By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Over recent weeks, Cuban TV news shows have featured the unusual coverage of corruption cases linked to the private sector on the whole. In these news reports, the police are taking action and the population has reported the violators, apparently.
Add to the mix the new season of the popular national detective show “Tras la huella”, which focuses more on administrative crimes linked to unprincipled business owners or simple criminals.
On the other hand, the subjects of the “blockade” and “Trump, the evil enemy who is stifling us”, continue to get great coverage in national media. On top of all of this, images of Council of Ministers meetings are shown every day, during which we hear President Diaz-Canel and his ministers discussing real problems and looking for solutions. Then, there are images and more images of different leaders visiting places, always looking for solutions and checking to see that everything is running as it needs to be.
It’s the same old cocktail of propaganda, but it’s been hiked up a notch recently. We have to ask ourselves: is this all a coincidence or does it form part of a strategy during the current crisis?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and I believe it has a lot to do with the irrefutable fact that the country is immersed in a serious crisis, without any visible opportunities for the Communist Party’s authoritarian and centralized system to make it out of this one intact.
Faced with such an adverse reality, they are preparing the population so they don’t react with a mass rebellion driven by dissatisfaction, which might well happen if they lose their fear and say “you are the ones to blame, get out of power.”
This is why the official strategy is directed at planting the seed in people’s minds that the real people to blame for the current situation isn’t the government or the system, but criminals, hoarders who take advantage and some leaders who become corrupt; and that “they really are dealing with it now.”
Meanwhile they depict a government that is allegedly “working a great deal for the Cuban people”, even though there aren’t any results. This is the idea that sticks in people’s minds, as Fidel would say “like conditioned reflections in the mind.”
This strategy really does work. If you ask most anyone out on the street, you’ll realize that people have only understood what the government wants them to understand, when they watch these cases on TV. It’s hard to sweep away all the dead leaves and see what really lies beneath.
This is why you can’t underestimate the “power of the media”, which the government still has under its absolute control with TV, the radio and written press. Regardless of the fact that the Internet is helping people to have more varied, alternative and even direct information from people who share events on social media.
The reality is that we have a very weak private sector (read here: self-employed sector), which is extremely vulnerable compared to the government, as it can be wiped out just by challenging the latter. Not only because of its dependence which is inherent in laws and regulations, but because it has been forced to walk on the other side of the law ever since its conception.
Generally-speaking, the self-employed need to steal and divert resources in order to get a hold of raw materials; lie on their tax declaration so the business can be worth its while, or do an unrecognized activity with a license for something else.
The government knows this and tolerates it. However, it’s still illegal at the end of the day, thousands of illegal activities!, which make them vulnerable and the day the government wants to, it can bury them (as we say on the street here), for any reason whatsoever.
This is what is happening right now, during a time when the government needs scapegoats to pass the ball into the opposite side of the court, so that the Cuban people are blamed for the government’s own mistakes, and support those who are really at fault: the ones who are incapable of bringing about the change Cuba needs because they are afraid to lose their privileges of power.
Why doesn’t a metal gate or window-maker have papers for the metals they use? Can they legally buy them to work with their license? Why is driving a truck full of root vegetables illegal, if the intermediary bought them off their real owner, the farmer who produced them, and didn’t steal them?
Why is a business owner who builds a warehouse and even refrigerates it so that when they buy onions at the peak of the season and keep them to sell when they aren’t in season, a criminal? Isn’t this is a business activity across the globe? Something that has great social value, because the State is unable to efficiently do this?
Self-employed business owners are extremely limited in terms of what they can legally do in Cuba and they have always been tolerated in order for the country to carry on functioning, more or less; or because the State in unable to cover these social needs, but doesn’t dare to let the private sector do it illegally. They are afraid of being voided by the private sector’s efficiency that is much greater by nature. This is what the government’s wants, the private sector in its hands, with one foot in their business and the other one in jail. That’s the sad reality.
However, even though it does work for them and it’s sad to watch such an unfortunate show, I trust that this is just a temporary solution for the country’s dysfunctional system. Because reality is so adverse in Cuba, the crisis is too deep and the Communist Party’s ability to generate hope is so low, that no matter how many strategies they use, they won’t be able to deny reality, much less cover the sun with a finger.
I firmly believe that the change Cuba needs is inevitable and urgent. Maybe this unfortunate situation of COVID-19, which hit the country during the regime’s “temporary” structural crisis, be the drop that overfills the glass. The die is cast.