What Cuba Isn't Saying on Television
May 23, 2014
Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Count your money and set out to buy your groceries at a
farm products market in Havana. A pound of pork costs as much as the
average salary earned in a day by a health professional, even after the
much-talked-about wage increase in this high-priority sector.
Look at the scales carefully, making sure you're getting your money's
worth. Then, turn to look at the vender and complain over having been
You will likely get one of two possible reactions: the ferocity of a
cornered animal, ready to strike back at you, or a cynical and mocking
smile that asks whether you live in this world or have just arrived from
a different planet.
Some days ago, the Cuban news segment Cuba dice ("Cuba Says") hosted by
Talia Gonzalez again touched on the issue of how consumers continue to
be cheated by vendors. The journalist, who insists complaints must be
lodged and arguing that there is a legal framework and a place where
such customer complaints can be registered, strikes the viewer as naïve
and somewhat out of touch with reality, prompting yet another mocking smile.
The message is, when all is said and done, the revolution is not to
blame – it's just something we Cubans, who till now have not known how
to demand respect for our rights, have to sort out amongst ourselves.
Let us look at the backdrop of the above situation, an overwhelming
reality we have known for more than half a century. Let us talk about
what Cuba isn't saying.
We may not be the most intelligent people on the planet, but, we have no
shortage of street smarts. Why is it, then, that people accept being
cheated without double checking the weight of the product, without
complaining to the manager of the market?
An old saying says that one cannot be both the judge and the accused at
the same time.
Management at the markets operate the verification scales. Therefore,
they will always take the side of the vendor, with whom there is an
evident, everyday complicity. Why do I say this? Quite simply because
the little extra money the management needs to make ends meet depends on
the market's takings and these takings depend on how much the vendors
can snatch from the customers' pockets.
If public officials wanted to buy their daily bread at the market on
their salaries, they would find out these are markedly inadequate. If
our journalists omit these truths, then we are working with an equation
that yields erroneous results owing to the omission of one or several terms.
The above situation, which is both undeniable and serious, is what
prompts the angry or cynical attitude of the vendor when faced with
customer complaints. What they are thinking, explicitly or implicitly,
is something along the lines of: "You complain to me, knowing I have the
same problems you do. We're both in a bind because of the government,
which created this crazy economy. If you buy things here on a daily
basis, your money is coming from something other than your salary. I
have the same problems you do, so don't complain and accept things as
Most customers ultimately calm down. They may be told they are right at
one point, but vendors will never cease in their steadfast efforts to
shortchange customers. Their livelihoods depend on it.
There are other reasons for this, which Cuba dice also fails to address.
Corruption is eroding Cuban society both vertically and horizontally. It
affects everyone, from top government leaders to simple workers, and it
pits workers against one another in a fight for survival. For instance,
securing a stand at any farm products market in Cuba is difficult. It is
a coveted position, much more – alarmingly – than that of a high school
In addition, many of those selling products at markets are subject to a
mechanism inherited from capitalism, known as caballaje. The locale
actually belongs to another person, who rents it out illegally to the
vendor. The vendor pays the owner a daily sum for their "favor." I
recall that Aracelio Iglesias, a courageous trade union leader, fought
tirelessly against this practice, which was very common in Havana's port
These circumstances lead to the "sale" of those positions capable of
generating extra cash, a sum that is then divided up among those
involved, including the bureaucracy, which signs the pertinent
"authorizations." The tree is bent at birth. It continues to bend as it
grows and, by the looks of it, will never straighten out on such terrain.
The worst part of this, as I hinted at above, is that customers become
involved in this mess, because something similar happens in their world,
a world all of us are a part of. That is why they ultimately accept the
whole thing, and why this demoralization which deters any kind of
Are we in a typical blind alley? I don't believe so. All we need is a
new harvest, capable of eliminating the bad way in which the earth was
first tilled. It is a question of eliminating the State's noxious
intervention, of empowering workers along the services chain, from the
production stage to the sales outlet.
We'll always have indispensable functionaries that will have to be
excluded from the said chain and receive a decorous salary, with which
they can meet their daily needs. The same holds for all of the country's
workers, for no one can evade the condition of customer.
For the time being, we are in a vicious circle we cannot break with half
measures that are slow and limited. We need a good shove. Then we will
be able to say with confidence that Cuba has spoken.
Source: What Cuba Isn't Saying on Television - Havana Times.org -