On Cuba’s “Closed-Door Syndrome”

Yenisel Rodríguez Pérez

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Despite the economic reforms implemented by the Cuban government to lead the country towards an efficient and efficacious form of market capitalism, our commercial complexes continue to suffer from “closed-door syndrome.”

Public buses in Havana only open one of their doors. All cafeterias, supermarkets and stores are half-open and half-closed.

One is surprised to come across a consumer area that operates as a public space. They are the rare exceptions that do not tend to last very long – when one least expects it, a janitor steps in to euphemistically deny us our merry carelessness.

Public areas have been replaced, not by supermarkets, but by “convents.” The atomization of communities is a global phenomenon. In Cuba, it bears an anti-commercial and totalitarian stamp.

Out of sheer willfulness, some establishments have improvised precarious areas for consumption. Crowded next to the cash register, the coolers or the counter, consumers anxious to socialize gather in warm, affectionate circles.

It is common for the air inside these locales to become rarefied with body heat, even when the air conditioner is working. The laughter of some becomes confused with the carcasses of others, and the paternal reprimands are heard over the children’s tantrums.

The government is caught between a rock and a hard place: it needs to sell but is afraid of consumers who socialize, afraid of the laughter and violence that flourishes when alcohol floods the mind. For long, the regime sought to complement its anti-commercial policies with the repression it exercised over public spaces.

Today, Cuba’s political panorama demands the development of services and consumption. The bureaucracy finds itself forced to design new ways of administering public life, but it doesn’t know how. The supermarket still strikes it as subversive.

Thus, the government democratizes consumption in order to set restrictions later.

It looks as though, for the time being, Cuba will continue to opt for the demagogic toing-and-froing that is summarized in the slogan: “slowly but surely.”

With one hand, the government will continue to offer consumer products while, with the other, it will continue to clip the wings of consumers, so that they fall under their own weight.

What we are left with, in the end, is the Stalinist spectacle of thousands of closed doors during working and store hours.

Consumers, even those with high purchasing power, want to exhibit their status and class identity.

For how long will Cuba’s closed doors be able to contain the demands of new sectors of consumers who, today, aren’t satisfied with merely purchasing products?

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

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2 thoughts on “On Cuba’s “Closed-Door Syndrome”

  • Yenisel wrote, “Despite the economic reforms implemented by the Cuban government to lead the country towards an efficient and efficacious form of market capitalism, our commercial complexes continue to suffer from “closed-door syndrome.”

    There is nothing about the recent economic reforms that can be defined as “market capitalism”. Some observers have called it “market socialism”, but that’s a bit of a stretch, itself.

    The self-employed sector is highly regulated, sharply limited and heavily taxed. The State, through their military owned corporations, still control all import & export services, wholesale operations, transportation, & etc. The situation cannot remotely be called “market capitalism” when there is no market for capital formation in Cuba. The door remains shut to true free enterprise in Cuba.

  • I don’t entirely agree with this article. There is a shopping mall in Miramar adjacent to Hotel Comodoro as well as the ‘mercado 72’ where both have lovely public spaces available for those Cubans with divisa to spend and socialize as they wish. Of course, these outlets sell blue jeans for 150 cuc and T-bone steaks for 18 cuc per kilo but for the Castro elite this is what the good life costs.

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