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Cuba’s New Private Sector Employees Reveal Where the Reform Process is Heading

Cuba’s New Private Sector Employees Reveal Where the Reform Process is
Heading
September 22, 2014
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government’s reforms continue to make slow,
somewhat erratic progress and to evince a series of unique
characteristics and tendencies that are food for thought.

Let us recall, first, that Cuban politicians like to refer to this
process as the “updating of Cuba’s economic system.” This past Friday,
Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, proudly informed readers about one of
the sectors now at the forefront of the process, the food industry.

Reading the article, one immediately senses that its author, journalist
Lorena Sanchez, suffers from the deeply-rooted shyness that
characterizes government propagandists, those who refuse to call the
private sector by its name and use the euphemism “non-State” in its
place. Perhaps she merely transcribed the message from the Vice-Minister
for Domestic Trade Ada Chavez Oviedo: in short, that private or
“non-State” forms of ownership will prevail in the sector once it has
been fully “modernized.”

In her report, we find out that 68 % of the country’s better known food
establishments are still under State management. Over a thousand have
been passed on to the self-employed and cooperatives (mostly the
former). Here, we run into a fact that is alarming for left-wing forces.
If the process of de-nationalization was planned by an allegedly
socialist government, why weren’t cooperatives prioritized? Will the
same tendency characterize the de-nationalization of the establishments
that have yet to be “updated”?

Agriculture and the food industry have experienced the most visible
changes, perhaps because they were facing the most severe crises. Farms,
cafes and restaurants have been the paradigms of bad and inefficient
State management. In both cases, the main solution has been to place the
means of production in private hands.

In effect, we are now witnessing substantial changes in the activities
conducted in these sectors, prosperous fields and quality services where
before there was nothing but marabou brush and flies. One cannot help
but wonder, however, about the actual potential of these reforms, which
are more liberal than anything else, and about who is reaping the actual
profits of this.

Another article published by Granma a few days before reported that the
largest number of self-employed workers aren’t exactly “self-employed”,
but rather the employees of someone else – small or mid-scale private
entrepreneurs. In fact, the number of such employees in the country
isn’t larger because of how small most businesses are. This data can
prove useful for a study of the changes our society is experiencing.

Champions of capitalism say that the market economy and privatizations
are good because they increase the number of property owners, of
prosperous individuals. Our government’s spokespeople praise the
“updating” process, based on liberal and market reforms, because it will
lead to prosperity, or so they claim.

I invite readers to go out for a stroll around Cuba’s cities and talk
with the people who stand behind the counters of private restaurants and
food stands owned by others, to ask these employees whether their
working hours abide by the limits established in the recently-approved
Labor Code, how many vacation days the owners grant them, and, if they
are women of reproductive age, whether they believe that they can have a
child and keep their jobs.

If you do, don’t ask them whether they can ask for a raise – you
wouldn’t want to get them fired on the spot. The owner, see, is
sacrosanct, and Cuba’s blessed Labor Code gives them the authority to do
just that. We are simply to accept that they’re being generous enough by
paying more than the State. Afterwards, take a trip to the countryside
and ask the farmhands employed on the ranches of the more fortunate
farmers – those with both land and connections – the same questions.

The liberalization of the food industry and other sectors, given the
“successes” the government boasts of, is probably representative of what
is to come. Both the facts and history suggest that the Cuban State will
continue to fail at most of its economic endeavors. Unable to solve
these itself, it will have two alternatives: dismantle such production
and service centers, or hand them over to the self-employed or cooperatives.

The more liberal option has been the most common implemented to date.
With every step taken in this direction, with the expansion of the means
of production involved, the exploitation of workers by private
entrepreneurs, owners or managers of such means of production, will
invariably increase. It is also true that, till now, State exploitation
had been the norm.

Will we improve as a society following the privatizations that are
presumably to come? It is not an easy question to answer, for we aren’t
doing well at all right now. What’s certain is that the path ahead of us
is a 180 degree turn from the road towards legitimate socialism, and
that, in other parts of the world, this road has led to severe and
irreparable damage to the so-called middle classes, to the concentration
of property in a handful of individuals and to the extreme polarization
of society between wealth and power and poverty and despair.

In short, the path traced by the “updating of Cuba’s economic model” is
strewn with contradictions. One day, the authorities create more
possibilities for private initiative. A short while later, they restrict
these same spaces. They want for the private sector to absorb all who
have been laid off or will be by the State sector, but they curtail the
basic conditions needed for the development of the sector, such as the
opening of wholesale markets and imports through different channels.
They want to open the entire country to foreign investment, but they do
not allow foreign investors to deal directly with the work force,
setting up an onerous and profitable State mechanism that acts as
intermediary.

The government also has its ways of dealing with the ideologically
restless. One day, the papers expound on philosophical hesitations with
pronouncements such as “no one knows for certain how socialism is
built.” The next day, they reveal that the Council of Ministers has
traced a development plan for the economy, society and politics for 2030
and beyond. The only problem is that they don’t tell you what those
plans are. Some time later, they tell us they are going to save
socialism through a battle in the field of ideas and culture, ignoring
the vital space of society’s material reproduction.

What one discerns from below following a simple class-conscious analysis
is a tendency towards the kind of capitalism that the opposition wants –
but with the current governing class, the one that speaks of “updating
socialism”, at the top, and without opposition. The government and
opposition, thus, will continue to quarrel, and each will thwart the
concrete progress of the reforms with the same objective that unites
them and rifts them apart.

Source: Cuba’s New Private Sector Employees Reveal Where the Reform
Process is Heading – Havana Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=106289

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