Let me tell you how it will be,
There’s one for you, nineteen for me,
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
Be thankful I don’t take it all.
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
Ever since Granma printed this proclamation from the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba a week and a half ago on Monday, September 13, the newswires and blogosphere have lit up with 1,001 debates, polemics, and interpretations of exactly what laying off 500,000+ state workers will mean, and how and whether Cuba's miniscule and long-struggling private sector (self-employment, private agriculture, co-ops, etc.) will be able, encouraged, and/or allowed to expand and absorb these workers.
Today's Times has a perceptive article by Damien Cave that points to two key issues: First, will Cuban exiles be permitted - by both Havana's will to power and Washington's anachronistic embargo - to invest in these new micro-enterprise private ventures? Second, will Cuban entrepreneurs come out of the underground to seek licenses for what many of them already do clandestinely, especially given the government's past reversals of policy once the economic smoke clears?
Since the CTC announcement last week, two instructive documents began to circulate through cyberspace that give us a preliminary idea about what to expect. Many thanx to Penultimos Dias for posting/reposting them. First there was the Power Point presentation, "Proceso de reduccion de plantillas" (AP summary, also see here). Then came the 6-page policy document, "Informacion sobre el reordenamiento de la fuerza de trabajo" (see here for an initial analysis).
Observers, analysts, and critics seem to be split into two camps over what this all means. There are those who expect these developments to be a major boon to the Cuban economy and to lead Cuban workers "Out of the Underground." Phil Peters is cautiously optimistic about the changes and has posted many analyses on his blog describing developments in this area. (See here, here, here, and here.) Then, there are others who are convinced based on past experience that until the Cuban regime changes (or at least until it accepts or enacts a systemic change in its economic model) that the recent announcement is more about ridding the state of its so-called "plantillas infladas" (inflated payrolls) than about expanding economic opportunity for the private sector.
One frustrated Cuban friend of mine referred to the announcement as a cynical and paternalistic move using the memorable phrase: "Hooray! We're moving from full employment to self-employment." This same friend was also highly insulted at the insinuation of the Cuban government had been "maintaining" the Cuban people. Her sharp reply to this was: "Who has been maintaining whom? The Cuban government is treating Cubans as if they were a bunch of lazy parasites." In summary, instead of encouraging Cuban workers to come "out of the underground," these critics expect that these recent announcements will never materialize in a real expansion of economic freedom and autonomy for the Cuban people, leaving them "Condemned to Informality."
Can someone out there in cyberspace please explain to me (as if I were a little child) the logic behind Fidel’s most recent statement last Friday? According to him, although he did in fact say, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” when the Atlantic’s intrepid journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asked if the “Cuban model” should still be exported abroad, what he REALLY meant was that the capitalist model doesn’t work.
I've heard a few theories that attempt to explain his first statement - some quite plausible, others more humorous. Was it an illumination provoked by the dolphins of the Aquarium, involuntary cynicism, a miracle of the Virgin of Charity, a new political transition strategy that makes space for reforms, or a burst of sincerity. You can go here to vote for your favorite theory or add your own. But no one has yet explained to my satisfaction how saying that Cuban socialism doesn’t work was meant to convey that capitalism is bankrupt.
In other words, how does 2 + 2 = 5?
Goldberg offers his own succinct explanation here, which ends with the words: “I’m not sure how this statement –accurately quoted, according to Fidel– could mean anything other than what it means.” To this, I say – Amen, brotha! You can rule a country, even invent your own rules of economix, but not invent your system of logic.
By Ted Henken, publisher of El Yuma blog
For a few years now I've been hoping that my little brother, Tim, who has never finished college would get a stable, well paying job.
I remember that he had steady employment for the year following Hurricane Ivan cleaning up debris and then again following Katrina.
We are from the Gulf Coast -- the City of Pensacola -- known as much for being the capital of the Redneck Riviera as for being home to "the worlds whitest beaches" -- or so goes one of the city's oldest billboards that lies at the foot of the bridge welcoming visitors to Pensacola Beach.
In order to preserve that second distinction, Tim was just hired by...
You guessed it: BP!
Today he informed me that he will soon start work cleaning BP's oil off of our once pristine beaches.
Lesson: Be careful what you wish for!
This gives new meaning to the twin phrases "get a job" and "stimulus plan."
So what's all this got to do with Cuba? Well, if (or when) this oil starts washing up on the beaches of the Caribbean and especially Cuba, will BP also be required (or allowed) to pay Cuban workers to engage in the clean up and/or compensate the Cuban government for damages to its beaches and tourism industry?
What does the embargo say about all this and how would its supporters (especially the Cuban-American ones) consider this eventuality?
I've even got a friend down in Cuba just now doing a pre/post environmental assessment of the situation on the ground there. We'll see what she tells us and if there is potential for any coordination or collaboration between the two governments on this issue.
NOTE: readers can watch "Escape from Havana: An American Story" this evening at 10:00 p.m. on CNBC
I just caught an intriguing documentary on CNBC called "Escape from Havana: An American Story" about Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) the mini airlift that spirited 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the U.S. between 1960 and 1962.
I think what I liked most about the documentary is that (for mainstream cable) it featured a refreshingly broad range of stories and opinions on the revolution, on U.S. Policy, and on Operation Peter Pan itself.
[For a completely different take on the "balance" of the documentary see Alberto de la Cruz's cynical rant at Babalu Blog here. He says he did not watch it to be fair or to actually listen to the experiences or opinions of any of the Pedro Pans (except for the only one, Carlos Eire, he already agreed with), but only because watching it "serves to vindicate my cynicism and distrust" in the MSM. Well, if you've already made up your mind before opening your eyes, your eyes will only see what it lets them, and it might be better just to keep them closed in the first place].
Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva at the Bildner Center's "The Cuban Economy Today" Symposium. Photo Credit: Ted Henken
The Times They Are (indeed) A-Changin' - but how fast and how much?
Since El Yuma first started traveling to and following Cuba back in 1997, there have been a number of ups and downs in US-Cuban relations, just as there have been various cycles of ups and downs in the Cuban Economy and the socio-political situation within Cuba itself.
Photo Credit: Ted Henken
In this first guest post, El Yuma would like to thank The Havana Note for mentioning my letter to the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education last month. Readers of THN might be interested to learn that The Chronicle did print and post my letter defending the possibility of doing "real" research in Cuba in its April 11 edition just out this week.