Chaplinesque / Yoani Sánchez

The Water Seller of Seville: Diego Velázquez

The man in the threadbare suit, bowler hat and huge shoes carried pieces of glass on his back. His sidekick, a boy of about five, tossed stones through the windows of shops and houses so the glazier could sell his services to desperate clients. Together they formed a duo of survival, an “emergent” work team, that still yielded barely enough to keep the fire burning in their home. The story, described in the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid, has returned to pass in front of my eyes as I read the list of self-employment activities published in the newspaper Granma. Like a repertoire of destitution and dependency, this enumeration of private work seems more in tune with a feudal village than a 21st century country.

Reading through it in one sitting — containing my disgust — it is obvious that there are hardly any occupations directly linked to production. Entrepreneurs would need to be able count on a wholesale supplier to provide raw materials, and the possibility of access to bank loans has barely been mentioned, and without any details about what interest rates would be. Nor is there any talk of the self-employed being able to import merchandise directly from outside our borders, as this continues to be an absolute monopoly of the State. Of the 178 eligible activities, many are already carried out without a license, so being included in this list changes only one thing, being required to pay taxes. Hence the skepticism that accompanies the announcement of these “flexibilities” to let private ingenuity contribute to solving the serious problems of our economy.

What will come as a consequence of this slowness in applying the necessary changes? Citizens will continue to swell the long lines in front of consulates so they can leave the country, or they will fully immerse themselves in illegality and the diversion of resources. If our authorities believe that this trickle of transformations will keep the system from falling apart in their hands while they try to update it, they are underestimating the sense of urgency that runs through the Island. Such a half-hearted approach to applying long-delayed openings weakens the social situation and no one can predict how the frustrated “kids” — those disadvantaged by the massive layoffs and lack of expectations — will react. Hopefully they won’t end up breaking out all the windows.

September 29, 2010