Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — I am often criticized for reading Cuba’s leading official newspaper, Granma. I continue to do it, however, because I feel it is worthwhile. Here’s an example: a report on a recent incident on the coast of Santa Lucia, in Cayo Jutia, a 2.5 mile stretch of pristine, paradisiacal beaches.
More than ten years ago, an environmentally unfriendly road was built to connect the mainland with its keys. It is 9 kilometers long, a considerable part of which cut across the sea. Since 2006, the road has been managed by the Grupo Empresarial Palmares (Cuba’s largest hotel services company), which had built a beachside restaurant and a small, nautical sports facility on the key.
As a result of this, the company was given official permission to set up a tollbooth midway across the land-bridge, where Cubans are asked to pay five Cuban Pesos and foreigners five Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC). This fee was conceived as admission to the Palmares locale, but people had to pay it in order to get to the beach, regardless of whether they had any intention of going to the restaurant or not. According to the manager of the establishment, very few Cubans and not many foreigners actually made any use of the locale (as they only want to go to the beach).
That is to say, the fee charged at the tollbooth ended up being a form of extortion, payment for the use of a stretch of coast that, according to the law, should be accessed freely. Granma reports that, in 2013 alone, the booth took in 310,935 pesos and 124,825 CUC, such that, in the 7 years in which the company has enjoyed the privilege to tax beachgoers, the company must have made around two million pesos and around one million CUC.
The company had resorted to, or at least benefited from, deceit. Locals were convinced they were paying a toll to the Cuban State. One of them said that “I’ve always thought it was a kind of road tax, which is why I’ve always paid it.” Another local, astonished, explained that “one assumes it’s something official, because they have a roadblock and guards, but I never got an explanation as to what it actually was.”
The Granma journalist asks what became of this money, and doesn’t take the matter any further. It is worth insisting on the question, and asking who authorized the fee, who collected it and, ultimately, how much money was never officially reported.
It is worth asking what local government officials, who are called on to represent local interests, did in this connection, and what Granma journalists were doing before they were authorized to criticize this incident, which is almost certainly not unique.
What we are left with is a whole mess of illegal practices and forms of extortion and abuse, aimed at a population that is denied basic rights, the tortuous process of constructing capitalism – and its bourgeoisie, along the way – which, in a way, will be as heroic as the construction of socialism, a process which destroyed the expectations and mortgaged the future of several generations.
(*) First published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.