HAVANA TIMES – It is no secret that Washington is slowly moving away from its former partners of dissent and betting on the self-employed, cooperatives and Cuban entrepreneurs, born under the reforms led by President Raul Castro.
The advantages of these over traditional dissenters are huge; they are integrated into society, their compatriots consider them successful people and they have their own financial resources, so the government doesn’t have to maintain them and the water in which they swim is the market economy.
They even have contradictions with the prevailing social model on the island, which ties their hands with an inefficient bureaucracy, by officials always slow to make decisions, some corrupt and many fearful of losing their position.
Workers and self-employed entrepreneurs are frowned upon by the more political “orthodox”, those who still believe that the purity of socialism is measured by the amount of the means of production in the hands of the state. It’s the hangover from drinking so many Soviets manuals.
Those who go to the sources of socialism can see that Karl Marx merely proposed nationalizing only the “core means of production” and Lenin put it into practice promoting private initiative in the New Economic Policy (NEP).
And if we look at the roots of Cuba, José Martí would be an enemy of the concentration of capital in few hands because “exclusive wealth is unfair.” He also noted that “a nation that is rich has many small owners”.
The worst of the orthodox view is that they use the media to fill the citizenry with their prejudices, fears and suspicions, some of them confirmed by the new US strategy, but many others are just to scare people.
The future will depend on who this emerging sector identifies with. In this terrain their economic interests will be first, but they will also be influenced by more subjective aspects such as nationalism, social conscience or political ideas.
If the authorities and economists have determined that more than one million state workers must move to the private sector, they should act consistently, making them feel that their economic interests are inextricably linked to those of the nation.
It’s not about preparing tangled speeches; it would be suffice to explain the closure to foreign investment in some branches of food service and hostels, benefitting locals by limiting the competition from large conglomerates.
The entrance to Cuba of fast food chains or international restaurants, for example, would put the Cuban businesses at a very unequal confrontation, both in production costs and by the experience and accumulated capital.
SMEs, cooperatives and the self-employed, should be the first interested in maintaining some niches in the economy in the hands of Cubans because that way they defend their own interests while enhancing the nation.
However, there are also subjective aspects that influence. It has to do with the appreciation or contempt with which they are treated. In the Cuban press and in some political speeches remain too many prejudices against this private sector, a legitimate child of the Cuban Revolution.
Corruption cases are always mentioned much more concerning private businesses than in state enterprises, despite the fact that the economic crimes in the state sector are far more, due to it being much larger and also by the huge lack of controls.
It takes forever for a cooperative to be approved and the self-employed have no wholesale markets to purchase supplies. They are also forbidden from importing. Likewise, only 200 forms of self-employment are allowed, while the inspectors bleed them dry demanding money under the table.
The economic role of the autonomous may seem small compared to the state but the fact is that the reforms would be impossible without them. No government can run efficiently if it has to address both nickel mines and the street sale of fritters.
The private sector reduces the number of state employees; covers the lodging deficit for tourists outside the hotels; solves everyday problems of the population, and contributes to the national coffers with taxes while allowing the government to address the crucial sectors.
Private enterprise is not an enemy of the nation or even “a necessary evil.” Sometimes it even has a social profile in its project, such as the case of Papito the barber or the Cuban Art Factory, where culture and sustainability merge.
As in any other economic and social sectors there will be corrupt or unprincipled people but President Raul Castro himself said most are “patriots”. So why so much prejudice, mistrust and suspicion against them?
While in Cuba the bureaucracy and orthodoxy make life impossible for them, they receive praise from the US, from where they receive offers for loans, training courses and open doors to export and import. Which of the two policies will be the most intelligent and provide the best results?