Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak. Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the “model” – in addition to the new regional scenario, the socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the leftist “allies” defeated at the polls, the repealing of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy of the United States and, with it, the closing of Cubans’ most important escape route, Donald J. Trump’s assumption of the US presidency, and his having already announced a revision and conditioning of the easing of measures of the Embargo dictated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, are increasing the fears for an eventual return to the conditions of the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the so-called “real socialism.”
At the social level, one of the clearest indicators of the deterioration and inability to respond on the part of the government is, on the one hand, the increased repression towards the opposition, and, on the other hand, the increase of controls on the private sector (the self-employed) while the economy and services in the state sector continue to collapse. The most recent example is in the area of passenger transportation, one of the most active and efficient in the non-state sector; the State’s response to this efficiency has been to impose a cap on fares, which now cannot exceed 5 Cuban pesos for each leg of the trip.
Weeks after this measure was implemented, transportation in the Cuban capital has plunged into a lamentable crisis, demonstrating the great importance of the private sector for this service. The measure has resulted in not only a noticeable decrease in the numbers of cabs for hire – the “almendrones” as they are called, in reference to the ‘almond’ shape of the classic American cars most often used in this service – in the usual or fixed routes formerly covering the city; but also in their refusal to pick up passengers in mid-points along their routes, which could be interpreted as a silent strike of this active sector in response to the arbitrariness of the government’s measure.
As a corollary, there has been increasing overcrowding in the limited and inefficient state-operated buses, and the resulting discomfort for the population, which now must add another difficulty of doubtful solution to the long list of their pressing daily problems.
Far from presenting any program to improve its monopoly on passenger bus service, the official response has been the threatening announcement that it will launch its hordes of inspectors to punish with fines and appropriations those private sector drivers who intend to conspire to evade the dispositions of the Power Lords.
For the olive-green lords of the hacienda, the “cabbies” are not even independent workers who are part of a sector to which the State does not provide any resources nor assign preferential prices for the purchase of fuel or spare parts, but simply driving slaves: they and their two-wheel open carriages are at the service of the master’s orders.
The infinite capacity of the Cuban authorities to try to overcome a problem by making existing ones worse and more numerous is the paroxysm of the absurd. For, assuming that in the days to come a true avalanche of inspectors is unleashed on the hunt for private carriers who don’t comply with the established prices, the outcome of such a crusade cannot be less than counterproductive, since, as is well-known, the inspectors constitute a formidable army of corrupt people who, far from guarding the funds of the public coffers, the fulfillment of the service of each activity and the health of the tax system, find the possibility of lining their own pockets in every punitive action of the State against every “violation,” through the extortion of the violators.
For its part, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) which serves as “support” to the inspectors, is another leech also dedicated to bleeding the private workers dry, who are, in fact, the only useful and productive elements in this chain. So, every governmental offensive against “the private ones” means a juicy harvest for the pairing of inspectors-PNR, who usually feed like parasites on the most prosperous entrepreneurs and, invariably, the final harvest results in the deterioration of services and an increase in their prices – because whatever the private workers lose in compensation paid as bribes must be made up for by an increase in prices – and the “normalization” of the corruption in the whole society, generally accepted as a mechanism of survival in all spheres of life.
The cycle is closed when, in turn, the passenger, that is, any common Cuban, is forced to perfect his mechanisms of resistance that will allow him to equate the increase in the cost of living, and seek additional income sources, probably illegal, related to contraband, thievery, or “diversion of resources” (a fancy term for stealing) from state-owned enterprises and other related offenses. Anything goes when it comes to surviving.
And, while the economy shrinks and the shortages increase, the General-President remains alien and distant, as if he had no responsibility for what happens under his feet. Cuba drifts in the storm, with no one in command and no one at the helm, approaching, ever so close, to the much talked about “precipice,” which Raúl’s reforms were going to save us from.
Paradoxically, given the weakness of civil society and the lack of support for it by most of the democratic governments of the world, busy with their own internal problems, the salvaging of Cubans depends fundamentally on the political will of the dictatorship in power.
But Castro II is silent. Apparently, he has virtually retired from his position as head of government well before his announced retirement date of 2018, and after the final death (as opposed to the many announced but not real deaths) of his brother and mentor, has only loomed from his lofty niche from time to time, not to offer his infamous directions to the misguided “ruled” of the plantation in ruins, but to serve as host at the welcoming ceremonies for distinguished foreign visitors. At the end of the day, he is another native of these lands, where almost nobody cares about the fate of one another… Isn’t it true that, for many Cubans, the world begins beyond the coral reefs?
Translated by Norma Whiting