At last week’s celebration of the 26th of July something happened I didn’t quite understand. The program stated that Machado Ventura was going to speak, but then the General/President also spoke. It seems someone asked him to and people went along with it. After a speech by Machado Ventura — his oratory is unmistakeable, saying what everyone expects and in the most boring possible way — anything is welcome. And Raúl, when he improvises, has the virtue of using Cuban slang and relating trifling events, which is relaxing. And after a tirade from Machado one needs to relax.
Raúl dropped some interesting tidbits. One of them referred to the issue of wages. Given a population that spends the month — as my friend Henry says — “smoking under water” (that is making silk purses out of sows’ ears), the General/President declared that there will be no increases in salaries until there is an increase in production, especially in food. Which is very confusing in so many ways, but particularly in the fact that the reforms come to a halt right at the heart of things: the immense and dilapidated State economy. And in the lack of effective policies to jump start the agricultural economy.
And the responsibility for all this is primarily the orator’s, who has spent his six years in power playing around the edges, rummaging through other people’s pockets, with an economy that grows only in the government statistics. That is, inevitably, the General/President has to say as Sor Juana Inés said to the men of her day: you pay for the sins you condemn.
He then noted that doctors earn very little, but so, he said “do we all.” Another vulgarity because as it happens, and the whole world knows it, everyone, as he said everyone, obviously, does not have to count pennies. The overwhelming majority do, yes, but not all. And what puts some on one side of the line where very little is earned, and others on the side where a great deal is earned, is not a gamble or bad luck, but the result of the very politics and practices that animate the system commanded by the General.
And this is interesting for the following reason. The functionaries, intellectuals and academics faithful to the system, including the half-asleep journalists and badly-paid official bloggers frequently mention “the losers,” that is the people who will inevitably lose with an economic adjustment, needed, they say, for the economy to take off. There are a lot of dark corners here, because they are the same people who have been the preferred victims of belt-tightening: teachers, State employees, retirees, slum dwellers, women, young people entering the labor market, etc. etc.
Only our economists — who celebrate the Chinese model while condemning the Chilean — never clarify that these people are sacrificed, helpless to defend themselves or negotiate, because in an authoritarian regime like Cuba’s — as happened in Chile and is happening in China — there are no independent labor unions or social associations who represent the interest of the helpless “losers.”
But nobody — certainly not the anguished General/President — speaks about the winners. That is the tiny minority of people who better their economic and social situations and eventually become the dominant class in the emerging capitalism. This elite is already visible, and there are places in the principal Cuban cites, and especially in Havana, that serve as the seat for a kind of consumption and behavior that has nothing to do with the discourse of Machado Ventura. But everything to do with the descendants of people like Machado Ventura.
So while it is true that in this group of elite consumers there are many people who have arrived through a combination of talent and market opportunities — artists, writers, small entrepreneurs — these reasons have very little to do with the recruitment of the other chosen ones of the new Cuban capitalism. The most important group of the new elite are made up of those who appropriated the best houses in the best places to rent rooms (or even to run small hotels with very sophisticated services) or to open restaurants; or those who have the best higher-up contacts for joint-ventures, or those who run the best businesses to partner with foreign capital.
In short, those who had relations, political protections, information, and the cunning and astuteness to slide through the intricacies of an infernally corrupt system, all the while swearing allegiance to socialism.
These people, needless to say, do not have the low incomes that, according the General/President, are suffered by all Cubans. They are the winners of a divvying up of the spoils from the work of others, the frustrated expectations, and the dangerous resentments of millions of people of several generations.
People whom our economists call — simply — the losers.
30 July 2012