Ivan Garcia, 8 July 2017 — Without too much caution, the CUPET tanker truck painted green and white begins to deposit fuel in the underground basement of a gas station located at the intersection of Calle San Miguel and Mayía Rodríguez, just in front of Villa Marista, headquarters of State Security, in the quiet Sevillano neighborhood, south of Havana.
The gas station, with four pumps, belongs to the Ministry of the Interior and all its workers, even civilians, are part of the military staff. “To start working in a military center or company, be it FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) or MININT (Ministry of the Interior), besides investigating you in your neighborhood and demanding certain qualities, you have to be a member of the Party or the UJC (Union of Young Communists),” says one employee, who adds:
“But things have relaxed and not all those working in military companies are 100 percent revolutionary. And like most jobs in Cuba, there are those who make money stealing fuel, have family in the United States and only support the government in appearances.”
Let’s call him Miguel. He is a heavy drinker of beer and a devotee of Santeria.
“I worked at the gas station six years ago. It is true that they ask for loyalty to the system and you have to participate in the May Day marches so as not to stand out. But it is not as rigorous as three decades ago, according to the older ones, when you could not have religious beliefs or family in yuma (the USA). I do not care about politics, I’m a vacilator. I have two sons in Miami, and although I look for my shillings here, if Trump cuts off the remittances to those of us who work in military companies, Shangó will tell me what to do,” he says and laughs.
If there is something that worries many Cubans it is the issue of family remittances. When the Berlin Wall collapsed and the blank check of the former USSR was canceled, Fidel Castro’s Cuba entered a spiraling economic crisis that 28 years later it still has not been able to overcome.
Inflation roughly hits the workers and retirees with a worthless and devalued currency, barely enough to buy a few roots and fruits and to pay the bills for the telephone, water and electricity.
Although the tropical autocracy does not reveal statistics on the amount of remittances received in Cuba, experts say that the figures fluctuate between 2.5 and 3 billion dollars annually. Probably more.
Foreign exchange transactions of relatives and friends living abroad, particularly in the United States, are the fundamental support of thousands of Cuban families. It is the second national industry and there is a strong interest in managing that hard currency.
“Since the late 1970s, Fidel Castro understood the usefulness of controlling the shipments of dollars from the so-called gusanos (’worms,’ as those who left were called) to their families. When he allowed the trips of the Cuban Community to the Island, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) had already mounted an entire industry to capture those dollars.
“Look, you can not be naive. In Cuba, whenever foreign exchange comes in, the companies that manage it are military, or the Council of State, like Palco. That money is the oxygen of the regime. And they use it to buy equipment, motorcycles and cars for the G-2 officials who repress the opponents and to construct hotels, rather than to acquire medicines for children with cancer. And since there is no transparency, they can open a two or three million dollar account in a tax haven,” says an economist.
The dissection of the problem carried out by the openly anti-Castro exile and different administrations of the White House is correct. The problem is to find a formula for its application so that the stream of dollars does not reach the coffers of the regime.
“The only way for the government not to collect dollars circulating in Cuba, would be Trump completely prohibiting transfers of money. It’s the only way to fuck them. I do not think there is another. But using money as a weapon of blackmail to make people demand their rights, I find deplorable. I also have the rope around my neck. I want democratic changes, better salaries, and I have no relatives in Miami. But I do not have the balls to go out in the street and demand them,” says an engineer who works at a military construction company.
Twenty years ago, on June 27, 1997, the Internal Dissident Working Group launched La Patria es de Todos (The Nation Belongs to Everyone), a document that raised rumors within the opposition itself. Economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, along with the late Félix Antonio Bonne Carcassés, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez and lawyer René Gómez Manzano, tried to get those Cubans who received dollars to commit to not participate in government activities or vote in the elections, all of them voluntary.
It is true that the double standards of a large segment of Cubans upset the human rights activists. With total indifference, in the morning they can participate in an act of repudiation against the Ladies in White and in the afternoon they connect to the internet so that a family member expedites the paperwork for them to emigrant or recharges their mobile phone account.
This hypocrisy is repulsive. But these people are not repressive. Like millions of citizens on the island, they are victims of a dictatorship. In totalitarian societies, even the family estate is perverted.
In Stalin’s USSR a ’young pioneer’ was considered a here for denouncing the counterrevolutionary attitude of his parents. There was a stage in Cuba where a convinced Fidelista could not befriend a ’worm’, or have anything to do with a relative who had left the country or receive money from abroad.
I understand journalists like Omar Montenegro, of Radio Martí, who in a radio debate on the subject, said that measures such as these can at least serve to raise awareness of people who have turned faking it into a lifestyle. But beyond whether regulation could be effective in the moral order, in practice it would be a chaos for any federal agency of the United States.
And, as much frustration as those of us who aspire to a democratic Cuba may have, we can not be like them. It has rained a lot since then. The ideals of those who defend Fidel Castro’s revolution have been prostituted. Today, relatives of senior military and government officials have left for the United States. And the elite of the olive green bourgeoisie that lives on the island likes to play golf, drink Jack Daniel’s and wear name-brand clothes.
If Donald Trump applies the control of remittances to people working in GAESA or other military enterprises, it would affect more than one million workers engaged in these capitalist business of the regime, people who are as much victims of the dictatorship as the rest of the citizenship.
The colonels and generals who changed their hot uniforms for white guayaberas and the ministers and high officials, do not need to receive remittances. Without financial controls or public audits, they manage the state coffers at will. One day we will know how much they have stolen in the almost sixty years they have been governing.