My Naivety and Changes in Cuba

Luis Rondon Paz

Shoes on the wire. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Some rather disquieting thoughts have been going around my head as I’ve followed the most recent changes the government has set in motion to “make life easier” for people who work in the non-State sector. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the officials who work day and night to break the government’s inertia on certain State-related and social issues aren’t deserving of commendation.

To use an eminently Cuban expression, “the hot potato has finally come out of the pot.” The thing is, no one knows where that potato ended up. The only thing that makes it to our plates is a rissole made of the same stuff they put into these things in the 90s: pretty speeches, plenty of meetings, but no concrete measures that actually help the middle and lower classes in Cuba, the people who, when push comes to shove, make the largest contribution to the country’s GDP.

As the saying goes, you have to make do with what you’ve got. The thing is, they’ve been saying the same thing for more than 50 years and it’s become something of a tired phrase for the new generations (and even for those who are getting on in years).

One of the reforms that made me worry about the future of my country the most was the Decree-Law issued by the Councils of State and Ministers and the Ministries for the Economy and Planning, Finances and Prices and Transportation this past January 3, 2014, in order to authorize the sale of vehicles in Cuba. Better said, what made worry was what came afterwards.

When I read the decision on paper, I was under the impression the institutions responsible for it were the ones “qualified” to study economic trends and the state of Cuba’s GDP, plan future investments, distribution of wealth on the basis of the available State budged, dictate market prices around the country and implement other informed measures.

When I found out that a car at a Cuban dealership costs as much as an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, however, I said:

Che in the pharmacy. Photo: Juan Suarez

“Yikes! Now they’ve done it! They had something way up their sleeve. I’ll get a 1000 % rise in salary and we’ll become the most developed country in the world – a car that costs US $ 270,000 is something unheard of, even in the United States.”

Then, my ego slapped my consciousness.

“Hey, are you stupid? Don’t you realize this is a maneuver in favor of those who put rissoles on your plate?” “True! How naïve I am!” I said to myself. “I’d forgotten that those who stand to gain anything from this are a handful of government officials, that, with this measure, they’re hoping to gain some time and come up with a more efficient strategy that will allow them to perpetuate their power and go on with their demagogical speeches.”

I feel that, this time, they outdid themselves, because these new regulations have made a laughing stock of the entire Ministry of Finances and Prices, in Cuba and abroad. Both their credibility and the way in which finances and prices are managed in the country are now in serious doubt. Beyond this, we have the moral damage to thousands of professionals who are working hard to push the country forward and simply demanding their right to own a car.

I am referring to the middle class that has traveled abroad many times to take part in solidarity work, as representatives of the Cuban people: medical doctors, engineers, sportspeople…all those people who have made huge personal sacrifices.

How were they affected by all this? I think it was a low blow, an affront on socialism, for there is no better way to undermine their wellbeing than to implement these types of reforms which, instead of favoring those who truly make a contribution to the country, divide, distance, frustrate and lead to resentment among the people.

To conclude, I will say that, if what the people who champion a rissole diet intend to do is to boycott Cuba’s socialist project, then they are making good progress. What pains me is that only two minorities are ultimately getting something out of it: the proponents of rissole diets (those who are at the top, those in power) and the nouveaux riches.

I think it would be good to look into everything that isn’t working well in depth, why such serious things are passed over in silence.

I think it’s time we changed the dinner menu. If we don’t, we’ll end up the same way we were years ago, or worse, we run the risk of unwittingly mutating into a savage society, where arbitrariness and the whims of power prevail over the interests of Cuban society.

5 thoughts on “My Naivety and Changes in Cuba

  • It’s about the survival of the elite totalitarian system. As a Cuban I can say that the revolution is fear, envy and hate.

  • Cuba could be what you wanted Cuba to be if they would only go back to feral capitalism which does not appear to be the aim of recent government reforms. .
    I would agree that the aim of the government is survival but also survival of the revolution and a continued rejection of capitalism and a continued progression towards a prosperous and democratic society once U.S. hostilities have ended.

  • interesting point of view… im just too naive , i mean, i was , and i still do. 🙂

  • The regime was lying when they announced that profits from the sales of these overpriced cars will be used to improve public transport. They have promised to improve transportation for years and yet never do. They promise to improve housing but never do. They promise to improve agriculture, infrastructure, healthcare, education, and so on. But they never do. If they really wanted to improve the lives of the Cuban people they would dismantle the police state & they would respect human rights.

    They don’t do any of that because it’s not in the interest of the regime to do so. The fundemental motivation behind every move the regime makes is regime survival.

  • Although this writer’s use of the metaphor falls short, it is clear from his post that he is less than supportive to the Castros recent reforms. It is also becoming increasing clear that the recent changes in Cuba, however tepid, are surreptitiously designed to smoothen the regime’s transition to capitalism. For example, if the goal of lifting the prohibition on new car purchases is to attract funds for public transportation, the better strategy would be to lower the prices and try and sell as many cars as possible with only a modicum of profit earned on each car. Two goals are accomplished: First, the per car profit earned is maximized to subsidize public transportation. Second, the burden on public transportation is minimized as those who could afford to purchase cars would have done so, increasing the impact of the government subsidy in that sector. Instead, by promoting this ridiculous and insulting pricing scheme, the regime is well-positioned to set up private dealership sales at a later date at more favorable prices. Cronies of the regime are no doubt lining up for the rights to privately imports cars for sale. Allowing certain farmers to sell directly to tourists hotels is another recent change. It should come as no surprise when the military elite who are essentially running the country today, at the fall of the regime, will reemerge as the private business elite. After all, if it was good enough for their former Soviet nursemaids, its a strategy worth emulating in Cuba.

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