cost $1,967; an average three-bedroom house, $10,450; travelling on a cruise ship from Havana to Miami, $42 per person. And, for two dollars you could attend a game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The contrast is absolutely stunning. At Cuba's grocery stores, according to an official list of prices published by Cybercuba, a kilogram of chicken breast with skin and bone costs between 3.80 and 4.50 dollars. One kilogram of second-rate beef: 4.20 to 5.20 dollars. To buy a 2013 Peugeot a Cuban and his descendants must work for 783 years (until the 24th century) to cover the cost: 263,185 dollars.
With those Castroist prices applied to the US, with a per capita income of $4,961 per month in 2017 (according to the World Bank), a consumer from Idaho or California would have to pay $794 to acquire a kilogram of chicken breast with bone and skin. Not even Kafka would have been able to imagine something like this.
The most dramatic situation is that of retirees. With an average pension of 12 dollars per month (287 pesos), as published by Cubadebate in 2017, on the island retirees and elderly non-retired people live in poverty and marginalization. The State does not do anything for them. They sell what they can, even their personal belongings, or newspapers, or peanuts, take turns in lines, or work as guards in public areas. Many rummage through trash cans. Such is the sad end of their lives.
However, according to official data from May 2018, while the budget for social security has been falling, and today is about 300 million, that dedicated to the Armed Forces and MININT increased from 1.702 billion in 2006 to 2.546 billion in 2016. Of course, they keep the dictatorship going.
Marxist exploitation, the worst kind of all
In fact, there is nothing in the world that squeezes more from a worker than the system designed by Karl Marx. First of all, because the socialist state keeps most of the worker's salary. It is confiscated without him noticing.
In light of the economic doctrine itself advanced by Marxin Das Kapital, the Castro regime not only appropriates the surplus value created by the worker (that is, the value that he creates over the value of its own labor force) but the State paying such low salaries also entails the appropriation of much of the value created by the worker to survive.
That value the worker created for himself ought to be received entirely in the form of a salary for his food, housing, transportation, and other needs, for him and his family. But the State seizes not only the gain that corresponds to it as the owner of the means of production, raw material, etc., but also much of the value created by the worker for himself. That is wage theft.
This kind of economic repression must be denounced. It is not about relenting in the battle for political and humanistic freedoms, but about speaking out louder to condemn Castroism's hitherto "invisible" economic repression.
Already inserted into the nation's DNA, this repression is the first misfortune that plagues everyday Cubans when they wake up in the morning. He cannot survive on his salary, by any means. Hence, this should be one of the primary demands of Cubans in their struggle for their rights and freedom.
If there were protests everywhere because the bread is no good, or never arrived; or because the potatoes did not arrive either, or because wages are not enough to buy basic groceries, or due to the lack of medication, or the accumulation of rotten garbage in the streets, or because they have been wallowing in outdated, unhealthy housing for the last 20 years... this would be a new form of internal pressure that it would be more difficult for the dictatorship to handle. And it would have an impact abroad.
The question is obvious: What good has the "socialist revolution" done Cubans if today their standard of living is so much worse than six decades ago?
The dictator and his military junta must be made to feel the people's rejection of their economic repression, and to realize that the absurdity born of the socialist model – which even Fidel Castro admitted "does not work" – is intolerable.
And it should be repeated everywhere: the average Cuba's grandfather in 1958 earned the equivalent of $1,128 in 2018, exactly 40 times more than his "revolutionary" grandchild – Che Guevara's "new man".