How Much Is a Contract Worth in Cuba?

Manuel Alberto Ramy  (Progreso Semanal)

cuba-gaceta-a-685x342HAVANA TIMES — A small group of former state employees in the city of Artemisa, the capital of the western province that shares the same name, who became independent workers due to the new self-employment law laid out by the Cuban government, face a critical situation.

They had signed a 10-year contract with the government’s Services Company in the city so they could develop their work and now they are being forced to leave their site and lose the small investments they made to improve it. The building no longer belongs to them they were told, “Because now it belongs to the government’s Retail Sales Enterprise (Comercio) and not the Services Company anymore.”

To be precise: they feel “unemployed and helpless.”

Published in the provincial newspaper El Artemiseno, this piece of news forces us to reflect upon, at least, three points:

How valid is a contract signed with a government entity when this can be broken with one fell swoop? Is it possible that the conditions stipulated in the contract can be nullified via a verbal order from “the comrade responsible for the renovation work.”  No manager came to see us, they didn’t meet with us and explain anything to us about the problem, until a few days ago when they came to give us an ultimatum”?

Instead of waiting for an answer from the official, which is what the attitude of those affected seems to be, it would be worth filing a lawsuit, with the help from lawyers, and therefore let their differences be settled in court. Every Cuban citizen should put the Cuban judicial system to the test, a valid, legal attitude, a right they are entitled to by law and which shouldn’t be understood as challenging the socialist system but as a way to strengthen it making it more transparent via people exercising their civil rights.

If our immediate future depends on legality and institutionalism, which has been repeated by the highest ranking politicians, the report of this case gives us doubts as it questions essential certainties for the entire population. No civil servant should be above the law or outside of it, no matter what position they hold. Justice courts exist for some reason.

Progreso Semanal reproduces the information published in the aforementioned newspaper on July 12.

Self Employed Workers in Artemisa Await an Answer

By Yusmary Romero Cruz

A short time ago, we received a letter from Elier Estevez, Yurisan Rojas, Jose Alberto Martinez, Ediel Gutierrez and Esteban Pereira, self-employed workers in Artemisa, who have been asked to leave the worksite belonging to the government’s Services Company, which they’ve rented out for 10 years, bound by a contract.

“They are renovating the bouvelard, and this worksite doesn’t belong to us, because it now belongs to the Retail Trade Company and not the Services Company anymore,” they were told.

This information, they said, “was passed on by a colleague responsible for the renovation work, as no manager came to see us, they didn’t meet with us and explain anything to us about the problem, until a few days ago when they came to give us an ultimatum.”

“They gave us this worksite in a depressing state and we’ve fixed it up a little. We were state workers and then we became independent renters. They told us how everything would be, and that we wouldn’t end up helpless or unprotected: then this happens, violating everything we agreed on. As the damaged party, where do we stand? Unemployed, helpless?” they summarized.

“We were the first ones in Cuba to work under this new initiative, and will we be the first ones to disappear too? The decision taken isn’t the right one, when laws and ideas are being approved to open up the market further to independent workers, cooperatives and contractors.”

Their letter went on to give other facts and details which we don’t have the space to publish here. However, they explained how the pedestrian boulevard needed a number of services, “Why don’t they include us like we have been up until now, and together the government’s Services and Trade companies can continue working in harmony with this new layout for the boulevard?”

This is a regretful situation and we hope the independent workers get a rapid answer, and that public services aren’t affected, one of the stated missions of this new kind of employment.

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15 thoughts on “How Much Is a Contract Worth in Cuba?

  • In many respects Steve, the more one experiences of Cuba, the more one detests the communist system which the Castros imposed on them. There is no way for Cubans to escape the repression which affects all aspects of their lives.
    So many good people struggling to find some degree of individual expression and action. There is no intention by the Castro communist regime to allow actual change to occur for they have the country in a vice-like grip.
    Although there is no freedom, social life is based upon ‘la familia’ and the soul of Cuba is its music – but note, both are free!

  • The is much poverty there and many good people waiting for a direction that things will change, but at this time I got impression that land and people were going to continue to be underused .

  • They were set up as micro loans to farmers and food processing plant all the money went a Cuban bank and was registered so that both us and the Cubans had a paper trail that way we had no direct Cuban employees. They allowed us to bring certain needed items and pay tariffs as if the farmer were bring them some items had no duty . Our business was registered to do social good with a group that manage to status as social enterprise making the leader a minister and able to travel back and forth to other countries including Canada. We are being very careful at this time but also warning others to be careful.

  • No cash was given, only a certain number of very small items that were not on the selves in Cuba in the stores. The government wants have a piece of every pie and would sooner work with large companies that are more interested in making money . Our goal was only to work with very hard working (little people) The airport deal was needed to handle the increased planes coming to Cuba. We refused to do any deal were the Cuban government was paying for the items as their payment record is not very good. We only had Cubans working for Cubans with no one having more than one employee. The fact that I have a Russian wife helped a lot as Russians are still respected in Cuba and that opened many doors. Until the government opens up small enterprise no real improvement will happen. I do not think this will happen without large scale hunger and protests.

  • Thanks, Steve. It looks like small firms don’t have a chance. Big players feel they have more of a chance–L’Oreal, Nestle and the firm that’s going to run the Havana airport. They are all dealing with Havana at high levels.

    I suppose those donations had to be in cash….

