Working for Yourself? Or Working for Everyone? / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luise Felipe Rojas

The regressive count has now commenced for the Cuban government. A swarm of hungry men and women being chased down by entourages of state inspectors, and a rampant wave of people who snitch on others has launched a new massive wave against individual initiative, the primogenial production belt of any country in the modern age, the small business. Producers of light goods, millers of animal fodder, bicycle-taxi drivers, messengers, dressmakers, and science and art tutors all enlist their marketing mechanisms: the promotion and sale of their products.

A few weeks ago when I went to Bayamo I met Mirurgia. She had arrived the night before from Cienfuegos where she bought some fabrics “at a very good price”. With these fabrics she planned to sew clown costumes for kids, whether to sell or rent. I took a look at these costumes and they were impeccable. Her sister, who lives in the United States, sends her magazines with models to get inspired by, she sends her buttons and pendants, and the end products are some costumes that look as if they came out the best “first-world” stores. I am not exaggerating. She already has orders from Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba.

“Now, I am alone. But as soon as I recover an investment I made two months ago, I’ll employ two more seamstresses, each one working from their own homes. Together, we will try to increase production. But for now we are alone in the market,” she told me with an uplifting vibe.

Ever since he came from a Bulgaria dominated by the Soviets in the ’80s, Adrian has never been so enthusiastic about his personal business.

“I used to sell pork and lamb meat, one or two animals per week. But every time they sell ground beef, other meats, or eggs by the rationing card, my sales go down and it just pushes everything back,” he said, while showing me his “workshop”.

“I studied wood-turning. That’s my field. If I put three teams to turning, that’d be much better than the animal trading business,” he points out.

Now, he has set up three bicycle-taxis. He will paint them in about two weeks and he will rent them out to whoever wishes to use them.

Today, they rent out porches so that people can sell movies, they tear off fences and steal display counters which obstruct sidewalks, and they go to whatever extent to sell flowers, or they try to sell any other kind of merchandise by shouting out information about the product. This is the new scene of Cuban society. In response there is animosity, false optimism, and never before seen hope. Many stare at all that is happening from afar, while others take the chance and join in, but for the majority, it is not an option, it is the “only” way out.

I do not think that such liberalization of productive means is the remedy of our problems. Only freedom will get us out of half a century of failure. But this determination of so many people makes me think, to examine everything, and to go forward without personal prejudices so I can hear these stories which circulate around me. I hope my readers will not be bothered by a few other reports which will surely come during the first months of 2011.

Before the face of imminent or real unemployment, I ask myself: What can a country, that was known for its diverse confines of labor and desire, do?

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Translated by Raul G.

January 1 2011