Fito Paez, Private Businesses and the Cuban Economy

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – Another “friend” of the Cuban Revolution crosses the line. This time it’s Argentinian singer-songwriter Fito Paez, who is tired now of defending the indefensible.

After expressing his annoyance at the Cuban Government’s policies, that censored and manipulated a documentary where he is the lead character, Paez crossed the line just like the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Portuguese Jose Saramago decided to at the time after the 2003 Black Spring, even though they conned him again later.

Directed by Cuban filmmaker Juan Pin Villar, the documentary deals with the musician’s connection to Cuba over the past four decades, it won an award from the Cuban Film Promotion Fund in 2021 and was presented at the Havana Film Festival in New York in 2022, but it hasn’t been screened in movie theaters across the island.

It was broadcast on national TV, but it was an incomplete and biased version, which led to lots of protests from Cuban filmmakers, artists, and the director himself, who had nothing to do with the alterations made to his documentary.

La Habana de Fito”, the name of the film, was going to be shown in a movie theater and the movie screening was ultimately canceled by the cultural authorities, which led to a letter signed by very important figures in the national film world, such as director Fernando Perez, the most important living filmmaker in Cuba, and Jorge Perugorria, the star of the iconic movie Fresa y Chocolate and the most famous actor today. It’s worth saying that this was the fourth canceled movie screening, because there had been three fruitless attempts to show it since the beginning of the year.

This week, Paez publicly came forward: “I was totally aware of what was going on with the documentary. Firstly, about the three scheduled screenings that were canceled and then about how it was manipulated when it was broadcast on TV.

According to the singer himself, two segments in particular bothered the Cuban authorities: a discussion about Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the 1959 Revolution’s main leaders, and comments about the execution of three young people who tried to escape to the US in 2003.

“Fito isn’t critical at any point, Fito just gives his point of view about one-off events in Cuban history, he doesn’t judge them, nor do I as the film’s director,” Pin Vilar told the press when the scandal broke out in late April.

Plus, he pointed out that he’d been visited by Ministry of Culture officials before it was broadcast on TV, and the director explicitly forbade it.

In his recent comments, the Argentinian emphasized his stance: “I am against the death penalty, I don’t have to ask anyone for their permission. Thinking I’m a manipulable person just shows you how little they know me and it’s a lack of respect,” he said before explaining that he has always stood by the Cuban people, not the authorities.

Known for his leftist political opinions, Fito seems to have followed the lyrics of one of his most popular songs, turning on his stance, or he did this a long time ago when he separated the Cuban people from the Cuban Government, as he himself says.

Cuba’s Private Businesses

A speech by Havana’s Playa municipality representative Carlos Miguel Perez went viral last week when he asked for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that don’t produce or only resell without even paying taxes to be identified, so as not to stigmatize the rest, and put our feet on the ground. He also suggested an auction for foreign currency, and not to restrict trading companies so prices can be reduced for the final consumer, the Cuban people, because price monopolies are created otherwise.

“In addition to managing and pursuing, the State’s role should also be to direct, lead, guide and design strategies and policies hand-in-hand with business owners,” he dared to say on national TV.

By the way, this speech was cut when Parliament sessions were broadcast live by Humbertico Lopez the “journalist”, whose brother just happens to have also migrated recently to the US.

The greater evil is still structural, and the pyramid is inverted in the Constitution itself, because the Government gives orders to its citizens and not the other way around, as voters have been stripped of their rights in the very first line of the Carta Magna.

The Cuban Minister of Finances and Prices, Vladimir Regueiro, publicly admitted in a similar meeting that none of the measures adopted has been able to have any real influence on inflation in the Cuban economy, whose deficit is approximately 19 billion pesos (39% of the GDP), and even though he mentioned shortages and a lack of product supply, he blamed these price increases on wages and pensions. In other words, the Cuban people are to blame, yet again, for the 45% increase in Consumer price index compared to last year. He might be able to recognize his mistakes, his incompetence, but nobody is resigning.

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) continue to be seen as a facade for the Government to hold onto control of state-led companies that have now become private.

The lack of transparency on this issue stops us from identifying who are really private business owners who are finding it hard to get a hold of foreign currency and are forced to pay high percentages for their imports to intermediary agencies, with the corresponding blow to their own earnings and the prices that ordinary Cubans then have to pay.

It’s a well-known fact that the vast majority of MSMEs are alive thanks to remittances from the Cuban exile community, which is practically their only way to access the magnetic dollars (MLC), the currency that they mostly use nowadays to sell to the Cuban people.

Regulations are still unclear regarding each of their social missions, as well as who has the power to authorize them, because instead of leaving this in the hands of local governments, it is decided on a national level, often without taking into account the needs of each individual region.

If the Cuban economy, and the Government itself, are dependent on these structures, they should shed more light on the subject.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.