Santiago de Cuba’s Self-Employed Desperate With the Covid Shutdown

All the kiosks of the Santeria bazaar, on Moncada Street in Santiago de Cuba, are closed by order of the authorities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba 10 September 2021 — “I feel like the government has abandoned us to our fate.” The person complaining is Manuel, a private transporter from Santiago de Cuba who has been unable to work for more than two months. “It’s been more than a month since I wrote to the governor of the city, Beatriz Johnson, and she has not even responded,” he told 14ymedio.

The latest outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in the city forced the authorities to further restrict economic activities — with the exception of the sale of food — which has put the self-employed on the ropes.

“My wife is a housewife and I have two small children. How do I support my family now, when everything is more expensive than ever, if I am not allowed to work?” Manuel’s question has no answer.

Yoan, who owns a motorcycle that he rents out to others, also wrote to the governor. For him, the whole year has been very difficult. “First of all, the service was interrupted due to the lack of fuel, and, to complete it, there was a total prohibition on work,” he says. His situation is such that he has had to sell old and expensive glass tableware, very dear to him: “I had to decide between empty glasses or a full plate to feed my family.”

Survival stories multiply in Santiago de Cuba. “At first I risked working out of necessity, but the inspectors fined me 3,000 pesos,” says Marcos, who repairs televisions and has three children as well as an elderly mother. “It was from that moment that I began to sell what I had.” What they gave him for two cabinets, some battery chargers, a couple of lamps and other minor items only served to pay the fine and a month and a half of household expenses. Now, he sells a set of furniture and his cell phone, to move on. “My main demand to the authorities is that they allow me to work, even part-time, that they remove the roadblock in the city,” he claims.

Alberto, who repairs electrical and electronic equipment in a multi-service workshop, has also been affected by the forced work stoppage. “I am working clandestinely in a building that has been closed three times so far this year due to covid infections.” Alberto has had to get rid of his clothes and some of his equipment in order to eat. “I am convinced that the State is not interested in helping the self-employed economically,” he says. “I think a controlled opening would be the minimum to give us a break.”

Some workers have had no choice but to break the rules in order to survive, such as Jorge Luis, who drives a pedicab and every day risks a 2,000-peso fine if he is stopped. His wife is a hairdresser but is afraid to work at home: “The president of the CDR* lives right across the street.”

The Official Gazette of the June 16, 2020, announced a set of wage subsidies and compensation for the pandemic, but only to workers in the state sector. In the text there was not a single mention of private companies, a sector in which 602,415 people work in Cuba, according to official data from 2020.

The only measures taken by the provincial government to alleviate the economic situation of the self-employed are the exemption from the payment of the license fees (due to the mechanism of temporary suspension of activity) and the elimination of the penalty for late payments to the National Tax Administration Office (Onat) within the year 2021.

However, Social Security must continue to be paid even late, regardless of whether the self-employed person is unemployed or not. Time is ticking and the private sector is drowning a little more every day.

*Translator’s note: CDR – Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. See also.


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