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Embracing the New

Embracing the New / Fernando Damaso
Posted on July 19, 2013

The Cuban government has rejected the term reform in relation to
anything having to do with the changes being introduced, principally in
the economy, preferring to use the term updating. Perhaps they fear
being tagged as “reformers” and prefer to be called “updaters.”
Nevertheless, it is not the terminology that matters; it is the content.

Until now, the updates that have been carried out have been positive in
comparison to the ongoing stagnation of previous years. Due to their
lack of substance and the delays in implementation, however, they have
had little impact on the lives of average Cubans.

The buying and selling of homes and automobiles amounts simply to
legalization of activities which for many years were carried out
illegally. And those who carry out such transactions can do so only
because they have access to resources and assets, a situation not shared
by a majority of Cubans.

In addition to having the freedom to do so, there are other things that
are necessary in order to be able to travel overseas, not least of which
is having the financial means. Of almost equal importance are cell
phones and an internet connection, which costs 4.50 CUC an hour at
businesses that sell access.

To date, those who have benefitted from the updating have mainly been
owners of well-maintained residential real estate. They have been able
to sell at a high price, buy something smaller and pocket some of the
money, or move in with relatives and pocket all of the money.

Other beneficiaries include car owners who prefer to get rid of their
vehicles rather than have to deal with the high cost of operation and

There are also those who have acquired financial resources, either
legally or illegally, and have purchased these assets. They are
generally the same people who own mobile phones and can afford to pay
the high cost of internet access.

Then there are those who sell a home or a car, or receive money from
relatives overseas, and use the capital to open their own private
businesses, usually in the food service sector. In short what this
amounts to is a budding form of capitalism subject to state control.

For the updating to really benefit the average Cuban, it would be
necessary to extend opportunities for self-employment to all jobs and
professions, something that is currently not allowed. Some people might
be concerned about this happening in health care and education services,
but it would really present no problem. Some of these professionals
could work for the state (as they used to do) or for private
institutions such as clinics and schools which provide private
consultations and classes.

It is true that fifty-four years of doing the same thing dulls the brain
and creates a governmental and societal conformism that is difficult to
eradicate. But times and people change, and we must audaciously embrace
the new.

The fact that a majority of young professionals aspire to join the
exodus in order to realize their life goals should serve as a warning
that this process of updating — with its many limitations and excessive
slowness — has not brought real benefits to most Cubans.

The average monthly salary is no more that 440 Cuban pesos (the
equivalent of 20 CUC, or about $20 USD), an amount that is inadequate to
guarantee even a financially precarious life given the high cost of
consumer goods — both agricultural and manufactured – and their
continued rise in price.

17 July 2013

Source: “Embracing the New / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba” –

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