Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — In the most recent celebration of July 26 in Guantanamo, something happened that I didn’t quite understand.
The program stated that Vice President Machado Ventura was going to speak, but later the general/president also spoke. Apparently someone asked him to and the people followed the rhyme.
It’s that to follow a speech by Machado Ventura — whose oratory is unmistakable for him saying what everyone expects and in the most boring way possible — anything sounds good.
Also, Raul, when he speaks impromptu, has the virtue of adding funny remarks and witty comments that serve to relax people – and after a tirade by Machado, one needs to relax.
In this one, Raul made several interesting comments. One of them was when he referred to the issue of wages. Speaking in front of a population that spends the month trying to “smoke underwater” (as my friend Henry tells me), the president explained that there would be no wage increases until production increases, especially food production.
This is all very confusing in many ways, but particularly in the fact that economic reform is making no progress due to the immense and rundown state economy, as well as in the lack of effective policies to produce a takeoff in the agricultural economy.
All this is the primarily the responsibility of the speaker who has spent six years in office playing with peripheral matters, rummaging through the pockets of others and tinkering around with an economy that is not growing except in the official statistics.
It’s that, inevitably, the general/president must tell people — like Sor Juana Ines said to his men of his day — that they must pay for the sins that have condemned them.
Later he noted that doctors earn very little, but then he added, “We all earn very little.”
That was another absurdity, since — as everyone knows — obviously not everyone has to count pennies in the second half of the month. The overwhelming majority do, but not everyone.
The fact that many people earn very little while others earn a lot is not a question of gambling or bad luck, but the result of policies and practices encouraged under the system commanded by the general.
This is interesting for the following reason: The functionaries, intellectuals and academics who feed into the system, and even sleepy journalists and poorly-paid official bloggers, often refer to “losers” (i.e. people who will inevitably lose out as a result of the economic adjustment that they say is needed for the economy to take off).
In this there are not many dark turns because these are the same people who have been the preferred victims of the belt tightening: teachers, government employees, retirees, people in depressed areas, women, young people entering the labor market, etc.
Only our economists — who celebrate the Chinese model as well as condemn the Chilean one — never explain that these people are being sacrificed with no possibility of defense or negotiation, since in an authoritarian regime like Cuba’s — like in Chile and in China — there are no independent trade unions or social organizations representing the interests of these “losers.”
But nobody — not even the troubled general/president — talks about of the winners, meaning that tiny minority of people who are improving their economic and social situations and will eventually become the dominant class of emerging capitalism.
These elite are now visible, and there are places in the main Cuban cities — especially in Havana — which serve as a hub for a type of consumption and behavior that has nothing to do with the discourse of Machado Ventura, while having everything to do with the descendants of people like Machado Ventura.
While it’s true that among this consumerist elite, many have achieved their positions through a combination of talent and market opportunities — artists, writers, small businesspeople — these reasons have little to do with the recruitment of others selected by the Cuban new capitalism.
The largest bulk of the new elite is composed of those who appropriated the best houses in the best neighborhoods to rent rooms (up to the point of converting them into small hotels with sophisticated services) or for setting up restaurants, or those who had the best contacts for creating joint-venture firms and those who ran the best companies for partnering with foreign capital.
In short, they are those who had connections, political protection, information, coercive abilities and the cunning to glide across the intricacies of an infernally corrupt system while swearing allegiance to socialism.
These people, needless to say, don’t have to endure the low incomes that, according to the general/president, “all” Cubans suffer. They are the winners of the treasures obtained from others work, frustrated expectations and the dangerous resentment of millions of people of various generations who our economists simply call losers.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com.