An Unwanted ’Fellow Traveler’ / Fernando Damaso

Signs in Havana advertising services provided by the self-employed.

Fernando Dámaso, 13 November 2018  — Although it has been shown that self-employment work, even with absurd limitations, excessive taxes and overt or overlapping state persecution, resolves problems that the State, with its obsolete companies and deficient socialist services, has been unable to solve in sixty years of exercising absolute power, it is still considered “an unwanted ‘fellow traveller’.”

It is obvious, moreover, that it has been precisely this private sector that has given work to the 600,000 people displaced by the state sector, and that today is the main generator of jobs. It also constitutes the sector most active in generating productive forces. In short, discourse goes on one side and reality on the other.

For months the delivery of new self-employment licenses has been “frozen”, under the pretext of studying improvements, to avoid illegalities by those who practice it. This preoccupation with illegalities should have been a focus of the State for many years based on the multiple illegal activities that are committed in their centers of production and services.

But, as is logical, you can not be a judge and jury at the same time. Now they come up with new Decree-Laws, Decrees and Resolutions published in the Official Gazette of July 10, 2018, which impose new restrictions, raise taxes and complicate with more bureaucratic measures the exercise of self-employed work.

The problem seems to be something else: the bureaucrats of the state apparatus (Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Finance and Prices, Ministry of Internal Trade, Housing Institute, National Institute of Physical Planning, National Tax Administration Office and others) see self-employment as a dangerous competitor, which can’t be defeated or overcome in good faith, and they press on — so as not to lose their privileges — to bring it down with obstacles and abitrariness.

Some time ago the newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article about the problems with the so-called preventive and orthopedic footwear, which is produced in the country only by two state companies — the so-called National Center of Technical Orthopedics Cuba-RDA (as obsolete as its own name) and Combell Company — both of which are rejected by their customers for their poor quality and worse design, which ensures that their warehouses are full of idle products, which have no customers in the market.

Faced with this situation, many citizens in need of this type of footwear choose to go to self-employed artisan shoemakers, who manufacture them with better quality and design, although at prices much higher than those of the state, but they have to produce them illegally because their licenses do not cover the manufacture of this type of footwear.

Simply one more of the many absurd rules in ridiculous licenses that limit the function of the trades. That is repeated with the carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons and others, who can only legally perform a small portion of their trades, those that the incumbent bureaucrat came up with.

Bad examples abound:

The much publicized State Wholesale Market (Mercobal), until now the only one in the entire country, located on Avenida 26 and Calle 35, Nuevo Vedado, Plaza Municipality, functions only for non-agricultural cooperatives located in facilities leased to the State, under contract with the state suppliers that assign their orders.

In the also publicized Digital Commerce, which only functions at the Market of 5th and 42th, Playa municipality, you select the product and pay for it digitally and, to pick it up, using your own means, you must wait 72 hours. In other words, the payment is digital but the delivery is analog.

Who are the winners with so many absurdities?

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria