Cuba Backtracks: Freezing a Dream?

By Nelson Simón*

Italian style cafe in Havana.  Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES – When Cubans made more use of their inventiveness rather than a non-existent savings, the island’s economy began to take on another dynamic. It was another less strained atmosphere to the one in the state sector where resources are being diverted everywhere, where there is embezzlement, corruption and opportunism. Then the Cuban government announced last week the “freezing” of “self-employment” licenses in view of “restructuring” this sector where distortions are allegedly taking place.

In order to sidestep analyses and commitments, many people say: I don’t understand anything.

As used to not asking for explanations as we are and accepting that we don’t deserve them either, none of us can understand this new bridle, which according to the government is “temporary”. It has been placed on a sector which has taken off on the adventure of diversifying the economy and making small national “businesses” creative and efficient, however it could, because it doesn’t even have a favorable economic and legal framework.

There have been many advantages to this “self-employment”. The first of which has been to return the possibility of having an entrepreneurial dream in their country (read here: giving back hopeful anticipation, creative capacities and the chance of a future…) to the Cuban people (mainly the majority).

Other advantages might have been that we Cuban citizens who have decided to live on the island or those who have no other option but to stay living there, can enjoy buying a piece of bread with a croquette, just as we can enjoy buying a screw or traveling, being tourists and staying at a private rental. Places have been done up, you can eat root vegetables or salad, you can fix a window, paint your nails, put up a gate, have a snow cone to alleviate the unbearable heat, cut your hair, print off a document, get a nail, a tap, a bucket or a mop, thanks to “self-employment”.

And now what…

(There has never been a better place to use an ellipsis).

Once again, information is only half-told and this gives rise to all kinds of comments, speculation, hushed conversations.

Once again, the bucket of frozen cold water (just like this economic activity has just been frozen) falling over the hopeful Cuban society that collects cent by cent, asking for credit or help from a friend or relative, waiting for the time they might be able to set up a small “business” in the flourishing “Cuban self-employment” sector.

Not understanding anything has become a common exercise in the face of so much absurdity.

Not explaining anything and believing it’s the Cuban people’s obligation to believe and trust that everything the government does is done for their own well-being, the system’s modus operandi.

Will they be thinking about resolving the establishment of a wholesale market where self-employed workers can buy products and raw materials, within this restructuring process?

Will they give out licenses and think about a policy that allows this sector to import raw materials and essential products for them to be able to operate?

Will their right to take holiday leave, close down their business whenever they feel like it and need to, like if they need to travel, there’s an emergency, or they need to study for an exam, be established?

Will the people who need to be thinking about these things, finally sit down and think about them?

Will they have finally realized that “button sewer” hasn’t been anybody’s job in over more than 50 years?

After this “freezing” and “restructuring”, will we be lucky enough to witness the unfreezing and restructuring of the state sector which is shouting for greater reforms than the self-employment sector, because of its inefficiency and centralized operations?

It isn’t a secret to anyone that eating a plate of croquettes at a state-run cafe and a private cafe, if we have 5 pesos, we almost always prefer the private cafe even though it costs us double. The reason is simple: it tastes better, the plate is attractive and clean and plus, you get served with a smile.

We are waiting for answers. And we hope we can continue to enjoy croquettes and smiling waiters.
*Taken from his Facebook page.

2 thoughts on “Cuba Backtracks: Freezing a Dream?

  • Fear drove this decision. The later statement that in a year things would open again, was made out of weakness. The regime will see if it can create an alternative to what was clearly a functional market against the odds. Without a legal frame work or support, these small businesses beat the official government enterprises. Not just embarrassing but a threat to central control of economy. No chance that the regime succeeds were it has failed.

  • Perhaps Nelson Simon has identified the real cause of the cessation of issuing any further ‘self-employment licenses.
    Nelson refers to Cubans having:

    “the possibility of having an entreprenurial dream in their country”.

    It is those individual dreams that are offensive to the Castro regime determined to maintain equal levels of poverty. Individuality is offensive to Marx/Leninism which is directed towards creating a proletarian mass.

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