A Thief Who Steals from a Thief
A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on August 25, 2014
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture,
mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around
the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer
advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice
cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but
measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the
nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.
Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows
well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as
he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”,
the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more
adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of
one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless
August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be
charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.
For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops
operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different
products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or
toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the
product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is
many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by
hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an
official media campaign being developed against the first two links
(hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who
traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic
that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks.
This crusade against corruption and illegal activities, however, does
not stand out for “uncorking” before public opinion the obvious problem
of speculation, a concomitant evil to the system, and fitting to a
society scored by material shortages of all kinds. In fact, this type of
crime is nothing new, but just the opposite: we could almost state that
there isn’t a “pure” Cuban who is able to survive outside of illicit
trading in any of its many forms.
Thus in Cuba there is currently an unwritten law: those who do not steal
at least receive stolen products. A situation that is based on the
failure of the social project built on an economy that is fictitious and
eternally dependent on external subsidies.
However, the official media not only points an accusing finger at the
usual dealers, among which are common criminals, lazy opportunists,
thugs of all kinds, thieves by vocation, and other specimens classified
as social stigmas anywhere in the world but that proliferate with
impunity and force in economically and morally deformed societies.
The immaculate criers of the regime also accuse of being “hoarders and
resellers” those traders in the abused sector of “the self-employed” who
take advantage of the shortage to profit from the sale of items
previously purchased from retail networks, often by agreement with
corrupt managers or employees. The self-employed are now the blackbirds
[the weather] that everything gets blamed on, as were the “Free Market”
farmers of the distant 80’s, and later, in the bloody Special Period of
the 90’s, artisans and Cathedral Square vendors, the first outposts of
Official reporters, in their poignant candor, attribute store shortages
to speculators and not to the State Government, owner of all commercial
chains and responsible for keeping them supplied. In their way of
thinking it doesn’t appear that the old and effective correlation
between supply and demand exists, in virtue of which speculation would
not be possible, as long as the commercial network supply is maintained.
That is why certain products, such as rum and cigars produced
domestically are not part of the black market: all the shops are
overflowing with them.
In fairness, we must recognize that rampant speculation exists in Cuba,
and that this phenomenon greatly affects everyone’s pockets, but to
harshly focus blame onto its effects without aiming at its source is
redundant and a discredit to the accuser. It turns out that the biggest
culprit is absent from the bench of such severe judgment.
Because, if there is a hoarder in whose hands the whole market, trade,
prices and distribution of each product is concentrated, it’s the state
monopoly, controlled by the ruling elite and its closest acolytes. If
there is a reseller with a capital “R” it’s the very elite in power that
buys at bargain prices all kinds of cheap merchandise that it later
resells “legally” at astronomical prices.
We should not ignore in this story memories of other hoarding on the
part of the government, the adjudication of approximately 70% of all of
the country’s arable land, of the National Bank; of all industries;
hotels and housing infrastructures; of the best mansions and spaces for
their benefit and for the benefit of their caste and followers, among
others which we will omit so we won’t impose on the readers’ patience.
The philosophy of poverty as “virtue”
While the black market has expanded and specialized in the last 25
years, the truth is that it has coexisted with this system almost from
the start, turning each Cuban into a true or potential violator of the law.
The poverty that the triumph of the revolution would supposedly end, in
practice not only became widespread, but also systematized and
institutionalized to the point that today Cuba holds the sad record of
being the only country in the world that has maintained a ration card–a
mechanism of war economy–for over 50 years, which has planted in the
consciousness of several generations an effect of disability and
dependence culminating in a detachment from the law which establishes
permanent hardship as morality.
This phenomenon has penetrated into the national psyche so deeply that
we don’t even perceive the harm in all its magnitude, so the solution
for necessities becomes legitimate regardless of the method used for
this. For example, for an average Cuban, the purchase of one kilogram of
powdered milk on the black market at 80 pesos seems legitimate, since it
ensures her 7 year-old kid’s breakfast–who is thus stripped of her right
to acquire the same product on the ration card–since the cost on the
legal market for the same amount is 160 pesos, twice the amount as in
the black market.
Thus, a new “Robin Hood syndrome” has been established in Cuban society,
such that the reseller or trafficking dealer, instead of being perceived
as a criminal, is transmuted into a benefactor, since he is stealing
from the rich (the government-state) in order to benefit, in some
measure, the poor (the common Cuban), given that his prices, though high
and out of the reach of the poorest, are less onerous than those of the
state monopoly. At any rate, as the old saying goes, “a thief who steals
from a thief gets a hundred years’ pardon”.
An unbreakable chain?
However, the chain of hoarding-speculation-receiving, as well as its
effects on the economy, and even on social morality, is not unbreakable.
Freeing the market and allowing normal operation of its laws would be
sufficient, or releasing a portion of that market, so that traders would
no longer be the evil that the government hypocritically seeks to
protect us from, to have it become an important sector for healing the
domestic economy. In short, the story of the last few decades offers an
unquestionable lesson: there has never, ever been a central economy that
has survived this logic.
Another useful measure would be to maintain a permanent and satisfactory
level of supply and prices commensurate with incomes, but the
impossibility of this option has already been demonstrated. Meanwhile,
the same government that decries illicit small merchants legitimizes its
own speculation at the expense of a country that belongs to all. At the
end of the day, the root of the evil resides in the perverse nature of
the politics of a group that has accumulated too much power for too much
time. In Cuba, the truth is redundant.
Translated by Norma Whiting
Source: A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba –