Yusimi Rodriguez

Havana street vendor. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, July 8 — I went to find Pepe after not having seen him for three months. In April he was able to start up his business selling fast food in the street from a shopping cart.

That very same week that he started, a competitor set up another cart less than three yards away from Pepe’s and this person began selling the same things: French fries, croquettes and stuffed potatoes with bread. As fate would have it the competitor’s cart caught on fire, leaving Pepe to breathe a sigh of relief…for a while.

I ran into Pepe in the Diez de Octubre neighborhood the other day, where he was sitting on a park bench. I wasn’t surprised to find him there at eleven o’clock in the morning, because I know he likes that place. I figured that he had have left someone in charge of the business while he went looking for supplies, and that he had then decided to relax for a few minutes.

He smiled when he saw me, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “My push cart caught on fire,” he told me. At first I thought he was kidding, because fate certainly couldn’t have been that cruel. But it seems that it can be even worse.

He shrugged his shoulders when I asked if it could be fixed. And when I asked him what he planned to do next, he said: “I have a bunch of ideas, a bunch; I know a lot about…food services.”

He didn’t look me but at the people who were walking along the avenue. Yet he continued saying, “But I don’t have the energy anymore. They gave me a medical certification for high blood pressure and my blood-sugar level has gone up too. I should have decided to set up the business ten years ago. Now it’s just too much for me.”

I didn’t want to remind him that ten years ago it probably wouldn’t have been possible. After the ‘90s, when it became necessary to open Cuba up to the private sector to boost the country’s economy, the granting of licenses for carrying out self-employed work was put on hold for a long time. But remembering that wouldn’t have made him feel any better.

I never imagined his story would end up like this. I remember when I met Pepe two years ago. He was about to turn sixty but he was full of energy. A few months ago, when people were still in shock over the announcement of impending government layoffs and new opportunities that would be offered in the private sector, he saw a chance to prosper.

Now he’ll have to settle for retirement. His won’t be the smallest; he had worked since even before he was twenty. But I’m well aware what you can and can’t buy with a retirement check.


8 thoughts on “Self-Employed Worker in Cuba (Part III)

  • Julio, I’ll try not to misinterpret your words. But I am passionate about social transformation and saving our nation and world. It frustrates me that a thinking, caring person like you, a person who purports to care about democracy and the environment, is so maddeningly impractical as to what he believes needs to be done.

    It’s like we, our children and grandchildren are on a bus, headed toward a precipice and certain death. I’m waving my arms, crying out that a socialist cooperative republican has to take over the driver’s seat and turn the bus away from the precipice, and onto a road that will lead to a secure and happy future. You, by contrast, are waving your arms, saying no, let’s not let such a driver take over because the old regime is basically a good driver; it just needs a better road map, and a less monopolistic, more scenic route toward the precipice.

    You say, “We just have to pick those solutions that are best.” This is silly. How are we to pick best solutions if we are not in the driver’s seat? The two major political parties that share power in this country are owned and controlled by the monopoly banks and the capitalist/landlord cabal. How are we supposed to pick best solutions when the powers that be have chosen short-term profits over prosperity and long-term sustainability?

    What is needed, Julio, is a socialist Cooperative Republic, with a detailed tweaking of the Constitution, and a National Plan of cooperative transformation, environmental repair, demilitarization and social reorganization. As long as caring people like you allow the monopoly capitalist money-grubber to remain in the driver’s seat, we will continue toward a catastrophic doom.

  • Grady please do not interpret my words the wrong way.
    What I am saying is that people should be able to organized themselves in any economical entity they like to organize. Be capitalistic or mondragon type or any other invented. There should not be a limit as to the way to organize people economically and let the market decide. If it can survive competition is good. If it does not it is bad. This is very simple. Let people do what they like to do. Do not force them into a paternalistic society that tells them this is allow and this is not from the economic view point.
    As for the environment I think I care the same as many people. And I am aware of the problems but I think socialism as a type of capitalism is as much to blame as any other economical system. Just look at the environmental disasters in Russia. Or even Cuba in a minor scale because it is small country.
    You can solve the environmental issue without resorting to limit economical enterprising in such a way. There could be many different solutions to the environmental issue. We just have to pick those solutions that are best. How do we define “best”?
    Those solutions that have less of an economical impact on nations but that still solve the environmental issues. For example maybe we will like to say no to a rule about “No carbon emission from cars” for now or any other pollutant because by doing so the whole economy will go down the tube. We can not stop the whole economy. So by placing scale reductions on carbon emission we have time to adjust to the new rules and for the corresponding research on how to solve the issues to develop.

  • Yes, Julio, we agree that monopoly is negative and dysfunctional. Whether it’s by the international banks, capitalists and militarists, or by well-meaning socialist leaders in a particular country, such as Cuba or North Korea, it’s negative and dysfunctional.

    And yes, I am vitally concerned with the world environment. Almost the entire scientific community of the world is telling us every day that we are on the verge of destroying the oceans, over-warming the climate through too much coal and oil burning, deforesting and poisoning the lands and fresh waters, and all sorts of other catastrophes that will mean and end to human civilization within a few short decades.

    Why would I not be concerned with the environment? Why would not any sane person–any sane person who is not deluded by the monopoly capitalist mass media campaigns of the coal and oil industries to protect monopoly profits in the short term–be concerned?

    Let me ask you a direct question. Monopoly is destroying the world environment and with it the futures of all our children and grandchildren. Aren’t you concerned?

    I am urgently concerned with achieving a US socialist cooperative republic within the next decade, and hopefully a world network of such cooperative republics, to stop and reverse environmental damage. But I’m also vitally concerned with other things about which we need to talk.

    You ask me, Julio, about the problem I’m trying to solve. Besides stopping and reversing extinction-level environmental damage, I’m trying to solve the problem of the monopoly banks that–in cahoots with the industrial and commercial multinational corporations, militarists and military-industrialist, and landlords of all sizes–keep the flesh-and-blood nations of the world in poverty and servitude.

    You apparently do not share my view of national and world non-democracy led by the banks and their fellow travelers. You apparently think the entire Universe is the self-obsessed, bureaucratic regime in Havana with all its negative aspects. You apparently are stuck in a trance-like mentality where Socialism is Hell, and Capitalism is Heaven.

    Let me submit proof of your narrow, superficial analysis of reality. You say private property is good, yet you take exception when it’s the workers who reach out and use these rights to form their own corporations, compete in the marketplace and achieve enormous benefits of prosperity, workplace democracy and social advancement. You project all sorts of negatives into these worker coops and assume that they are making heinous rules from wall to wall. All seems good to you about private property, except when it’s the workers who own it.

    I must conclude that you do not know real democracy, even when it is presented right in your face. I must conclude that you identify with capitalists and landlords, not your productive sisters and brothers .

    The only reason monopoly capitalism, led by the monopoly banks, has been able to survive for the past century-and-a-half is because Marxism penetrated into the socialist movement, re-defined socialism from cooperative to state ownership, and diverted the anti-capitalist Left into a kind of religious cult where common sense and experimentation could not function. My struggle on the Left is to swim against the current and tell these sectarians that Marxism is the biggest con-job in history.

    I challenge you, Julio, to understand the lessons of Mondragon and worker-owned cooperative corporations. If you identify with capitalists and landlords however, and dream starry-eyed of being one someday, then go your own way and forget about the people and humanity’s future.

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