Cuba’s “reform process” was designed, not to solve the people’s problems, but those of the State and its bureaucracy.
HAVANA TIMES — Recently, the government of the new Cuban Right set down regulations that barred private businesses from selling items of clothing and industrial articles brought from abroad, a practice that had gained ground over the last two years owing to the scant impetus given the self-employed sector by the measures of the so-called “reform process.”
Many are curious about this “step back”, which the officialdom seeks to portray as part of the need to impose order and discipline in the market, to prevent the misappropriation of resources and other similar practices.
The explanation is far simpler than that: the hard-currency stores operated by the State, particularly the TRD branch which is part of the commercial monopoly maintained by Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), have been facing the growing competition from the thousands of private businesses that sell clothing and other industrially-produced items on sidewalks, hallways, doorways and living rooms across the country.
These items, what’s more, are generally of a higher quality and cheaper than those offered by the island’s military domestic hard-currency trade monopoly.
It is not true that most of the products sold by these businesses are misappropriated State resources. If that were the case, it would be very easy to accuse these businesses of theft. We cannot of course say that no products are procured this way. Everyone in Cuba knows, however, that most of the clothing sold by this new class of business-owners comes from Ecuador, Panama, the United States and Mexico, and, in lesser volumes, from Italy. This holds for other industrially-produced articles.
More frequent trips to Cuba by members of the Cuban-American community in the United States and the granting of multiple-entry visas to Cubans by the US have given an unexpected impetus to commercial activities that are beyond State control.
In a way, this is reminiscent of the trade pirates practiced during colonial times, which the Spanish throne tried to prevent in order to protect its commercial monopoly.
The new migratory policies that have allowed many Cubans to travel abroad have not resulted in a massive exodus, as some bureaucrats who had hoped to see dissidents and unemployed persons go had expected. Rather, it has served to establish a broad commercial bridge between Cuba and other countries, relations which feed the island’s incipient self-employed sector and allows it to successfully compete with the stagnated, expensive, obsolete and corrupt State clothing and industrial items market.
Once again, many Cubans are feeling profound disappointment with the policies of the new Cuban Right which, in truth, only seeks to strengthen its State monopoly capitalism and to avail itself of the nascent private capital of Cubans residing on the island, the money of the Miami market and international Capital.
That is how State monopoly capitalism works: when the system is gasping for air, it loosens the monopoly reins. When it begins to breath normally again, it tightens them once more. It happened in the 1990s, following the liberalizing measures that brought about a massive protest on Havana’s ocean drive on August 5, 1994, measures that were gradually “rectified and adjusted.”
We do not have any exact statistics on the number of people who would be left without work as a result of these new, arbitrary State measures, but, judging from the number of people who sell clothing and industrially-manufactured articles around Havana’s neighborhoods, we could be looking at thousands of people who would suddenly swell the ranks of the unemployed. And, let it be clear: their jobs were generated outside the domain of the State, with non-State resources.
The main proponents of the so-called “reform process” are calling for a liberalization of the country’s productive forces, but, in practice, they implement measures that prevent this and that continue to privilege the commercial activity of State monopolies.
Thus, the reform process evinces one of its many contradictions, expressing an interest in State decentralization on the one hand and dictating regulations that restrict individual commercial initiative on the other.
The State understands, but its interests make it impossible for it to accept, that the country’s economy will not develop without a broader, more dynamic domestic market.
The question therefore arises: how sincere is the government when it announces that one of the interests behind the “reform process” is to generate non-State employment?
It is said that, in some places in Cuba’s interior, all items of clothing that haven’t been produced by those who sell them are being confiscated by authorities. Thanks to the “smarts” that Cuba’s State economic monopoly has given rise to, we will soon likely see these new sellers replace the original label on the garment with local brands that read “Juan Perez – Made in Cuba.”
An old saying goes: “whatever the law, there’s always a loophole.” Since Cubans have no say in the making of the law, we have been left with no other choice but to invent the loopholes.
We’re already hearing rumors that new measures to regulate the sale of fuel oil to private cab drivers will be in place by the end of this year and that the government is assessing the possibility of restricting the sale of records and films, out of “copyright considerations.”
It is clear, as many of us have been suggesting since the first measures were implemented, that the “reform process”, plagued as it is by inconsistencies and contradictions, was never designed to solve the problems faced by common Cubans, but to solve the State’s problems. When its actions (as is the case here) affect the interests of the bureaucratic elite and its monopolies, counter-measures are implemented.
Let those who are unaware of the State’s true intentions buy into this business of the “reform process.” Let them continue tightening the screws on the people, that’s their problem. When the people decide to strike back, don’t blame imperialism or “counterrevolutionaries.” We’ve warned you of this many times before: you have to look for the causes of the people’s growing discontent in your own, “revolutionary” actions.
Pedro Campos: email@example.com