Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 April 2020 — In the course of the last few weeks, Cubans have been witnessing an unusual government offensive against economic crime. With such an onslaught, which is inserted in the midst of the “battle” against COVID-19, the authorities are trying to put into practice the promise of punishment to serve as an example for all those who are trying to profit at the expense of the needs of the people, a need that is increasing, since the resources available in the country are in short supply.
This time the cleansing is so intense and the circulation of the frequent operatives against acts of misuse of state resources, warehouse robberies and food resale on the black market has been so overstated through the Castro press monopoly, that some unofficial media have concluded, perhaps in a very risky way, that we are facing an “increase” in these crimes.
Reality, however, tends to contradict this assertion, since the crimes alluded to in the national economic sphere are long-standing. Furthermore, not only have they been present for decades in the day-to-day life of Cubans, but it can be stated that they have constituted a more constant, efficient and competitive source of food than the State itself throughout that time. The difference is that, in the current circumstances, there is an evident political will to make them visible, either as a warning, as an intimidating message to the whole society over which the State has absolute control, or as an anticipated demonstration of power in the face of worse times that have yet to come.
Be that as it may, the unquestionable truth is that where there are deficits, rationing and shortages, economic crime and contraband always flourish, which do not diminish the punishable character of any infraction of this nature or the aggravating quality of their execution in times of pandemic.
That said, other aspects of the matter must be added which the official media would prefer to omit. One of them is the contrast between “justice” that applies the full accuracy of the law against transgressors only “at the grassroots level”, and to the privileged, who enjoy the most rampant impunity.
Because it turns out that, while an entire army of police, inspectors and the military equally repress managers of establishments that trade in food, truck drivers, transporters – private or state – and habitual street vendors who prowl around the markets, the State allows itself to keep soaring prices (“unsubsidized”, is the official phrase) on basic necessities, including the already famous and meager “modules” that have been distributed throughout the commercial networks destined to the use of the ration card.
All this, despite the low income of the population and the fact that the majority of Cubans are currently “available” – a euphemism that replaces the terms “unemployed” or “laid off” – or receive only 60% of their already insufficient wages due to the social isolation measures imposed.
Apparently, “speculation” doesn’t apply to the sale of ‘baskets’ for home consumption from several hotels in the Cuban capital which went on for a few days with prices between 25 and 35 CUC, which could only be acquired by some social sectors, not only due to their high cost, but for the inability of the managers to maintain this offer.
And these are just sample buttons of Cuban governmental altruism in times of pandemic.
Thus, in the infinite absurdity of the Cuban socio-economic model and its justice system, parallel worlds survive where, on the one hand, the detentions and arrests of “suspects” of economic crime — treated in principle as culprits without corresponding investigations and trials having been carried out — and on the other, the use of State vehicles for abundant food distribution to homes of the ruling class and its high-ranking acolytes, frequently documented on social networks. Which explains why these privileged few have never been seen in the endless lines for food, detergents and other essential products.
Another edge that envelopes the government’s justice efforts in a halo of mystery is the fate of the products seized in the numerous police operations. So far, no official press report has followed-up on the seized merchandise to sales platforms or to food processing centers for the lowest income families, known in Cuba under the pejorative heading of “social cases”. It could be said that there is a sort of Bermuda Triangle between clandestine refrigerators, unauthorized agricultural products that are transported in trucks, pedicabs or wheelbarrows and the dining tables of Cubans.
And, finally, the official disclosure of the essential issue in this entire saga is pending: is there any government plan to replace the invaluable work of providers to Cuban families that have fallen to smugglers and small-time dealers for so long? Do the country’s constituents have a notion of the magnitude of what we can call “collateral damage”? Is it that they have prepared for us a ready battalion of “pure or emerging administrators” capable of managing warehouses and businesses without getting corrupted?
Because it is fair to recognize that this crusade for economic purity (of others) that the authorities are waging is going to be reflected rigorously on the tables and in the pockets of the millions of people who do not enjoy the privilege of the Power class or those who don’t have their income derived from remittances sent from exiles abroad, which is why they are forced to appeal to the underground market to obtain what is necessary, almost always at prices slightly lower than those of the official market.
All of which places before us other essential questions. Where is the master plan that will finally unlock the productive chain, decentralize the inefficient economic model and make it possible to alleviate – at least – food deficiencies? Or to focus it better, is there a plan?
So far, there are no answers, and once again it has been shown that the only effective thing in the Cuban model is the proliferation of repression. In fact, at present it could be stated that it is the repressive activity that has increased, and not economic crimes. The paradox is that both – repression and the aforementioned crimes – are inherent parts of the same system: they are deep-rooted. Therefore, the supposed fight between opposites is nothing but the proper balance of a failed system that encrypts its survival in the galloping and permanent corruption and in the cyclical repressive forces.
The authorities have us so used to such awkwardness that they re-attack the consequences instead of eliminating the causes that create them. Which is perfectly logical: no system could survive if it removed the pillars on which it was founded. So, on we go…
Translated by Norma Whiting