Changing at the Pace of a Bolero / Miriam Celaya

Casa hostal en Centro Habana. Fotografía tomada de Internet
Home-based Inn in Central Havana. Photo from the Internet

Let it be known that I am one of those who are pleased with the changes in Cuba. I even think that some minor things are already starting to change. That said, what I’m not convinced about is the pace, because, while it isn’t fitting to rush to immediate solutions in a fragile socioeconomic situation like ours, and in the absence of a coordinated and consolidated civil society, neither is it healthy to maintain this slow pace as if we were to live as long as a freshwater tortoise. The reticence of government actions that have taken place reveal the government’s fear that things might get out of their control; the implementation of measures (reforms, adjustments or whatever they are called) indicates the inescapable need to find a way out of stagnation and out of the critical state of the Cuban economy.

It is more likely that the government intends to show some accomplishments in Congress next April and, consequently, one would expect some progressive momentum in the small-time economy, among others. It is remarkable how many Cubans are already breaking the ice and have embarked on the adventure of applying for licenses. Those engaged in the sale of food (cafés and restaurants popularly called “paladares”, the latter with a maximum capacity of 20 seats) stand out, as do some lessees who have legalized their rooms for rent, primarily for hosting CUC-paying foreigners. It is clear that people need to survive, and not a few believe that being first at this initiative will ensure a good position against the competition they expect will come sooner, rather than later.

Foto tomada de Internet
Photo taken from the Internet

The picture is interesting, more so because — as seen in this first phase — there is an obvious service-market primacy of goods production, and because in such a depressed economy investment recovery becomes slower and more difficult, while “allowances” are simultaneously being eliminated, and some products are unrestricted and become more expensive, which affects the entire population as a whole, and diminishes the purchasing power of those who use these services… at least in theory. We must not forget the number of layoffs that will occur in the coming months either, a sure source of social tension. We will have to monitor this process of experimentation, taking into account that — as my colleague Dimas Castellanos has posed in his controversial blog — the pace and depth of changes, in the absence of other enforcing agents, are determined by the very government that dragged us to our demise. And, so far, we are moving at the rhythm of a bolero.

Taking just some general examples, we see, in panoramic view, that:

– At least two years elapsed before the General realized that it was feasible and even necessary to expand the size of lands given in usufruct to the farmers who make them produce.

– At least 34 years elapsed since the establishment of the latest political-administrative division and the organization of the Popular Power to discover the monstrous bureaucracy that flows from the system, and to propose — also experimentally — the division of a province in two, which began with a new administrative style in 2011 (makes more sense, they say) and a minimum outline in the structure of their governments.

– At least 50 years elapsed since a novelty was revealed: the ration card, far from being an achievement, is an anachronistic and obsolete ballast that produces an incalculable burden on the State… and must be eliminated.

– Over 50 years elapsed before the government understood that the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us, and started to look to transform it, though, to avoid such a public confession, it labeled it as “a renewal of the model”. Now they are inventing a primitive capitalism of castes, with no middle class.

Given that each small local experiment that Raúl Castro is implementing involves at least two years of waiting for its results before going on to the next small step that will lead nobody knows exactly where, we must have more patience than a Buddhist monk to finally get to enjoy the proclaimed benefits. Unless,somehow magically, Cubans start winning civic spaces that will transform slaves into citizens (as a reader friend likes to say) and we manage to impose our own rhythm and complexity on the changes we want.

January 14 2011