Cuba’s Self-Employed and their Investments
November 15, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — A privately owned 3D theatre, housed by a locale in the
commercial center located in Alamar’s Zone 6, stands out among the
establishments where the largest investments have been made in the
neighborhood. Not long before, the place had been a store that sold
imported used clothing, a “rag-store”, as they are popularly known in Cuba.
The locale was redesigned, to the point that it stood out among the
ugly, square and mostly neglected buildings all around.
That is to say, they set up some Peerless brand wire-fencing around the
establishment, turned some scaffolding into an awning, installed glass
doors, roofed the entrance, equipped the locale with a mid-sized AC unit
and the seats and technology needed for the theatre. They also painted
the walls and put in some potted plants. I am told they screened a broad
variety of films (I never saw any, for I always postponed my visit).
Admission was 25 Cuban Pesos for kids and 50 for adults (prices similar
to those charged by discos and other recreational centers in Havana).
I saw another private 3D theater in the neighborhood, inside an
apartment. There were probably more like that one, as Alamar is a big
and densely-populated neighborhood.
Now, they’ve published an official note saying that “the screening of
films, including 3D movies, as well as computer game locales, have never
been authorized.” This reminds me of that popular Cuban saying about a
man who bought fish but was put off by its eyes. If the State didn’t
authorize this, who did? Why are there so many of these home theaters
The country’s leadership may fear the social privileges that the
accumulation of wealth can give certain groups (though it is clear some
groups already enjoy such privileges). Many of the licensed businesses
established in Cuba have benefitted those who have invested and
accumulated capital in different ways than those who work for the State,
who are at a clear disadvantage.
For many of Cuba’s self-employed, making the initial investment required
to open these businesses was no easy task (though many were aided by
families or friends abroad).
The initial capital must necessarily be invested in different services:
welders, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and other self-employed
service providers. Products must also be purchased in hard-currency stores.
In Cuba’s market today, such equipment can include machines for making
sugar-cane juice and sweet-filled fritters (which is even more
expensive), bicycle taxis, junk-food kiosks fitted with deep fryers,
cotton candy or popcorn makers, devices for processing coconuts,
wheelbarrows, trolleys and a whole variety of tools and spare pieces.
Where I’m going with this is that, after making any kind of investment
to start up a business, whatever it may be, these business owners must
find it hard to understand these prohibitions, which practically flush
their hard work and the money they’ve spent down the toilet.
I am speaking of those Cubans who do make enough money to support their
families, who have incomes that do make a difference, Cubans who, rather
than lazy, feel they are not incentivized enough by the State, those who
have chosen private over State employment.
I am referring to those people who, before, would spend their time at
street corners, drinking rum or thinking about god knows what, who have
decided to “knuckle down” to some hard work.
This press note, prohibiting a number of businesses, tells these
individuals what I’ve heard people say recently and in many other
occasions in Cuba, that, “here, things are always temporary. You have to
take advantage of the moment before it’s over.” It also confirms their
impression that things in Cuba “are never going to change.”
“This is not in any way a step backwards,” the newspaper note insists.
Apparently, they are referring to the country’s overall economic
strategy. If illegal practices were taking place at the local government
level or any other level, they should have been clearer about this and
informed the population about it, for, without this, this is ultimately
a “step backwards” in terms of encouraging transparency at work and in
efforts to improve the country’s economic performance.
While heading home, someone was saying to me: “We’re going back to the
time of muggings and the underground market. People, even those who’ve
been robbed or in prison, thought that the new opportunities would give
them a real job.”
Source: “Cuba’s Self-Employed and their Investments – Havana Times.org”