HAVANA TIMES — An especially interesting feature appeared on the evening TV news in Cuba on June 5th. A reporter was trying to find out “on the ground” how prices were being set in hard-currency stores in Havana.
There were reports that some prices had illegally shot up, so the TV crew decided to go to several stores to film the products on the shelves and compare the prices.
But the reporting crew wasn’t allowed into any of the stores.
On TV they showed how the guards at the stores refused to let the journalists and the film crew enter. When the managers were questioned about this (though none of those managers appeared on screen), they referred to mysterious “guidelines” and “directives” prohibiting “any filming” inside the stores.
The astonished journalists were able to convey all of this on TV, but at no time did any “superiors” appear to give any explanation about why there was censorship by bureaucrats at establishments selling goods to the public. It was as if they didn’t exist.
This is something for which they’re notorious. Not only are citizens and the independent media restricted, but the government press (“of the whole people,” according to the constitution) has its hands tied as well when it comes to access to information related to the public domain.
Those of the bureaucratic class have their businesses well protected from public scrutiny.
This made me think back to what happened to several colleagues of Havana Times when they tried to go to a large landfill south of Havana.
But I also have the optimistic testimony from some law students whose professors sent them to do critical work in constitutional law concerning access (a constitutionally protected right) to hotels on the island by Cuban citizens. That was a few years ago, when it wasn’t “fashionable” to admit ordinary Cubans into hotels that charged in hard currency.
The young female law students tried to get a room, and the front desk clerk asked them for identification. When they pulled out their Cuban IDs, the clerk then said they couldn’t stay at the hotel.
The women then showed him a copy of the Constitution of the Republic and their law school IDs, and asked him who had dared to order him to violate the constitution. The management staff later appeared with folders of bureaucratic documents of all types – none of them really legally valid.
Bureaucracies protect their businesses well.
In the case of hotels, however, months after the “experiment” that I wrote about, Cubans were allowed to do what the constitution guarantees.
How long will it take for our other rights to be respected to that same degree?