HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 6 — On Monday at a party, I ran into two friends who were euphoric.
One of them, a culture promoter, can finally put the title of his Russian Lada car in his name. The other, a university professor, can now transfer the ownership of his car to his daughter “without having to die,” the only previous way to transfer a car to one’s offspring.
It must be said that the Sale of Vehicles Law is another step by the present government to free the society from prohibitions as absurd as the banning of cell phones, hotels accommodation for nationals, buying computers, etc., etc., etc.
Because of this, society is normalizing a little more. Now, tens of thousands of clandestine car sales may be legalized and the real car owners will have their “carritos” in their name and not in the name of the first purchaser.
The truth is that the sales of vehicles never ceased, despite the express prohibition by the government. Cars were traded from hand to hand without officially registering the property; instead, handshakes sealed the deals.
Because of this recent step, it will appear that a buying fever has broken out, although in reality what will be happening is that notaries will be called upon to put the house in order, meaning that they will act to legalize all sales made over the past 50 years clandestinely.
Equality, more or less
The move is certainly a step in the direction demanded by Cubans for many years. However, some aspects of the law were surprising because it doesn’t give equal rights to all citizens.
Cuban journalists asked the deputy minister of Transportation, Eduardo Rodriguez, why some Cubans could buy new cars and not others. In short, his response was that these were the guidelines established by the Communist Party.
Beyond the issue of who “recommended” this restriction, the truth is that it will exclude many citizens, even some with sufficient purchasing power, such as those people returning from years working on medical missions abroad, farmers and some self-employed workers – sectors whose importance is growing daily.
It’s difficult to understand why a painter or a musician would be allowed to buy a new car while this would be prohibited for a farmer who has earned their money with the sweat of their brow in the field so that all Cubans can eat and the country can save on imports.
Viewing the legislation in the light of the priorities of the nation, this seems short-circuited. Undoubtedly culture is important, but the officials who drafted the law should know that people need food somewhat more than illumination.
Second class citizens
The other marginalized group is made up of independent (non-government) workers, whose number has tripled and who will one day be the majority of the workforce. I don’t know how to explain to the person laying bricks that functionaries sitting in an office will have more rights than they will.
But what’s most surprising is that physicians who complete missions abroad are prohibited from buying new cars. In fact they’re the only “earners of hard currency” who are expressly excluded in the fine print of the new law.
This seems even more unfair when you realize that the work of health care personnel abroad is the main source of the nation’s foreign exchange income. It’s what’s paying the national oil bill. No one should have more rights than them.
Perhaps the Ministry of Justice is able to present the legal arguments for excluding a part of the citizenry, especially when President Raul Castro just recently said, “All Cubans, without exception, are equal before the law.”
Instead, this legislation favors some Cubans over others, even though Chapter VI, Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic states that “all citizens enjoy equal rights” (3) and therefore no law should violate this principle.
The color of money
It’s also strange that people are required to demonstrate that their incomes are in convertible pesos (CUCs) when the state pays wages in Cuban pesos (CUPs). Much of the domestic trade is conducted in that latter currency and there are money exchange houses.
The Central Bank of Cuba established the convertibility of the currency at a rate of 24-1, so if a dealer sells a car in 10,000 CUCs, the correct thing would be for a citizen to exchange 240,000 CUPs to buy it.
Experiences in Cuba show that absurd prohibitions have only served to promote illegal speculation and the black market. People have never obeyed these; they’ve simply sought the best way to get around them.
No law could prevent some Cubans from having cell phones, Internet, staying in hotels or selling their cars and houses. Farmers circumvented directives that came down from the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and self-employed workers existed before they were legal.
Since 2008 the government has been gradually correcting those idiotic prohibitions, but the present law is moving in the wrong direction when its solutions create first and second class citizens, thereby establishing a legal precedent that is as potentially disastrous as it is unnecessary.
While this terrain could involve a violation of the constitution, in practice it’s ideal for new illegalities. Politically it’s incomprehensible that they would exclude rights to three key sectors of the new socioeconomic model: self-employed workers, farmers and doctors.