HAVANA TIMES — Every decline in the dynamic of an authoritarian power reveals the illusory character of the community that once unanimously supported it.
The leasing of state-owned storefronts to food service workers is the most recent conceptual decline.
Who were the people that supported the nationalization of everything including tiny corner food-stands in the first place?
The answer is us, the same people who are now indifferent or even applauding this recycling process?
My grandmother found out about all this just a few months ago and it shocked her to the point of dizziness.
I never knew Pablo, her uncle (practically her father), but the story about his suicide used to come up occasionally in family discussions. “He never did get over them taking away his bodeguita (little corner store). He got all depressed,” relatives would say.
Pablo sold beans, lard and a little meat, and in that way he supported his family, something without the faintest shadow of enrichment or exploitation.
Then, voila! The state did its magic. Even though some people don’t think we’ve gone backwards or forward in 50 years, it’s not that simple.
The restructuring in this service sector suggests quite a few things.
For one, this act of a forced shift from government employment to self-employment is something many people won’t be able to manage since they’ve spent decades performing symbolic work in exchange for symbolic wages.
I don’t think the workers in the more than 1,000 establishments slated for this transformation will all of a sudden be capable of overcoming two major hurdles: Firstly, they’ll face the operating expenses that private businesses require; and secondly, there are the costs of repairing and renovating those severely deteriorated old facilities.
In addition, they’ll be operating at a clear competitive disadvantage with respect to those individuals who voluntarily decided to start food-service operations and had the seed money in hand for their start-up businesses.
If products as basic as milk and eggs already seem to be playing hide and seek with us consumers, then how are these new “owners” going to obtain the necessary products if almost the only things the all-powerful state can supply are rum and cigarettes?
These issues obviously imply increases in the level of unemployment; the further hoarding of goods (which will worsen the situation of the general population); and a subterranean struggle between those who are economically capable of securing “strategic” formerly state-controlled businesses and those who aren’t.
Finally, I do think the new measure has one small positive element.
The leasing of space as well as collective payments for the costs of water, electricity and other services could be catalysts for cooperative working relations.
This could also mean the transition away from of a way of life based on following orders and complying with regulations drafted in ministerial offices, towards a new culture based on workers’ empowerment in the workplace.
Let’s be a little optimistic and fairly objective. As the government cuts the ropes, what’s ahead will be critical times for many families on the island.