The ‘scarecrow’ words Raúl Castro never said
Until recently private-sector businesses in Havana hung, like scarecrows to frighten away menacing birds, signs featuring a phrase attributed to Raúl Castro, and the general never said a word to dispel this impression, at least publicly.
The quote was: “Those who decide to demonise, criminalize and prosecute the self-employed choose a path that, besides being petty, is ludicrous, as it is untenable. Cuba is counting on them as one of the engines driving future development, and they have clearly arrived on the urban scene to stay.”
In reality the words were from an article, “The Cityscape and Future Challenges,” by regime journalist Félix Lépez, published in Granma on September 23, 2011.
“I remember it was a neighbor who told me that the quote was from Raúl, in a speech. I immediately hung it up in my cafe, in principle to daunt the ONAT inspectors, who tend to be very rude,” said Migdalia.
“But I think those words, no matter who pronounced them, are being betrayed by the actions now being taken against the self-employed. On the (television) news on the 19th they said that we were illegally buying raw materials that the State guaranteed us. That’s a lie. The only thing the State guarantees is a horde of inspectors and bureaucratic measures that mock phrases like these.”
Like many private sector workers, Armando also assumed that the words had been pronounced by the general, in his speech on 18 December, 2010 at the Palacio de Convenciones.
“As in that speech he also talked about the self-employed …” he recalls. “I saw the phrase hanging in a cafe in Vedado, and I asked a designer to make me a picture. A couple of months ago I got pissed off and threw it away, because I no longer felt like those words were going to protect my bakery/candy store,” he added.
“They began to harass me, demanding all the paperwork on the appliances, the refrigerator and the oven. Then they started asking me about where I bought my flour and lard, as if the State had a place to sell them at better prices than the TRDs (retail stores),” he explained. “Yes, I feel that those words, whether he said them or not, and we self-employed, are being betrayed.”
According to Lázaro Raúl, a worker at the recently-closed El Renacer cafe: “the phrase was not bad, but everything indicates that the police and inspectors cannot read or interpret.”
“A friend of mine gave it to me, assuring me that Raúl had said it, so I thought it would be a good idea to hang it up as ‘protection’ for the business, but no such luck. There is too much bureaucracy and ignorance, and very little protection for entrepreneurs. I had even hoped that my case was an isolated one, but now I see that they are against against all the country’s self-employed. It seems that words are not enough, or that they got old.”
Won´t there be reversals?
The words the general did say, at the close of the sixth regular session of the seventh meeting of the National Assembly of Popular Power, actually do not contradict those attributed to him by private entrepreneurs: “If the exercise of self-employment is another professional alternative (…) it is incumbent upon the Party and the Government, in the first place, to facilitate their management and not create stigmas or prejudices towards them, and certainly not to demonise them, and for this it is essential to modify the negative attitudes harbored by many of us towards this form of private employment.”
In that same speech, Raúl Castro stated that: “The steps we have been taking and will continue to take towards the expansion and flexibilization of self-employment are the result of profound reflections and analysis, and we can guarantee that this time there will be no going back.”
But the forced closures of restaurants like Shangri-La, at 42nd and 21st; Manzana, in Old Havana; and El Sarao, at 17th and E, as well as the televised warnings and restrictions on bakeries/confectioneries, bicycle taxis, owners of accommodations for foreigners, and other private sector activities, “do represent a total reversal of their policies towards self-employment,” says Marianela, who owns a hair salon.
“It would not be worth it to correct it and hang up his actual words, because in the end they expressed the same thing and the result, as you can see, is a reversal,” she said. “In my case, I never hung up the phrase, and I’m glad I didn´t. We’ve always been demonised, and that´s the Government´s fault. Now many businesses are accused of promoting drugs and prostitution… If that isn’t turning the people against us, what is?”