14ymedio, Havana, 5 August 2020 — The front opened by Cuban authorities against the “scoundrels,” advanced in recent days by a media campaign, is already on the ground. According to Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, 3,054 groups have been created with 22,281 people to pursue coleros (people who stand in line for others), hoarders and illegal foreign exchange dealers. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) will be in charge of a task that began to be prepared at the end of July and is already in action.
The plan, as Marrero indicated this Tuesday on the Roundtable TV program, has 5,195 actions planned in the different territories. Havana is the priority with 522 “working groups,” detailed the deputy governor, Yanet Hernández Pérez. The authorities intend to focus their efforts on stores and shopping centers but also target pharmacies, sales of construction materials and transactions through social networks.
“We are acting against the people who stand in line for profit, promoting illegal economic activity,” said Miguel Díaz-Canel in a statement focused on convincing people that action will not be taken against the elderly or “humble” people, but against “the scoundrels, those who take advantage of others; against the parasitic act that is involved in these type of behaviors, by people who mostly do not work, do not contribute anything socially to the population or the country; who take advantage of our economic problems to enrich themselves at the expense of others.”
One of the most widespread profiles of a colero is the retiree who has few resources but a lot of free time, which they use to save a few spots in line that they then sell to augment their miserable pensions. The prime minister, on the other hand, chose to highlight the role in this ‘business’ of “unscrupulous people who had been carrying out an illicit economic activity” in clear reference to the so-called ‘mules’ — who bring back merchandise from trips abroad. Marrero explained that the colero is just the last link in a chain that is started by hoarders and resellers and supported by those who charge for their place in the line “some at a value of 100 CUC (roughly $150 US at current exchange rates*), depending on the store and the product someone wants to buy.”
The duo of senior government leaders stressed who was responsible for the lines in Cuba, once again attributing it to the US embargo, which has no connection to the problem. In his previously recorded speech, Díaz-Canel accused those who, in his opinion, “seek to divide the Cuban people” of justifying the coleros by linking them to shortages, “which they do not associate with the blockade but with alleged incapacities of the Government and the Cuban State.”
According to the president, it is “elitist and vain” to maintain that the coleros must exist because there is a group of people with greater purchasing power who can afford to pay others to stand in line for them. “It is not hatred or abuse, we want the person to understand their mistake and keep them away from these behaviors,” he concluded.
His prime minister elaborated on the same messages and repeatedly insisted that Cuban Communist Party (PCC) secretary general, Raúl Castro, was at the forefront of the decisions, and ordered the FAR to join the operation, while stressing the importance of the CDR, the Federation of Cuban Women and the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, and their involvement in these actions.
Marrero also took stock of the first activities of these groups. More than 1,300 people have been detected and what the authorities called “prophylactic actions” (fines) will be applied to them in the first instance, while in cases of recidivism they will face criminal measures for crimes of illegal economic activity.
To date, some 280 people have been prosecuted for recidivism, said the prime minister, who maintained that the population will be informed of who was involved in all cases, be they individuals, companies or officials. These links to corruption within its own ranks were referred to, according to Marrero, by Castro himself, who said: “Corruption at the present stage is one of the main enemies of the Revolution; much more damaging than the billion dollar subversive program and interventionism of the Government of the United States and its allies inside and outside the country.”
The prime minister explained that one of the key locations they focus on is the rental of premises to store the products that are later resold. “We have nothing against a natural person renting a house, room or garage, it is legally established. What we are against is when the person rents and ignores what the space they rented is being used for.”
In addition, the illegal sale of foreign currency has become a new priority and the police force is greatly involved in this task, as confirmed by Colonel Eddy Sierra Arias, the second highest person in the PNR. With the dollarization of the economy that the Government has carried out in recent weeks, the prices of freely convertible currencies have skyrocketed in the illegal market, especially in the case of the dollar, which as of last week sells at approximately 1.50 CUC, a roughly 50% increase over recent exchange rates.
Also on the Roundtable program, where all these measures were addressed, was Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, coordinator of the CDRs, who emphasized the work carried out over decades. “First against the counterrevolutionary elements in those first years of the triumphant Revolution. Then, depending on the historical moment in which the country has lived, the CDRs have been confronting criminal activities, corruption, crime, and illegalities,” he argued with pride. In the organization there are 852 detachments with more than 23,400 young people.
Another fixed idea of all the participants in yesterday’s program was the involvement of the population in supporting their leaders and, specifically, of these measures.
The messages came from the Prime Minister: “We would not have been able to reach the levels of control shown by the country without the decisive support of the people”; and from Colonel Sierra: “This is a battle that we wage and will continue to wage with the accompaniment of our people.”
But Díaz-Canel failed to note that the only people his government recognizes are the people who support him: “We are going to act with fairness and firmness, because the streets in Cuba are for the revolutionaries and for the working people.”
*Translator’s note: Pensions in Cuba commonly range around $10 a month; at this rate a retiree would only have to stand one line a year to more than double his or her annual income.
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