Carlos Manuel’s grandfather was the owner of a funeral home in the middle of the last century; his upstairs neighbor founded a law firm in the 1950s; and his mother started out as a dentist in a private clinic. However, this 48-year-old from Havana will not be able to carry out any of these labors outside the control of the State. He had to live in a Cuba with greater restrictions for the self-employed worker than the one his ancestors knew.
For several days, a disturbing list has been circulating around the Island. The list contains the 124 occupations that the Government has vetoed from being exercised in the private sector. In most cases, these are professions linked to sectors that are a state monopoly and range from the private extraction of crude oil, to making sugar, to practicing as lawyers, architects, doctors and journalists on one’s own.
Carlos Manuel has kept his civil engineering degree in a drawer for a long time. He had the illusion that, with the deep economic crisis that Cuba is experiencing, the authorities would raise the flag and allow him to work privately in the profession that he is passionate about. Together with an architect friend and another designer, they fantasized about creating a company, medium or small, to offer their services in the construction and remodeling of hotels, private businesses and homes.
But instead of the expected opening, the three graduates were stunned when reading the list that excludes them from receiving a self-employment license to dedicate themselves to the trade they love. “In a country where it is urgently necessary to recover the architectural beauty of the cities, we have been excluded from being able to contribute with our own effort,” he wrote to a friend, as soon as he read the list. That same night, he called his brother who lives in Uruguay to tell him that “at the slightest opportunity” he would emigrate. Another professional who escapes, unable to fulfill his dreams here.
Several colleagues of Carlos Manuel have joined and signed a statement with the title “Independent architecture should not be ignored in Cuba”, in which they ask the Government to eliminate both architecture and engineering from the list of those 124 expressly prohibited activities. by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. But they harbor little hope that the Plaza of the Revolution will back down from that decision.
In short, the list of prohibited occupations summarizes the fears of a regime that is known to be disadvantaged in offering its workers attractive wages, good working conditions and freedom for innovation or for the free expression of opinions within its institutions and companies. It senses that an independent lawyer will not tacitly accept the violation of his client’s rights; that a free publisher will not allow himself to be censored or that an independent reporter will not sweep uncomfortable news under the rug for power.
The Government also fears that allowing the private exercise of certain professions will not only unleash an exodus of employees from the state sector, but would mean a significant loss of political control over thousands of Cubans. They are not just people with degrees who will gain autonomy, but over whom the power will cease to have influence in such a decisive way as it does now.
This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle for Latin America.
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