Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

18 de Abril del 2000

AN OPENING ON THE EDGE OF CLOSING DOWN. By Orestes Martín Pérez, Cuba Free Press.

Pinar del Río.- Decades ago our city’s streets lost the popular ornamental signs once planted on porches by small businesses. It was not until the early 90’s that the government, obsessed with controlling all that is purchased and sold, made a slight concession. It offered a legal loophole allowing, to a certain degree, an economic right that should always belong to all – and once did.

The adoption of this measure deceived some dupes into betting in favor of some “irreversible change” in Cuba. Some even thought it was going to have an unavoidable influence on the solution of polemic controversial matters.

But such an opinion was possible only in the minds of those who just by saying it aloud hoped to achieve opportunities to safeguard or establish their own economic improvement. They had no lucidity in understanding the peculiarities of our system.

I would like to take by the arm today those optimists who made such inferences and stroll down any street so they could count one by one the small private businesses forced to close. They would observe how insignificant is the number of those that still survive.

It would be interesting to know their response to this disaster. As for any opening to the outside world, the rules that have presided over its ‘execution’ are well known. The discrimination against Cubans could not be greater. The government denies them the right to invest - a right offered with abundant guarantees to any foreigner.

As if that were not enough, the “government” is the one who decides who can be hired or not - by private business - according to criteria that prioritize political acquiescence.

Although workers in firms in business with foreign investors do have marked privileges in comparison with those of ordinary state-run firms, that does not make them exempt from government exploitation.

Proof of this is that government agents grab all the salaries that are paid in hard currency by an investor and then relay to the employee only an amount in national currency that does not exceed $15 to $20 a month.

Besides, those who work here are subjected to requirements that violate the most elemental independent labor union rights. And the state is intent on following these investments through at any cost.

Actually, the government’s own survival depends on it. Due to such resources the government is not forced to yield any ground on its political control over the population.

By contrast, the small economic benefits the state once offered to the people do not provide the same returns to the government. These concessions were conceived at a time in which only popular initiative could support the bare minimum of basic needs of the people to save the 'face'of a government whose resources had been reduced to zero.

Rather than saving the people with such moves, what the state did was save itself by preventing the seemingly infinite resistance of the people from reaching a bursting point. The government thus avoided losing control over an irritated population.

But as soon as foreign investors started bringing the state out of its coma, the government resumed its attacks on the small private sector that it itself had created just a little while back.

It sought no substitute for the benefits that the opening provided to the people. Above all, a substitute was not sought for the inherent creation of new jobs or services and supplies that the “opening” brought. In fact, many of the benefits had never before existed in post-revolution Cuba.

This phenomenon actually surprised the authorities and provided them unpleasant experiences! The Cubans’ colossal entrepreneurial forces surpassed expectations. Springing up everywhere were cafeterias, restaurants, pizzerias, lounges, guaraperas (sugar cane juice stands) and whatever might satisfy public demand and generate income. And all that at a time when the country was dead broke!

The authorities had not been blind to the chronic inability of the state to satisfy the needs of the population. But they had not foreseen that this could be demonstrated so humiliatingly by private entrepreneurs’ initiative. Besides, a number of people, reaching incomes of six digits were rejoicing in feeling how their dependence on the state was weakening. They celebrated so wildly that they even stopped playing the political game!

The government found itself unable to make such people participate in the staged political events and demonstrations or mobilizations to go to work on the farm or serve time in the militias! Facing such a crisis, a last attempt was made to regain control through the initiative of incorporating private workers into government trade unions.

That idea was a fiasco. The implications of subjecting oneself to a government-controlled trade union were too clear to get people to tie themselves up that easily. So the government then had to do something else to put an end to an entrepreneurial phenomenon that was getting out of hand by the minute.

Eventually there was no alternative left but apply the totalitarian maxim (aphorism) which demands that that which cannot be controlled by the government must disappear. The bureaucrats started digging the grave in which to bury what some pipe dreamers had taken to call euphorically the “economic opening of the Cuban government.”

Here’s the grave: A tax collection policy at odds with business profits, coupled with abusive regulations and other impositions totally lacking in commercial equity, plus fines of implausibly large amounts and an army of intractable inflexible inspectors and to top it all a prohibition on delivery of new licenses for new private businesses.

Such was the arsenal in the government’s war against self-employment. In spite of skills that the people had learned through the decades to try to outsmart the government, the independent worker gradually had to surrender.

All the guaraperas closed. Virtually no private restaurants and pizzerias remain. And to find a cafeteria or a snack stand, one must walk several city blocks.

Now the commercial environment along our streets is almost the same as before, when the pro-self-employment law had not been passed. And on the porch where the old man, the housewife or the young entrepreneur attentively assisted the hungry and thirsty or tired customer, apathy and desolation reign once again.

This is the current show of an opening that verges on its closing.

Orestes Martín Pérez, Cubba Free Press


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