The Divine Shepherdess in the background, in El Morro Havana.
A title that cheesy might seem like something straight out of the most mediocre thriller, but it refers to real events: The Divine Shepherdess restaurant, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Gaviota corporation of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), tucked away in an area of the Historic Morro-Cabaña Park, has been closed to start a bidding process. Its workers have been made “available” on the “employment exchange,” in hopes of future “relocation.” They are the new victims of another conspiracy of the olive-green mafia.
None of them saw the blow coming. Frustrated and deeply worried about the loss of their income and anxious about unemployment, the 23 workers have addressed letters of complaint to different agencies, including the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. To date, they haven’t received any responses.
However, many of them resist assimilating what happened, without understand that the conspiracy was planned in careful detail by the uniformed leaders. There are those who, naively, still believe there is hope of a solution. But theirs is a lost battle: from the beginning the die was cast and their fate sealed. The economic interests of the military leadership would not stop for trifles such as respecting the work of a handful of perfectly dispensable individuals.
Months ago it began to be rumored that The Divine Shepherdess would be among the restaurants that would form part of the pilot experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives that the Government proposed to develop, immersed in its controversial “reforms.” In the beginning, the workers were concerned about the possibility that this would give rise to a layoff plan to increase profitability and efficiency, characteristics of a cooperative; but soon their enthusiasm over the idea of working autonomously and increasing their personal incomes, without incurring the risk of the illegalities that abound in all state institutions, in particular in those operating in convertible currency, as this one did.
Given a major venture “from above,” they were assured there would be no layoffs. This dispelled their initial reserves and raised the expectations of those who thought it would be a new and advantageous start of a restaurant in a privileged position, right at the entrance to Havana Bay, within La Cabaña fort, on the other side of the city: a panoramic view of the capital and a place frequented by numerous foreign tourists.
The first surprise surfaced when, on a Roundtable TV show dedicated to the topic, a journalist declared that “the workers of The Divine Shepherdess” didn’t want to form a cooperative. Astonished at such a slander, they wrote the program demanding that the Institute of Radio and Television elevate their written complaint to the most diverse authorities. The official media have not rectified the mistake and, with the passing of days, they took the incident as a small involuntary slip up, perhaps due to misinformation or confusion on the part of those responsible for the program.
Shortly after, the president of Gaviota corporation appeared before the workers at the restaurant in person, conciliatory and paternal and, among other things, explained to them that the cooperative would be positive, favorable to everyone, and was an essential part of the economic transformations that were imperative for the country. It was a plan prioritized by the Government, ineluctable. So, they had to elect four workers who would represent all of them, to attend a seminar about what a cooperative enterprise would be and the characteristics of the transformation process to the new way of operating the restaurant.
The elected representatives, in effect, went to the seminar and gave their utmost to educate themselves about the issue, while the expectations of their comrades rose given the imminent change.
The first blow to their illusions came when, at another meeting, they talked to the employees aspiring to be cooperative members about taxes and concrete figures. They were simply astronomical. According to the parameters imposed, they would have to pay, in addition to all the taxes imposed by disimilar concepts, 40 CUC for each square yard of occupied space, including the parking areas, which, for obvious reasons, don’t generate the same income as the lounge-restaurant itself.
And this was the least of the figures they heard: to start the cooperative they would need an advance of 116,000 CUC, a definitely shocking sum. A sense of unreality started to set in, expanding like a solid body in the middle of the meeting and sparking a general outcry. This must be an error, they couldn’t be serious. Surely someone made a mistake. Where could they get such a huge sum of money? But no, the number had already been assigned by the specialists and Gaviota’s board. Ah, comrades, we must ask for a bank loan and accept the repayment terms and interest rate!
They decided that a representation of the workers would go to the bank to apply for the loan and make the arrangements. Nobody wanted to be discouraged.
MINFAR: A Tax Haven in Itself?
The friendly bank employee didn’t understand what these people were asking for. What credit were they talking about? Based on what funds did they believe they could qualify for a loan, and especially such a large one? In fact, she explained to them, The Divine Shepherdess had never invested a single cent in the coffers of the bank. What’s more, Gaviota itself hadn’t realized any income in all the years of its existence, from any concept, as if it were a ghost entity. But then, what could the workers do? The kind bank employee didn’t know; she only knew what they couldn’t do: obtain credit.
But, beyond the drama of a work collective, this leads to considerations of another kind in a country where, at least by right, there is a tough battle being fought against corruption and illegalities, for which the General-President has created an implacable Controller who conducts the most rigorous searches and who operates through an inflexible body of inspectors in coordination with the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR). Those with carts, hustlers, small traders and every kind of operator of a timbiriche — a very small business — could attest to the frequent operations and physical inspections that regularly subjects them to a ton of fines, in addition to the other scoldings at the slightest violation (or suspicion of it).
But, assuming it’s true that there are no visible traces of the financial transactions of the “state” corporation Gaviota in the bank (also a state entity), if we ignore that their income, investments and accounts are absolutely unknown, how can they be subjected to the controller’s checks? By virtue of what supra-constitutional rights would a military corporation be exempt from fiscal scrutiny? Do they consider their finances to be “sensitive information” and so secret, simply because they are an economic entity of MINFAR, though eminently capitalist?
And is it that this is a corporation which includes both restaurants and hotels in the country’s different tourist sites, transport bases, stores and other establishments, with significant income, and in which, in addition, thousands of civilian employees work, paying social security and earning salaries, vacations, and other benefits such as maternity and sick leave, etc. Are there no bank records of their costs and incomes from these concepts.
Undoubtedly, there are dozens of unanswered questions in this as in other macro-businesses of the olive-green elite. We know that the elite doesn’t market through timbiriches. At least no one has seen anyone with military epaulets dragging a cart with food, fruits and vegetables through our streets, nor selling jewelry or other merchandise in little stalls; humility is good only in speeches. Everything suggests that in Cuba there are three currencies circulating, two of them visible, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP), and an invisible and untraceable one, the capital of the military monopolies.
So it’s no surprise that, given the obvious financial incapacity of The Divine Shepherdess workers, and given their complaints and demands, the director of Gaviota stood before them again, this time frowning, authoritarian and invested with all the powers, and he unceremoniously snapped that the assigned figures for the taxes on the space, as well as the initial capital, “were not negotiable.” Curtain.
The beleaguered workers were told that on Friday, September 20, 2013 the restaurant would be closed and a bidding process would proceed. Because it turns out that there already is (and in reality, always has been) an investor with disposable capital to take over the “cooperative.
” As readers may have guessed, it is a prominent member of the anointed caste who surely did not need a bank loan or an income statement to amass the money needed.
As for the workers, well — and thank you for asking — each one is at home trying to swallow the bitter pill. You might be wondering what use it was to them to pay their union dues promptly for years, to attend “Revolutionary” marches called by the same power that has now evicted them, and that — trying “not to distinguish themselves” — meekly and without question obeyed every direction from the heights. For now, they are just waiting for someone to explain to them what the president of Gaviota meant when he told them that “no one would be left defenseless.”
From Diario de Cuba
30 September 2013