Cuba Is Seeing Increasing Work Protests

Vicente Morín Aguado

Havana bici-taxi. Photo: Luis Enrique Gonzalez.
Havana bici-taxi. Photo: Luis Enrique Gonzalez.

HAVANA TIMES — The recent bici-taxi protest in Plaza de la Revolución managed to get annulled dozens of fines, which had been sensationalized to appear as economic crimes. In October 2015, mail delivery workers in Banes, Holguin refused to work, finally getting their demands met against administrative arbitrariness.

Other complaints haven’t been so successful, but one thing’s for sure, a crack has been opened in the Communist party’s trade union wall.

In May, tobacco rollers from the Adonis Cabrera Factory, precisely in Holguín, carried out a sit-in strike in protest of the lack of stimulus payments. They were finally penalized further and made to work a Saturday in order to make up for the setback in production. Something important to bear in mind in this case is that they didn’t go to the union first, which is always allied to the management of the state companies.

Holguín citizens are leaders in national protests, not to forget that in January 2014, the city of parks held a famous attempt made up of dozens of small business-owners, when the State definitively prohibited the sale of imported clothes and shoes.

Even though they were met by the authorities and didn’t receive any direct sanctions as a result of the protest, the measure is still in place today, and is made fun of over there and all over the country, as people employ different underground techniques to sell merchandise which is supposedly “protected” by the State monopoly in control of national commerce.

In the face of trade-union ineffectiveness dominated by the Party-State binary, workers have gradually opted for responses which have now become more widespread: simulation, fraud, bribery and last but not least, escape, leading to mass emigration.

Some responses have been palpable, you just have to look at the increase in doctors’ salaries (to 60 USD a month), pavements adorned with the latest adverts [without a given date] to sell them laptops and cars. The undisclosed reason behind these benefits lies in the almost 8,000 health professionals who have signed on to the United States’ special immigration program for the sector, created during George W. Bush’s presidency.

Some recent testimonies show that the breeding ground for future protests, far from disappearing, is growing in the pressure pot that is national day-to-day life.

Bici-taxis transport people in semi-handcrafted vehicles which they themselves own, they sweat for every peso they earn, but the police know well by now that they always have money in their pockets.

“They don’t leave us alone, now they’ve shut off whole roads or sections of other streets to us making it almost impossible to work. Fines vary between 750 and 1500 pesos, we don’t earn that much, at the same time the most the transit police can supposedly fine us is 60 pesos.” (Comment made by Omar Lastre, one of the protesters.)

“A protest can start at any time here. Between all the police and inspectors on the street, they’ve got us with our backs to the wall. Fines come and go, normally we’re lucky enough to receive a warning in advance and we can hide forbidden goods, but it’s getting too much living with this anxiety all the time.” (Mayelín, a market seller.)

The latest news involves the imminent removal of hundreds of micro business-owners on the ground floor of what was once the great department store Fin de Siglo, on the corner of Galiano and San Rafael.

“I pay 900 pesos every 15 days to rent this space. I also have to pay for my shelves plus the ink and CD sleeves. Now they want to spread us out over a few different venues, which is a great disadvantage for us.” -And the trade union?- “The trade union tries its best but there isn’t a lot it can do. I don’t hand in my license because I’ve gotten used to this business, I’m one of the few people that still offers classic films here in Cuba. At least I earn enough a day to live on.” (Rey, seller at Fin de Siglo)

Living in fear of these occurrences means an unbearable amount of anxiety. We aren’t all doctors, times have changed, and the result shows that there will be many mass movements in the future demanding an end to this repeated arbitrariness, especially in the new self-employed sector, which is less influenced by the State’s governmental policy.

There are more than enough reasons to protest, it’s a spontaneous act, it’s becoming more common and by the way, they’re not asking for direct political demands, nobody’s shouting Down with Raul, down with the government!

Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]

10 thoughts on “Cuba Is Seeing Increasing Work Protests

  • “… If you don’t want to read my views, then don’t!…”

    Then please stop spamming me with your unrelenting lectures.

  • If you don’t want to read my views, then don’t! Obviously you accept that my opinions are consistent. My support for the people of Cuba is undiminished by your comments as is my opposition to a repressive dictatorship.

  • Ahhhh! OK. I wasn’t sure what you were objecting to. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Sorry, I guess my English isn’t so good, Moses.

    My point was that I agree 100% to the point where it’s as obvious as the sky being blue and water is wet.

    It’s so obvious that it doesn’t have to be directed towards me. I’m tired of hearing the very same stuff repeated over and over and over from Carlyle so my request was for him to not waste the same boring repetition on me, direct it towards the members here who’ve never visited Cuba on their own, yet they still try to talk with authority how it is to live here.

    Sorry if I’m not explaining this correctly.

  • Do you disagree with Carlyle’s comment? It is true that public criticism of the Castros is a crime punishable by imprisonment. OR, do you wish he didn’t mention such an uncomfortable truth? I can only imagine how tough it is to support a dictatorship that would have such an egomaniacal law on the books.

  • Yes Carlyle, and the sky is blue and water is wet.

    No offense, but sometimes your one-trick-pony rhetoric is way better served to be posted as a stand alone post so no one has to check “replies” when their little red button is lit up, or post it as a reply to the many head-in-the-sand wannabe commies who’ve never visited Cuba on their own.

    Just look further up this thread, there’s a perfect example with whom you can have a discussion.

  • Very pragmatic empowerment. These folks are not looking to over throw the Government. What they want is the system to work for them and that is a lot harder to put down.

  • Yes, in saying that nobody is shouting: “Down with Raul, down with the government!” it is actually commenting that criticism of the Castro regime or the PCC is an offence for which one can be jailed.

  • Anything which in any way threatens the power and control of the Castro family regime and the PCC is stamped upon. Actions by groups of individuals are viewed as particularly threatening. There is a contradiction within the 2002 Constitution of Cuba:
    Article 13 reads:
    “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”
    Millions of Cubans are denied this.

  • That last paragraph says way more than what many people imagine.

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