  • I can say with a degree of authority, that there is no evidence of a “substantial small business activity in Artemisa” which I have visited, unless one regards the occupations which are permitted by the regime – haircutting, pushing wheelbarrows etc. as such.
    Artemisa however does fairly represent average Cuba, having virtually no tourists although on the Caratera Central. For four years now, it has been the provincial capital of the new Province of Artemisa which was created along with Mayabeque by carving up the Province of Havana. The red soils in that area are particularly fertile although some fields are being allowed to revert to bush.
    I would be interested if not astonished, if evidence of substantial small business activity in Artemisa was revealed.
    You may have read in these pages a couple of months ago about some unfortunate young people, several of who died when endeavouring to reach Florida by sea. They came from Candaleria which also lies on the Caratera about halfway between Artemisa and Soroa (which does receive tourists).

  • Were these “commercial projects” carried out by a commercially registered business or by a charitable group?
    If a commercial business, then the Cubans employed would have to be paid by the state (or a GAESA subsidiary) at their rates (under $1 US per day). How much did your commercial business have to pay the state – or GAESA subsidiary per worker per month?

  • These were commercial projects done with locals and the (blessing) of the Cuban government, We are very careful I have a Russian wife myself, That been said if bike or other small item goes down they are often given to a rural nurse. The current Cuban government seems to not want make changes to make a commercial a success. We are under no false hopes of change and sometimes think that certain people in the Cuban government does not understand that no group of people charity or otherwise are going to continue to put money were they lose control of when it hits Cuba. It is nice to be a do-gooder but in Cuba the government does not seem to understand that good private sector partnerships are needed with enough freedom and legal standing that the state cannot step in, and impose huge fees or taxes. One Example was to build farm wagons and other small machines for use in Cuba and abroad with Russian steel and parts that finished could be exported duty free to Canada and certain other countries. The State would not allow to operate and pay the workers directly and it is going up in a new factory in Mexico instead. The local Cubans understand what needs to happen and when stand up and push for change they ended up in jail until the right donations were made.

  • Carlyle, I think this is an instance of what I was noticing with the architect story. Evidently there is substantial small business activity in Artemisa, so well-placed government officials form a quasi-private entity to control and then capture it. I think the writer is correct: the only way one can see to stop it, with the current tools humans have invented, is through litigation, which has to be as real as money is coming to be there.

    Foreign investors can build enforcement mechanisms into a contract by involving international third parties. Cuban individuals will have to create something else, which will put them at great risk, but I think it can be done. It begins by keeping records.

  • Steve,

    Is your group for profit or nonprofit, and does it have a website? I’d like to learn more about your experiences either way. Mr. MacDuff mentions the do-gooder syndrome below. If I understand what he means by that correctly, it doesn’t work in most places around the world, not just Cuba. But when I read your comments I thought you were talking about commercial ventures, not charitable projects. If so, the nature of the problems you encountered likely are different.

  • Can you name any investments by individual Russians in Cuba?
    Obviously you are slowly learning about Cuba and the real meaning and affects of total state control.
    The idea that Canadians can contribute to changing Cuba’s agriculture is mythical. Only the regime can do that!
    The “do-gooder” syndrome is well meaning, but achieves nothing in Cuba.

  • There are still Russians who have investments in Cuba. Last year some German made chainsaws with spare parts and oil were sent down to Cuba. I bought a second farm in Canada in1989 of which most had went back to cleaned up with tractor and loader chainsaws, then put tile in. Much land in Cuba that is bush and wet could produce a lot of food, but transportation, fertilizer are missing. Many times the local Cubans tell what is needed, but we are not allowed to do it .

  • I knew a couple of Canadians who did a deal about 23 years ago with one of the so-called ‘co-operatives’ to grow squash which they then shipped north to Canada. I recall asking one of them whether it was profitable? The response was a wide smile was;
    “No, but we’ve had a lot of fun.”
    I’m amused by your comment that “so much farmland is underused.” Why not be frank Steve and admit that it is being allowed to revert to bush?
    Regarding Russians in Cuba, the 2012 Cuban Census found just over 5,000 residents who were not born in Cuba including the Russians. I know only one of them in our community – now a very old lady. But Kirill the Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias Orthodox Church was treated like Royalty when Putin put him on a wide-bodied jet to visit Cuba on February 11th, 2016. Raul was fawning all over him and the following day, they went together to Jose Marti Airport (then run by Cuba, not a French company) to meet with Pope Francis who ‘dropped in’ on his way to Mexico for an official visit there. There are those in the hierarchy of the Vatican who were none too pleased, especially as Pope Francis had paid an official visit the previous year and gone to visit the ex-communicated Fidel at his complex in Siboney where he was filmed holding hands with the retired dictator. Whereas John Paul II was a firm supporter of the oppressed, this Pope – like Fidel Castro, a Jesuit, appears to support the oppressors.

  • Many people from Canada have invested in Cuba after 2 or 3 years, The government steps in and changes the rules. This why foreign groups from Canada and other countries have not brought manufacturing back to Cuba and so much farm land is underused. Our group will not send anything or money to Cuba unless we can follow it and only deal in small projects with the local people and also have Russians on the ground in Cuba. We have had tractor parts going missing and medicines and the police do nothing.

  • There can be no surprise in the failure to honour a contract by a regime that in itself is without honour.
    As I recently recorded in these pages a visit to Artemisa was rewarded by listening to the father of Alex Cuba playing his guitar. I recall a boulevard where a portion had had the concrete benches replaced by ones made of marble slabs. The temptation to steal and re-cycle those slabs had obviously been irresistible as several had disappeared. I wonder if that is the subject project?
    Downtown, the major road going east-west had been shut off to form a pedestrian area with hard flat benches, but the public were sitting on comfortable old benches in an adjacent park.
    There is nothing new in Cubans feeling @unemployed and helpless. The power and control of the Castro family regime is limitless.

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