Stigma dogs businessmen going it alone in Cuba
April 16, 2016
Havana (AFP) – Anywhere else, Gilberto Valladares would pass for a small
businessman with a sense of social responsibility, but in Cuba the
hairdresser is stigmatized as “anti-revolutionary” because he has
prospered on his own.
“Papito” Valladares, who is 46 and sports a buzz cut, worked as a barber
for the communist state for 12 years before going into business for
himself in 1999.
In the years since, his business has grown to the point where he now
employs other Cubans in his shop in central Havana and in his spare time
trains youths with hearing disabilities as stylists as part of a
Despite all that Valladares is labeled a “cuentapropista,” a somewhat
derogatory term that roughly translates as “on his own account.”
He is one of the many “cuentapropistas” who have emerged under the
gradual economic opening ushered in by President Raul Castro starting in
Castro recognized that the economy needed to get out from under the
crushing weight of the island’s Soviet-style state bureaucracy. That
meant allowing Cubans to work legally for themselves in their own small
About 10 percent of the work force — or half a million Cubans — now
work independently of the state. But despite the official encouragement
they still meet “resistance” and people “who mark them down politically
as counterrevolutionaries,” Valladares said.
“When I began, 95 percent of the hairdressers worked for the state.
Today 95 percent are in the private sector,” he told AFP.
“You can’t judge the revolution for having been paternalistic,” he said.
But added, “Today I don’t think it carries the same weight because
people slack off, and it bleeds the government.”
Valladares says some Cubans prefer things the way they were because “the
state gave them everything and they earned a salary. Today they have to
pay for electricity, water, they have to paint, fix things, and buy
“Some get ahead as entrepreneurs and others complain that they have to
work more,” he said.
“In the state hair salons all the co-workers would say, ‘If this were
mine, I would paint it, I would fix it up,'” he recalls.
– ‘Soul of an entrepreneur’ –
But when the state rented the hair salons to the independent stylists,
Valladares said, many discovered that they lacked “the soul of an
Valladares said resistance to change was to be expected, adding that one
of the things he strives for is not to be seen as a counterrevolutionary.
Instead of egalitarianism, Valladares likes to talk about prospering in
order to reinvest in society.
He got to share his pioneering experience at a meeting with US President
Barack Obama during his visit to Cuba last month, a milestone that
raised hopes for the island’s emergence from more than half a century of
Cold War isolation.
On Saturday, the Cuban Communist Party opens its first party congress
since it gave its imprimatur to the economic opening.
Cuba watchers are not expecting the party to break much new ground at
this year’s congress, but Valladares hopes it will expand the private
sector’s role in the island’s economy even further.
Valladares invokes Jose Marti, Cuba’s national hero, to explain his
vision of a country that is prosperous without emulating US-style
“Marti always said, ‘Be prosperous to be good.’ I think he was referring
not only to economic prosperity, but also to the individual, the human
being, compensating society for that wealth.”
Source: Stigma dogs businessmen going it alone in Cuba –