Every morning before dawn, hundreds of people line up outside the US embassy. At midday this particular day, Acelia De La Osa, a 71-year-old retired physics teacher with frizzy hair, bounds out of the sleek modernist building and hugs her daughter. They both laugh with tears in their eyes: Acelia’s got a visa and will soon be in Florida.
Her daughter, Ana Delia, the only one of her siblings left on the island, also hopes to get out once her visa comes through. An intensive care nurse, she has seen her salary’s purchasing power – now the equivalent of just $18 a month – cut in half over the last three years by inflation.As well as her tiny wage, she cited the piecemeal education her children now receive as another reason for wanting to leave. With a mass exodus of teachers from schools, there’s nobody to teach her 13-year-old twins maths.
State wages in Cuba have plummeted in recent years as “maximum pressure” US sanctions have created massive shortages and stoked runaway inflation. Meanwhile, squeezed public sector workers have more options than before: emigration out of the country is smashing records, while a resurgent private sector hoovers up much of the talent that remains.
The upshot is that the state is suffering an unprecedented brain drain: health and education, long seen as the “pillars” of the Revolution, are fraying as qualified personnel empty out.