Monday, June 25, 2012

Not Guidelines, Civic Rights

Not Guidelines, Civic Rights / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Norma Whiting

They say God can write straight with crooked lines. I would say that, in
Cuba's case, we should sign God up for a crash course in calligraphy. We
have had a half-century of crooked lines and nothing indicates that they
will straighten out. Adding to the confusion, the more talk there is in
the official press about "clarity and transparency," the more muddled
the waters become. Still, some wonder naively when they will apply all
the guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the CCP, as if they constituted
a kind of spell that might turn the chaos and poverty into order and
prosperity. Fourteen months after the quasi-secret meeting of the
Druids, we continue to move ahead into the abyss envisioned by the boy
promoted to captain of the rickety vessel, whose DNA, by the grace of
some coincidence, matches his predecessor's,

So here we have a "reformist president" whose innovations have only
managed to further thin the social climate and emphasize the life of
those supposedly benefitting by the reforms, such as the people. Among
the better known reforms of the new octogenarian occupying the olive
green throne, for example, is the liberalization of the sale of
agricultural products by street vendors, known as the elegant term of
"street cart operators", duly certified licensed to carry out their
duty. The sellers were to increase the variety of produce offered to the
starving city dwellers, which they in fact have done, and, in turn,
result in lowering prices that would enable ordinary people to raise
their nose half a centimeter over the level of insolvency that is
choking them.

But the latter has not happened for many reasons (or better yet, for
lack of reasons) among them, the high taxes implied obstacle, and the
countless fines whose minimum amount is 500 pesos of the so-called
"national currency" (CUP) applied by a diligent team of state inspectors
for any minor infractions or suspected infractions, such as, for
instance, keeping the cart on one spot for too long (not defining how
long), for not being able to give an explanation as to the origin of the
cart or even the source of the wheels of the aforesaid device used by
the operator. As a result of these and other obstacles the "signal" of
prosperity sent out by the elusive president has only meant less buying
power for the people and a larger number of corrupt individuals… I mean,

The most sarcastic thing is that many foreign friends who visit us
perceive the proliferation of vendors and small businesses as a sign of
prosperity and not as the screen hiding the battle that takes place
behind the scenes: the proto-entrepreneurs struggling to survive and
advance, and the authorities intent in preventing prosperity and the
revival of a truly independent middle class. The cat and mouse, now
licensed to keep up the appearance of legality of some, and of good
intentions of the others. Behold, the government has achieved a new
source of income: legitimizing the potential crime and charging for the
inevitable violations. It's twisted and perverse, but its brilliance
cannot be denied.

The opening of private ownership kiosks has also brought about another
problem it was supposed to solve. The absence of wholesale markets and
the instability of the supply of any product in the retail market have
resulted in an incredible imbalance in some of their prices. To mention
just one example, in recent weeks, purchasing a cloth to clean floors
has become an unattainable dream for more modest budgets.

The product, already priced at an altered 0.90 CUC (equivalent to 21.6
pesos CUP) suddenly disappeared from the stands at the stores selling
only in dollar currency (TRD). Right now, they can only be found at 40
pesos CUP among licensed and unlicensed street vendors, that is, twice
their official price.

It turns out that the guidelines also announced a crusade against
corruption and illegal activity, which means they are seeking to wipe
out the people of Cuba completely. Because, who doesn't constantly
violate the law in this country, starting with the government itself?
What common Cuban can survive, if not on the fringes of the law? Raise
your hand if you haven't bought anything on the black market –groceries,
medicine, cleaning or office products or anything else, even a place to
live, a car, an airplane ticket…

Stand up if any of you has not bribed an official in any capacity to get
some benefit, from a ETECSA telephone line to the promise of a job,
college registration, dentures or surgery? Who has not rented movies in
underground places or played the numbers in a similarly underground
place? And in Cuba, even boarding a bus through the back door is a
crime. So it's not unusual that lately the official press has been
reporting an avalanche of violations being detected by the Comptroller
of the Republic, except that these purges, rather than marking the end
of impunity, are uncovering the uncontrollable and irreversible
corruption of the system from top to bottom

There still seems to be a long stretch to cancel the dual currency,
another promise of the April 2011 conclave of Communists, and for the
implementation of the much-publicized -and expected- emigration reforms,
always being postponed or in a "study" phase (of which our leaders are a
bit slow on the uptake). Many other delayed promises have been bulking
up the lack of credibility in the government, suggesting that there will
be no real changes as long as they are proposed by the government. In
short, it is obvious that all the eternal dictators are seeking is to
gain time… and we're giving it to them. In reality, we don't need
guidelines but rights, and those are not included in the depressing
package of government measures.

Translated by Norma Whiting

June 11 2012

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