Cuba: Public vs. Private Competition

Osmel Almaguer

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 4 — Though private food services in Cuba haven’t succeeded in outstripping state-run food services, in the sale of day-to-day consumer articles this isn’t the case.

This is due in large part to a strange solidarity between private vendors. Instead of competing with each other, they agree on certain prices and quality levels, which are different from the prices and quality of services provided by the state.

In the competition that was established through the issuing of self-employment licenses to anyone who desired one, private businesses have been given a big advantage, at least in the sale of articles, like I said.

This is especially so in the case of clothing that’s imported onto the black market from Latin American countries that have duty free zones.

These articles come in fake brands that young people are eager to wear, in the absence of the genuine brands. The prices are equal to or lower than those in the government-run shops, and they come in styles and designs that are in fashion.

This is different from the state-run stores, where it seems like the wholesale buyers never interest themselves in purchasing products that are in demand.

A similar situation occurs with shoes, which — like clothes and other articles — have improved a lot in recent years in terms of their quality and attractiveness.

Other areas in which privates vendors excel are hardware store items and certain types of food services (the so-called “paladars,” or private restaurants).

Likewise, we’re seeing the construction of private gyms, given the growing demand of a people who these days are more concerned about individual appearances than they are about patriotic, cultural or work matters.

People have come up with everything from foam machine parties to concerts with “perreando” (dirty dancing) and reggaeton.

In short, people have found a whole range of solutions in their quest to raise their standard of living.

Only those who don’t need to earn aren’t trying to make a buck with a business.

Therefore, those people with ideas continue generating new opportunities. Though money is tight in Cuba, if it keeps circulating it will improve our lives.

osmel

Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.


8 thoughts on “Cuba: Public vs. Private Competition

  • January 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm
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    Grady will it surprise you to learn that I have no hate for Fidel Castro?
    He is to me just a person with the same problems that we all have. Some times he is right and some times he is wrong just like the rest of us.

    He would have gotten a lot more credit for example if education was really for everyone, those with him and those that opposed him. He will have a lot more credit if health care quality was even and not better for special groups. He would have had infinite praise from me and probably every Cuban if in 1959 or a few years later he had rejected the traps and seduction absolute power and bring back democracy to Cuba and be now just like any Cuban.
    Now in his old age he seem concentrated in international affairs than in solving Cuban issues he himself created. His last analysis show his preoccupation with and apocalyptic future that may never be.

    Cuba will return to democracy. This is something that eventually will happen. Sooner or later. Hopefully sooner. I actually wish he would be able to see a democratic Cuba before he dies.

  • January 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm
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    It is interesting to see Julio reducing everything to his hatred of Fidel . . . but not very interesting.

    People have blind spots, Julio. People on the Left, for example, have great difficulty connecting the work “monopoly” to the concept or vision of “socialism.” I myself, as you know, never connected the two until you forced my, by strong argument, to do so.

    I had a blind spot because the two words seem to be mutually exclusive. The last thing a socialist wishes to hear is that post-capitalism, as exhibited in countries like the Soviet Union and Cuba, is some sort of monopoly. And so, we go merrily along, calling it bureaucratic and absolutist and anything under the sun, except for monopoly. And yet, once the term is accepted, the conceptual fog begins to lift.

    You helped me–and our movement–to characterize the socialism of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Fidel and Raul accurately as state monopoly. But, Julio, this is a programmatic clarification, not a personality critique. The exchange between rob and me has to do with program, not the personality of a leader.

  • January 6, 2012 at 10:48 am
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    Grady may I suggest you move to Cuba. It will be a huge an enormous experience for you. You will learn in real life what I have tried to explain and failed.

  • January 6, 2012 at 10:45 am
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    Interesting to see Rob and Grady increasing the personality cult to Fidel Castro!

    I believe you two attributed too much power to Fidel. While he still may have some blind followers in Cuba and from listening to you two maybe in the world. They are less and less.

    Things should not happen because one person have the whim to do so. They should happen because most people want it to happen. The left always forgets the people and goes back to this pernicious paternalism. Things in government should never happen because of the will of one person.

    Rob in some things you are correct
    this

    “i am begining to think that the leadership or at the very least influential members of the elite in cuba simply do not want worker and citizen autonomy at all.” and also this

    “a capitalism of the worst kind..one that will inevetibly combine the worst aspects of the beauracratic state and the worst aspects of the unaccountable business, and without any of the basic human rights that we in the privelaged world enjoy.”

    They do not want to give power back to the people. the more they give back the less power they will have to command people. The elite likes soldiers that blindly follow orders not citizens.

  • January 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm
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    Well reasoned and well said, rob. Thanks for replying.

    I’m especially moved by your last observation “if [Fidel] were to simply say that cuba needs cooperative private business and entrepreneurship, it would be so…all he has to do is speak up.” This is so very true, and it is sometimes maddening for me that he hasn’t done so already.

    You know, in the last couple of years since I’ve been commenting in HT, there has always been in the back of my mind a fantasy that Fidel might follow what is written in HT, and discover the idea our movement has put forward of a state co-ownership, cooperative form of socialism. If he were to do so, and if he were to embrace it and advocate it, the world political Left might regroup around this new principle for workable socialism, and the entire world of nations might rapidly progress rapidly to a network of socialist cooperative republics.

    But it is a possibility that, thus far, remains a fantasy. All I (and we) can do is continue to build our movement in the United States, and hope that the Left vanguard will come to their senses and join us. Best wishes to you.

  • January 4, 2012 at 9:20 pm
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    Grady,
    we on the left can bang our heads against the wall repeatedly about what the cuban government should do, but i am begining to think that the leadership or at the very least influential members of the elite in cuba simply do not want worker and citizen autonomy at all. i believe that they may rather take the chinese road, allowing private business..but thats the key word, “allowing”, which means it can be revoked at any time. the sad thing is that once the private business owner, be it a small or large business, starts to thrive they will demand representation within the government, which they will get, at the expense of the public at large. it pains me to say that i think we are watching a slow motion restoration of capitalism, and a capitalism of the worst kind..one that will inevetibly combine the worst aspects of the beauracratic state and the worst aspects of the unaccountable business, and without any of the basic human rights that we in the privelaged world enjoy.
    the saddest thing is that fidel is not a dumb man and clearly cares genuinely about the well being of the cuban people, and cleary knows that the cuban model is dying..and even though he is no longer in power, if he were to simply say that cuba needs cooperative private business and entrepreneurship, it would be so…all he has to do is speak up

  • January 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm
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    What seems to be missing in Cuba is the cooperative entrepreneur. Worker-owned coop businesses are easier to capitalize than individual-owned private businesses, and with proper leadership can dominate a market. But such coops do not pop magically out of the ground. Visionary leaders have to have the genius and guts to organize them and lead them. It’s the same in every country.

    The PCC should be providing the leadership for such coops. PCC cadre should be the one’s providing the genius and guts for them.

    Is the party and government doing anything to bring such coops into existence?

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