Cuba: Economic Deja Vu?

A few Cuban bloggers have been voicing their economic concerns – and wondering whether the island's recent reforms, some of which include a more open approach to self-employment – could translate into political change as well.

Diaspora blogger Uncommon Sense didn't think much had really changed on the economic front, noting that:

The average salary in Cuba climbs to $19 a month.
Yes, in 2012.

Generation Y admitted to “hav[ing] the impression of being trapped in a permanent deja vu”:

Today at noon I heard on the street words identical to those of last week; the neighborhood brooding over problems very similar to those of two decades ago, and at the butcher’s a long line seemed modeled on another of 1994 or 2002. It’s hard to shake the feeling that we have already lived this…One of the recurring scenes is the pursuit of food and other basic products chronically in short supply in our markets. Going after a little oil, a package of sausage, or a piece of soap to wash clothes.

Sanchez went on to explain how “the long-awaited reform that allowed the rebirth of self-employment has generated some problems that are barely talked about”:

Lacking a wholesale market where they can buy supplies and raw materials for their small businesses, private workers have turned to the already weak retail network. They line up at dawn outside the bakeries and certain shops to acquire large quantities of merchandise that end up in restaurant and snack bar kitchens. Without any special discounts for buying in quantity, maintaining a supply of vegetables, grains and meats becomes a harrowing task, difficult and extremely expensive. In addition, they significantly decrease the availability of products for the non-industrial consumer, the individual shopper who needs are only for home use. The retail majority.

The feeble State commerce is not prepared for the demand of recent months…If this contradiction isn’t resolved, the time will come when pork, peppers and potatoes can only be found on the plates of paladares — private restaurants. And the neighbor who complains today, for the umpteenth time, about the absence of toilet paper, will have to visit the bathrooms of the new restaurants to remember what those rolls were like, so white, so soft.

Bad Handwriting shared an interesting perspective, having attended a meeting organised by the journal Temas (Topics), about issues of self-employment:

I expanded my horizons as a housewife. I learned that artists and religious priests are also “self-employed” workers, and that this category will soon become 20% of the workforce. I also found a display on 600 employed persons, which showed that they earn on average six times more than in their former state job.

There were those who came to the defense of the reviled carretilleros, walking vendors with their carts, who have received a ton of abuse, as if they were responsible for the lack of variety and the high price of vegetables.

Although the panel members still used archaic language (especially the one ‘self-employed’ panel), they generally spoke of the positive impact of this emerging sector in the recovery of the value of working and the need to change social attitudes that see this work as reprehensible — a form of mild forgetfulness that it is a natural reaction to a half century of government stigma associated with private and personal enrichment.

To her though, “the best part [of the meeting] came with the comments”:

There was a call for a clear regulatory framework and public statistics about this new line of work…

The writer Yoss posed a theoretical problem: If all economic power generates political power, is the state resigned to the possibility of losing their power? The self-employed comrade on the panel made clear that, contrary to what we were taught in the manual of political economy, economic changes will not bring political change, and the party will remain solely and exclusively in charge.

The young people, as always, shone a bright light. One talked about eliminating the fear of the reality of the changes, another asked if it they import and export, if State services such as SEPSA (security) can be used, if credit cards work. Another said that the union’s role is to defend the worker, not tell the bad news through a press organ of the Party. Another young professor explained his experience being self-employed and advocated that the measures to be regularized before implementation and not vice versa.

I left there in a better mood. We are neither brutish nor dull. What we lack is freedom.

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