Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms
March 7, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Every Sunday, there is the “Los Chinos” agro-market fair
in the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba. Trucks loaded with produce come
from all over the country, mainly from its central provinces. As there
is competition and since the sellers can bulk buy on the farms, there
are lower prices than normal, which doesn’t exactly mean that it’s cheap.
Of course, the trucks have been rented out, the real owners of this
produce are the merchants known as “intermediaries”. These trade
operators play an essential role in the development of agriculture
because they stimulate production by creating confidence in
commercialization. They logically make nice profits, maybe more than
what would be fair; but the problem here doesn’t lie in their existence
as such, but in the many knots in the Cuban system which make balanced
regulation almost impossible.
In the 1980s, the government experimented with the so-called Farmers’
Free Markets (MLC) and then it was shut down by Fidel himself, who
couldn’t stand the idea that some Cubans were “getting rich”. In order
to cure his headache, he destroyed the emerging semi-free market.
In the ‘90s, a Party leader from Pinar del Rio spoke about reviving the
MLC in a televised Congress session (perhaps the IV Plenary session of
the Cuban Communist Party in 1991), where the idea alone unleashed
Fidel’s rage on the spot and on live TV (I watched this) and then rumors
went round from Pinar that the person who dared share his opinion had
been dismissed of his responsibilities.
When hunger took its hold of Cuba, he sent brother Raul Castro to
announce “the same dog but with a different collar”: the Agro-Market. I
remember that this was announced in an interview granted to Luis Baez
and was published in Granma and then repeated across the media. The
government journalist began his article by saying that he had been
looking for that interview with Raul for some time and that Raul had
finally taken some time out for him: it was pure theater! Both of them
knew what the objective was. Fidel never spoke about the subject.
Today, criminalizing the private sector because of its high prices
continues to be a subject of debate in Parliament, especially against
the famous Intermediaries; who are restricted or prohibited at times and
have their merchandise seized resulting in great losses. However, the
truth is that they don’t dare to ban them because without them
completely because there wouldn’t be commerce or stable farming production.
However, these are the larger merchants, who, even though they pay for
the same license as smaller ones, have completely different functions.
Small traders who sell at a higher price are the ones who mainly
purchase their products from the larger Intermediaries. Here in the
Holguin province, hundreds of small traders (push cart or bike sellers)
travel on Sundays to the capital city and they buy their produce from
the trucks at the Los Chinos market.
Every one of them with two or three sacks also provide work for horse
drawn cart drivers and bici-taxis operators who transport them to bus
and train stations paying for every sack. A lot of people benefit from
this trade, especially the government which charges them for the
license, taking 10% of gross sales, social security payments and fines
for any silly mistakes. All of this translates into the product’s final
price, which reaches customers in urban neighborhoods where it often
costs double or triple the initial price.
However, the private sector in Cuba isn’t only sentenced to having these
restrictions on growth which our laws impose on them; they are also
treated like a necessary evil, harassed by whimsical regulations. They
don’t have a transparent and secure supply chain, nor do they have the
legal freedom to seek it out. They do this but they take risks.
On Sunday February 5th, at the Los Chinos market, dozens of
self-employed resellers had their sacks filled with produce bought from
equally legal intermediaries. A group of inspectors approached them and
they wanted to confiscate their purchases for having violated the
“anti-hoarding law”. It seems outrageous but it’s true. A great
discussion broke out and the police in charge of keeping order at the
market, intervened. In the face of the resistance that had been created
by those accused and others who were doubtful in helping the inspectors,
the police called for the Head of the Unit, a Major, who turned up on
There were several people from my town of Mayari among the traders who
had their purchases taken away. One of them, Jose Ramon, usually sells
on my street and he told me the whole story. Then I confirmed what he
told me with another seller, not without first asking several others,
among the many who pass by here every day offering their garlic,
peppers, onions or bijol under the scorching sun.
The story goes that the Major arrived arrogantly and ordered those who
wouldn’t stop protesting to shut up. He was met with: “You like getting
your hands on ham a lot. Ham is what the inspectors get, who make a
living by fining us for no reason; we work really hard to earn our
pesos,” one of the boldest protestors said.
After a lot of wasted time (held for over three hours under the risk of
having their things confiscated and bad times), the police finally
guided the inspectors in their conversation with them to release the
purchases. Common sense won out, but this was just one more example of
government resistance to how the private sector runs in Cuba, even at
these incipient times.
Tradesmen didn’t have so few rights even in medieval hamlets!” They had
unions and brotherhoods which united and protected them, Cuban
self-employed merchants don’t.
There are many forms of repression, not just political repression. This
budding private sector, which has appeared with the self-employed, is
the seed to opening up our economy more, which is fundamental so that we
can reach economic and social progress. Repressing them and prohibiting
their development with laws and individual actions is just another way
to delay this essential path: it’s another form of repression in Cuba.
Source: Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms – Havana Times.org –