14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 3 August 2020 — “Speculators and product hoarders will be punished with 180 days in prison,” reads the text of legislation that could have been passed this week, were it not for its effective date of that far off 1962. Since then, and for almost six decades, resellers have been presented by the Cuban official discourse as the cause of shortages, which, in reality, is an unwanted but inevitable effect.
Back then, Law 1035 approved by the Council of Ministers determined that a person could not buy more than 11.5 kilograms (about 25 pounds) of agricultural products. Nor was it legal to transport an amount above that limit through the country’s streets and highways, except in an authorized state vehicle. The offense not only carried a six-month prison sentence, but also the confiscation of the car.
My parents had not even met, my birth was barely an infinitesimal part of a future possibility, and on this Island the authorities were already pointing to coleros (people who stand in line to hold a place for others) and to informal merchants as at fault for the fact that many basic products could not reach homes with fewer resources. I heard the accusation again in the 80s when I was a child, in a Cuba that despite the Soviet subsidy was still marked by the periodic absences of certain merchandise.
In the 1990s, instead of intoning a mea culpa for gambling on that losing horse that was the socialist camp, official slogans once again pointed to the US embargo and to backyard hoarders as the reasons for the deep famine that was upon us. The responsibility should always be placed elsewhere, far from the Plaza of the Revolution, far from Fidel Castro’s voluntarism*, and far from the intrinsic inefficiency of the economic model imposed from above.
Thus, we come to this new crisis in which the informational script that is disseminated in the official media has hardly changed to explain the disaster in which we live. Now, the “primetime newscast” is full of police operations against merchants who deal in car parts, onions or powdered milk. The authorities call for the creation of armband wearing brigades to monitor the lines to prevent the same individual from standing in line multiple times, selling his turn or holding a place for his friends.
All this gesticulation is nothing more than pure folderol and a very calculated campaign of distraction. Nobody, other than the Cuban State itself, has all the tools at hand to end such practices, and not, as they have led us to believe, through criminalization or repression. It is only where there are shortages that hoarders can thrive and enrich themselves, the black market for a product comes to fruition where it is missing or prohibited.
It is in the hands of the regime to cut off the sources from which coleros and resellers thrive, but not with more restrictive legislation, but rather with flexibilities, a decrease in the role of the State in the economy and trade, openings to allow private parties to import, and a series of measures that do not attack the annoying effects of the crisis but rather help an entire country to get out of this long desert of deficit and “not enough.”
Although it bares his teeth and shows them on the screens as the new adversary to defeat, the truth is that Castroism needs coleros and hoarders – among other reasons – in order for people to be able to get products that the state’s inefficiency cannot supply. There are, in defined accounts, distribution tools that regulate the market, not under the rules of egalitarianism and social justice, but based on the demand and purchasing power of the customer.
Those who can pay for the services of a colero or a reseller live better than those who, with fewer resources or with only their wages, have to spend long hours in a line. It is basically similar to the segregation or economic apartheid which is deepened by the new stores selling food only in foreign currency. The difference is that, in the first case, the offer that is prohibitive for many is in the hands of a private party, and in the second it is the Government itself that implements and authorizes it.
This new raid that we are experiencing against clandestine merchants is no more than another pantomime, a theatrical performance that has been repeated dozens of times in the last half century. The only thing that changes is the age or forgetfulness of the frightened public, who watches this crude spectacle from their armchairs.
*Translator’s note: The principle of relying on voluntary action (used especially with reference to the involvement of voluntary organizations in social welfare). [Source: Quizlet]
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