Cuba’s Self-Employed and their Investments

Regina Cano

Small 3 D Cinema. Photo: Cubanite

HAVANA TIMES — A privately owned 3D theatre, housed by a locale in the commercial center located in Alamar’s Zone 6, stands out among the establishments where the largest investments have been made in the neighborhood. Not long before, the place had been a store that sold imported used clothing, a “rag-store”, as they are popularly known in Cuba.

The locale was redesigned, to the point that it stood out among the ugly, square and mostly neglected buildings all around.

That is to say, they set up some Peerless brand wire-fencing around the establishment, turned some scaffolding into an awning, installed glass doors, roofed the entrance, equipped the locale with a mid-sized AC unit and the seats and technology needed for the theatre. They also painted the walls and put in some potted plants. I am told they screened a broad variety of films (I never saw any, for I always postponed my visit).

Admission was 25 Cuban Pesos for kids and 50 for adults (prices similar to those charged by discos and other recreational centers in Havana).

I saw another private 3D theater in the neighborhood, inside an apartment. There were probably more like that one, as Alamar is a big and densely-populated neighborhood.

Now, they’ve published an official note saying that  “the screening of films, including 3D movies, as well as computer game locales, have never been authorized.”  This reminds me of that popular Cuban saying about a man who bought fish but was put off by its eyes. If the State didn’t authorize this, who did? Why are there so many of these home theaters around Havana?

The country’s leadership may fear the social privileges that the accumulation of wealth can give certain groups (though it is clear some groups already enjoy such privileges). Many of the licensed businesses established in Cuba have benefitted those who have invested and accumulated capital in different ways than those who work for the State, who are at a clear disadvantage.

For many of Cuba’s self-employed, making the initial investment required to open these businesses was no easy task (though many were aided by families or friends abroad).

The initial capital must necessarily be invested in different services: welders, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and other self-employed service providers. Products must also be purchased in hard-currency stores.

In Cuba’s market today, such equipment can include machines for making sugar-cane juice and sweet-filled fritters (which is even more expensive), bicycle taxis, junk-food kiosks fitted with deep fryers, cotton candy or popcorn makers, devices for processing coconuts, wheelbarrows, trolleys and a whole variety of tools and spare pieces.

Where I’m going with this is that, after making any kind of investment to start up a business, whatever it may be, these business owners must find it hard to understand these prohibitions, which practically flush their hard work and the money they’ve spent down the toilet.

I am speaking of those Cubans who do make enough money to support their families, who have incomes that do make a difference, Cubans who, rather than lazy, feel they are not incentivized enough by the State, those who have chosen private over State employment.

I am referring to those people who, before, would spend their time at street corners, drinking rum or thinking about god knows what, who have decided to “knuckle down” to some hard work.

This press note, prohibiting a number of businesses, tells these individuals what I’ve heard people say recently and in many other occasions in Cuba, that, “here, things are always temporary. You have to take advantage of the moment before it’s over.” It also confirms their impression that things in Cuba “are never going to change.”

“This is not in any way a step backwards,” the newspaper note insists. Apparently, they are referring to the country’s overall economic strategy. If illegal practices were taking place at the local government level or any other level, they should have been clearer about this and informed the population about it, for, without this, this is ultimately a “step backwards” in terms of encouraging transparency at work and in efforts to improve the country’s economic performance.

While heading home, someone was saying to me: “We’re going back to the time of muggings and the underground market. People, even those who’ve been robbed or in prison, thought that the new opportunities would give them a real job.”

One thought on “Cuba’s Self-Employed and their Investments

  • It is never good to impose value system like in the case of good “hard work” and bad “standing on the corner”. Protestant logic of hard work (for others), is usually transformed into “to own and consume as much as possible, even if not needed”.
    Then it goes to “steal if you can not make it other way, from others or from grand children” etc. If there is problem on local level, it should be sorted there, and not to make all philosophy out of it. Specially not the wrong one. Because one can find himself exactly against young, best educated, not spoiled, honest people on the west, and supporting the worst kind. I was living in both worlds, and I am 50. What I notice every now and then, is that people are selectively critical and they dont take whole picture into account.

    When we loose what we have, then we realize the value of it. If all of you hope you will be capitalists, bear in mind that only 1 of 100 or 1 of 1000 can be. 99% needs to earn him his fortune.

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