Sunday 28 November 2010

Castro’s Crooners

I’ve got exciting news for you if you are Cuban and a fancy-dress dancer. Your government has decided that you can work for yourself. That’s right, yours is among the 178 occupations that the Castro regime, in its limitless wisdom, has decided can be privatised. There is only one tiny drawback – you have to perform in the same style of costume as that of Benny Moré, the 1940s crooner. No, it’s not a joke: humour was first serious shortage ever created by communism,

I sincerely hope there are a lot of Benny Moré look-a-likes out there because, as I’ve mentioned before, Raul Castro, in an attempt to revive the moribund economy of a moribund state of a moribund revolution, is laying off 500,000 public sector workers. The private sector, such as it is, and it isn’t much at all, is expected to take this superfluous value. But in the unimaginative and bizarre world of orthodox communism the state has only been able to come up a fairly limited range of options, Benny Moré among them.

If you don’t have the required costume you can always become a clown or a button sewer, both of which made it on to the list. If you don’t fancy that you can try your hand at furniture repairs, just as long as you don’t try to make the stuff, and thus risk “accumulating property”; run the risk –Fidel forbid – of becoming a capitalist.

All these ideological dinosaurs are doing is simply legalising, if legalising is the word, a pre-existing informal economy rather than creating fresh opportunities. The caution is laughable, this fear of throwing out the baby with the bathwater when there was never a baby in the first place. Besides, the bath has a hole, so there is no water either.

Never mind that. Let’s be positive. All the Benny Moré guys will now be able to hire staff (does Benny Moré need staff?) beyond the immediate family. They will be able to have ‘employees’, in other words, one of those pre-revolutionary expressions long incarcerated in a verbal gulag.

When it comes to the Castro comedy people are understandably sceptical. Too many remember the previous liberalisation of the 1990s, when businesses thrived, only to be suffocated by red tape and exorbitant taxes after cheap Venezuelan oil started to flow in. People are now so used to things the way they are, used to the one step forward and three steps back approach, that many believe that things will never change for as long as the Castro Nepotism remains in power.

But they are wrong; things do change – for the worse, always for the worse. If you’ve been to Cuba I feel sure you will have heard the stories, the hard luck stories of people on the hustle. One acquaintance told me he had no choice but to work in the black economy because, in his words, he was paid shit by the government. Yes, they are paid ‘shit’, under $30.00 a month at the unofficial exchange rate, but at least there was guaranteed employment (never use one person when fifty will do), subsidised housing (dreadful places) and a basic food ration (go and stay if you can live on black beans and rice). Now that, too, is going there will be more beggars and hustlers than ever on the streets of Havana. No too many Benny Morés, though.


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  2. I think they took a good bit of the sugar crop. Most of the cars I saw were old American classics.

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  4. I've been three times and I honestly can't remember seeing any Eastern European cars. I suppose they are just not very memorable. The American cars were all there at the time of the Castro takeover in 1959, so, yes, they are from pre-revolutionary times. I imagine the bodywork is the only original thing left. Some of them are really decrepit. It's amazing that they keep going.

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  6. Yes, if this keeps up, Cuba will be as badly off as...where? I've never left this island so I can only guess by what others report, but I've been wondering if Mexico is better off than Cuba. If a mass exodus of citizens is proof that a place is stuffed and that Communism has failed there, does this mean that Communism has failed in Mexico? Or in Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador or any other place from which people are trying to escape to the US for the privilege of drudging for $3.00 an hour?

    Cuba is a Caribbean island nation with a narrowly-based economy. Without Soviet subsidies it is utterly at the mercy of the US trade embargo. I wonder what would happen to any other state in that region if the US decided to starve it to death. And what will happen if the Commies admit defeat and relinquish power? A change for the better? Can you believe it?

  7. Ah, Retarius, my dear friend, it’s not like you to reveal your hand so openly!

    OK, first, let’s get the issue of the embargo out of the way. I’m opposed to this, but not for the reasons that you may suppose. It’s a huge political error on the part of the US because it has helped to sustain a siege mentality which has helped keep the Castro regime in place for sixty years.

    Yes, there are economic difficulties and one obvious way of overcoming these was to release the productive and creative potential of the people, as China has done, as Vietnam has done, places where ideology now takes second place. But not only has the Cuban government ruined a flourishing domestic agriculture sector (the country now has to import food because it cannot meet domestic demand) it also effectively destroyed its own limited initiatives in private enterprise. A failing economy, a failing ideological experiment, in other words, was propped up by doles of Venezuelan oil.

    Now half a million state employees are to be laid of by April. The private sector has to take up the slack. So, after months of considering the problem, the government has agreed that it will; it will do what exactly? Why, as I have said it will allow people to become self-employed dancers, clowns and button sewers. Is it a joke? Yes, on the people of Cuba.

    I’ve been there; I have contacts; I know about the frustrated lives and the ruined ambitions. Socilismo o Muerte - socialism or death, the slogan goes. A friend of mine, twenty-five years old, said that she would rather have death. Will the removal of the Castros bring a change for the better? Yes, I can believe it.

    As for the other places you mention –always setting Haiti to one side, a failed state before people knew what a failed state was – I can only speak anecdotally, only on the basis of my limited experience. If there is communism in Mexico, and if communism is about creating prosperity, it seems to be working there. Mexico City, Puebla and the other places I went to all seemed vibrant and reasonably wealthy. Yes, the US attracts many who want to improve their lives still further, but such is the nature of free enterprise and freedom.

  8. I'm not sure what my hand is in this discourse but I was attempting irony with regard to Mexico. (I'm sure there isn't any communism there!) A Google of topics such as "Poverty in Latin America" would provide plenty of material about the circumstances of Central and South American workers. Yes they're obviously looking for improvement in migrating to the US; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, gives a good idea of how much of it they will find.

    I don't doubt the degree of folly or cruelty demonstrated by the Castro regime and it seems highly likely to collapse during the next decade. My observation was intended to be that the subsequent fate of Cubanos at the hands of the IMF and World Bank (always merciful, always compassionate) will be heinous indeed. If you think tossing 500,000 on the scrap heap is harsh, wait till those boys get going.

  9. Retarius, it's a bit of a game; I'm just being provocative!