Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism
The May Day march on Wednesday in Havana. Joining the state workers this
year were private-sector entrepreneurs and employees.
Published: May 1, 2013

HAVANA — In many ways, it was a typical May Day: Hundreds of thousands
of Cuban workers — doctors, sailors, dancers, bank clerks — marched
Wednesday toward this city’s vast Revolution Plaza, waving flags,
holding aloft banners that proclaimed fidelity to socialism and tooting
plastic horns.

But dotted among the throngs of state employees bused in before dawn to
observe International Workers’ Day, there was a novel, and increasingly
favored, breed: entrepreneurs whose private businesses the government is
counting on to absorb thousands of the state workers it considers
redundant and hopes to shed.

Their presence — albeit limited — at one of the most important fixtures
in the Castro-era calendar reflects the shifting economic mix in a
country where, for decades, private enterprise was anathema and the
state officially provided everything anyone could need, from a job to
the sugar people put in their coffee.

But the state’s ability to do that has declined significantly over the
years, with salaries and subsidies like food rations unable to cover
even basic needs.

“This is a way of showing solidarity with the workers and of showing
that we, too, are workers,” said Orlando Alain Rodríguez, a former
sommelier at a state-run hotel who opened a restaurant on a busy
intersection in downtown Havana nine months ago.

“I have 19 employees with me, people who otherwise might not have jobs,”
said Mr. Rodríguez, clad, along with his staff, in a yellow T-shirt that
bore the name of his restaurant, Waoo Snack Bar.

The government seemed keen to send that message, too. Carmen Rosa López,
second secretary of the Cuban Workers’ Union, expressed hope before the
march that entrepreneurs would come. “For us, they are all workers who
contribute to the development of the country,” she said, according to a
state-run news agency.

That said, entrepreneurs were a tiny minority in the river of public
servants and employees of state-owned companies that flowed, waving
placards calling for “prosperous and sustainable socialism” to the
plaza, where President Raúl Castro stood beneath a huge statue of José
Martí, the revolutionary and poet.

A sea of red-clad Venezuelans and Cubans held banners dedicated to Hugo
Chávez, the Venezuelan leader and beneficent ally of Cuba who recently
died, while a truck mounted with television screens projected pictures
of the smiling former leader to the crowd.

Groups of actors and artists lent the march a carnival atmosphere, and
even at 7 a.m. instructions blaring from loudspeakers were all but
drowned out by drummers leading a crush of workers raising their hands
and swaying their hips to a conga. Students from the National Schools of
Art walked on stilts; one peeped out from a huge, papier-mâché figure of
an independence fighter. Farther back, a female sailor in a crisp white
uniform jiggled from one foot to another in a barely suppressed salsa move.

Since late 2010 when the government began issuing new licenses for
Cubans to work for themselves and employ one another, more than a
quarter of a million entrepreneurs and their employees have joined the
private sector, taking the total to about 400,000.

Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo told the National Assembly in December
that, including independent farmers who lease land from the government,
the number of nonstate workers was 1.1 million, double the figure in
2010. Mr. Yzquierdo said the government had, over the past two years,
cut more than 350,000 people from the bloated public sector, which still
employs well over four million Cubans out of a population of about 11.2

The government has also turned over about 2,000 small state-owned
businesses to their employees, according to news reports, part of a
much-anticipated but closely guarded plan to create business cooperatives.

“Many Cuban entrepreneurs and economists say the growth of the private
sector has been excruciatingly slow. There is still no wholesale market
from which businesses can buy the goods they need, and the government
still limits the types of businesses open to entrepreneurs to fewer than
200, a situation that some hope will improve with the expansion of

However small, though, the private sector is changing the work culture
on an island where state employees earn meager salaries and are known
for surly service, inefficiency, absenteeism and pilfering.

Sergio Alba Marín, who for years managed the restaurants of a
state-owned hotel and now owns a popular fast-food restaurant, said he
was very strict with his employees and would not employ workers trained
by the state.

“They have too many vices — stealing, for one,” said Mr. Alba, who was
marching with his 25 employees and two large banners emblazoned with the
name of his restaurant, La Pachanga. “You can’t change that mentality.”

“Even if you could, I don’t have time,” he added. “I have a business to

Such dismissals aside, the private and state sectors compete on some
levels and cooperate on others.

The state, which once had a tiny, $4 ceiling on any contract with a
private-sector worker, now buys products — from vegetables to billboards
— from entrepreneurs. Margaly Rodríguez, a caterer, said she had been
hired several times by Palco, a state holding company, to cook for
events; she, in turn, rents glassware and crockery from a state-owned

It can be a curious symbiosis: thousands of privately owned cafes,
taxis, restaurants, photocopy shops and stalls selling hardware,
clothing, shoes and DVDs all compete with state-owned enterprises. But
many people work in both sectors, filching goods from their state
employer to supply their private business.

There are signs that state-owned companies are responding to
competition, adding modern touches at dreary supermarkets (a neon sign,
conveyor belts and shelves stocked with candy at checkout) and
redecorating restaurants.

“We’re in this very interesting phase in which the public and private
sector collaborate and compete at the same time,” said Richard E.
Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who is
doing a study of Cuba’s private sector.

New economic freedoms and the taxes paid by private-sector workers are
also beginning to alter the relationship between individuals and the
state, analysts say.

“The willingness of people to express an alternative point of view has
definitely expanded,” Dr. Feinberg said. “But it’ll take a while before
they begin to develop a class consciousness and a political articulation
of their interests.”

The very fact that some of Cuba’s new entrepreneurs chose to demonstrate
their solidarity at Wednesday’s highly orchestrated march is evidence
that the state still has enormous power.

And, of course, many workers — both state and nonstate — stayed home.
Several people who work in the private sector said that, after years
when they felt pressured by their state employer to march, they would no
longer go.

Others simply could not leave their businesses. One woman, a 59-year-old
former nurse who said her name was Virgen and sold tiny cups of sweet
coffee to people en route to the march, said she had marched every year
except this one.

“If I go to the parade, who’s going to sell this?” she asked.”

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