Threats to Merchants in Cuba Continue: The Worst is Yet to Come

As Cuba’s economic situation worsens, citizens are faced the with markets that are closed because there is nothing to sell. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 7 January 2021 —  The official Castroist press continues its campaign of defamation, harassment and demolition of humble entrepreneurs dedicated to commerce, who only want to work and serve the people. Dislocating reality and creating a false sense towards these private sellers, labeling them a “crowd of profiteers” and accusing them of increasing agricultural prices and miscellaneous items in a “disproportionate” way, the Cuban government is making attempt is made to foster a climate of rejection by the people while at the same time defending the repressive actions of the government. It’s a good thing that the people are not fooled

The first thing one has to ask the Greek chorus of clerks of the Castro regime who attack the merchants who just want to survive, one today and another tomorrow, is why are the merchants successful selling to people even at high prices, or, for example, what makes the consumers pay those astronomical prices that the state newspaper Granma denounces in an article titled, “The people’s retaining wall”?

People who buy food and other products from these “profiteers” do so, even knowing that the prices are expensive. You don’t have to think much about the answer. They do it because it is where they are sure they can find what they need to make one proper meal a day, or because the product that has long disappeared from state stores. That is the reason and no other. The regime can say what it wants, but if these high-priced sellers survive it is because the trading system as a whole facilitates their activity, which, on the other hand, is commonly used by many buyers.

Moral. If the authorities begin to develop actions to put an end to what they call “the excesses that lacerate, above all, the compatriots with the lowest incomes,” what follows is what Cubans know, because they have been suffering from it for 62 years: A lack of products and return to deprivation and scarcity. There is no other reason. Then the situation would be worse.

If the Greek chorus who write in Granma want to end what they describe as “abuses,” the solution is no longer the stick, repression and confiscation of the merchandise, but quite the opposite. Increasing the goods that are available to the population will automatically lower prices. Liberalizing the practice of trade and wholesale and retail activity in this sector, authorizing private franchises, would increase professionalism and quality of service. Putting an end to the regulated, controlled, intervened, centralized prices of a ministry that has no justification, is another necessary measure to make the market work efficiently.

There is no alternative to this model which, on the other hand, does not have to do with socialism or capitalism, but with the quality of life of the people and their prosperity. It is almost certain that what the “thousand abusers,” persecuted and harassed by the communist state’s State Security arm, want is precisely that: freedom of establishment, operation and activity. Depending only on the consumer they want to serve and listening to their messages. Without the usual interference from the government. It’s that easy.

The numerous incidents that Granma refers to in the article entitled “The people’s retaining wall” give a good account of this. The more the repression, seizures and ban on the commercial activity of the sellers, those who remain will have more incentive to alter prices severely. The adjustment of supply and demand, spontaneously, in short, economic freedom, is the best sterilizer of these situations of imbalance. The communist authorities only end up worsening it with their repressive policies that, on the other hand, entail a cost, because it is necessary to pay inspectors, policemen, guards etc.

The article says that where the repression of the revolutionary police has been unleashed, ” the abusive salesmen frown and even blaspheme” while “the people who go out to stock up, appreciate and applaud that action, because they have had the opportunity to access, without excessive outlays, food, fruit, vegetables, ham, and mutton and pork.” The conflict is served, because that access to the merchandise does not usually last long and when the goods run out, penury and scarcity return.

Granma points out the importance of the collaboration of good sellers in the fight against “price alterations” and emphasizes that “denunciations” is the only way to solve these problems. People must report what they call “unscrupulous procedures that affect the community,” and this, they say, is a civic attitude. It is already known what the denunciation means in Cuba because several generations of Cubans have had to live with this false civility that ends up being a painful “quítate tu pa ponerme yo” [get out of the way and make way for me] with unfortunate consequences, since it can mean imprisonment or exile for those reported.

So encouraging this type of repressive practices does not help to provide more supply at low prices. Consumers want the security of going to the market and buying what they need, no more. They don’t want to run around watching everyone and reporting them. The person spends 12 or 14 hours a day in charge of his small sales operation, does it because it compensates him. Nobody forces him to do so. The alternative is to go fishing, but not everyone prefers that alternative, and in a country there must be space for everyone.

Nobody is defending speculation and hoarding operations, or practices contrary to public health or fraudulent, based on illicit sales. Commerce is an activity of honest and helpful people who want to serve their fellow citizens and in return, obtain a profit. If this is not understood, the worst is yet to come.

Why? Because the “Ordering Task” opens an uncertain space for price increases that the authorities will not be able to control with their intervention systems. And so, before labeling as violations or alterations certain decisions that will be inevitable, it is convenient to put the brakes on the Provincial Labor and Social Security agencies who are in charge of these matters so that the evils do not get worse.

Granma concludes by pointing out that “it is necessary to banish selfishness and the exclusive search for personal benefit that moves some to fish in the troubled river of the needs of the majority, abusively raising prices,” and this phrase sums up the philosophy behind of the actions of the communist government, but falls under its own weight.

Again, we must insist hat there is nothing selfish about someone who dedicates 12 or 14 hours a day to serving their fellow citizens. Trade must be accompanied by profitability, because otherwise, no one will be interested in dedicating themselves to it.

Finally, if the needs of the Cubans resemble a “troubled river,” someone with high responsibility for the direction of the economy should be answerable for that. The usual thing is that the needs of the majority are attended to on a regular basis, without shortage, without the absence of products, without tension and much less, long lines or waits.

This is the source of the problem: the availability of goods, the provision of which also has to be rewarded so that it is worth the effort to produce them.

As long as this is not recognized, the Cuban economy will continue in its vicious cycle.


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