The Dangerous Strategy of Advance and Retreat

Since January 1, rationed bread has been sold at one peso in Havana, twenty times last year’s price (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2021 — She turns around and leaves empty-handed. The old woman has approached the employee of a state bakery on a crowded El Cerro street to ask her, almost in a whisper, if she can sell her the bread at half price, but the clerk is inflexible. “They are watching us, my dear,” she tells her and behind her shoulder a sign indicates that the rationed product now sells for one peso as of January 1st, twenty times the value it had until last year.

Seven hours later, the same worker gathers up a good part of the day’s bread which has remained unsold because many of the residents of the neighborhood cannot or do not want to pay the new price for a product of poor quality and small size. A woman takes the opportunity to comment to another that “if things continue like this they will also have to back down on this measure and lower it a bit,” as the authorities did with the electricity rates and the price of a scoop of ice cream at the country’s iconic Copellia ice cream parlors.

A few years ago, it was unthinkable that a measure taken by the government would be adjusted or lowered shortly after it was announced. In the years when a man with a beard and extreme voluntarism dominated the public scene of this country, the decrees were strictly applied and the decisions taken in his office were put into motion with an obstinacy that led the country over several precipices with their correspondingly traumatic falls.

Now, perhaps due to opportunism or as a way of appearing to listen to the population more than they really do, Cuban leaders have been given to announcing second rounds or revisions for decisions previously presented as highly studied and impossible to postpone. The most skeptical point out that this attitude displays the same cynicism of the executioner who comforts the victim by assuring him that he will only deliver one cut to the neck with his sharp ax, instead of two or three.

So, in recent days we have seen how the kilowatt went from the new price of 0.40 pesos to down 0.33 for the consumers with the lowest overall usage, and how a scoop of ice cream at Coppelia shot up to seven pesos and then was readjusted to five. Such ups and downs have not gone unnoticed by anyone. In every line and on every corner, there are those who declare themselves aware of these official tricks, knowing in advance that the reported rate was just a ruse and they are proud to have warned their acquaintances that it was all a maneuver so people would end up rejoicing in a reduction that was actually an increase.

Could be. Deciphering a Power that has based part of its management on a lack of transparency and secrecy is like trying to ask the stars what will be the price for a pound of sweet potatoes at the end of this year.

If it was all a ruse to test how far the population could endure this neoliberal package, this trick is creating a very dangerous side effect for the regime. Like a disused muscle that one day begins to exercise and tries challenges for its new strength, Cubans have also read these readjustments as backward steps that officialdom has had to take after the avalanche of complaints from citizens. In other words, many have interpreted it as a fear of losing power among the men at the helm of the national ship, leading them to adjust their course a few millimeters to please their tired and emaciated sailors.

“We are going to complain on the social networks, we are going to stop buying bread at that price so you’ll see how, next week, they’ll announce on the Roundtable program that the price has been lowered,” a resident of the El Cerro neighborhood told her friend, when she asked why there was so much bread left right now in the state store at the corner by her house. “The child who doesn’t cry, no mama,” her friend reminded her.

When the protest muscle begins to warm up, the demands grow and, finally, there is no one who can stop it.


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