Embargo keeps Cuban entrepreneurs down, but it’s not the ’embargo’ you’re thinking of

For years we heard President Obama and pro-Castro academics and lobbyists tells us that it was U.S. sanctions against Cuba’s repressive and corrupt apartheid dictatorship that was keeping the Cuban people down. If only we did business with Cuba, the Cuban people would be able to exploit their entrepreneurial skills and break away from government dependence. But as Obama poked hole after hole in U.S. sanctions, all the Cuban people saw was the government that oppresses them getting richer and stronger, and their hopes for freedom and democracy growing dimmer and dimmer.

The reality on the ground in Cuba is that the only embargo keeping Cuban entrepreneurs from succeeding is the one placed on them by the Castro regime. You can lift all sanctions against the Cuban dictatorship tomorrow and the Cuban people will not receive a single benefit. This is because the real embargo holding them down is the one placed on them by the Castro regime and that embargo will remain in place as long as they are in power.

Nora Gamez Torres in The Miami Herald:

Cuban entrepreneurs dream big but the government is in their way

A private cobbler works near a U.S. flag in Havana
A private cobbler works near a U.S. flag in Havana

Like entrepreneurs in any country, Cuban entrepreneurs want more access to resources and fewer bureaucratic obstacles to expand and reinvest in their businesses, according to a new study based on interviews conducted on the island.

“I would like those who govern to begin to think more about how to make life simpler for citizens and less how to preserve the [government] precepts that have been proven to offer only hardship,” says a private real estate agent, who was among the 80 Cubans interviewed for Voces del cambio en el sector no estatal cubano (Voices of Change in the Cuban Non-State Sector).

The study, spearheaded by Cuban-born economist Carmelo Mesa Lago, includes interviews from Havana and surrounding provinces that were done without government approval. It is focused on four segments that are part of the so-called “non-state sector” of the Cuban economy, still highly centralized and controlled by the state: the self-employed; farmers who use state-owned parcels; corredores (brokers) of home sales; buyers and sellers of private homes; as well as workers of non-farm production and service cooperatives.

Among those interviewed are coffee shop owners and hairdressers; sellers of religious products for Santería; a chauffeur for rental cars used for weddings; massage therapists; photographers; and homeowners who rent to tourists. Absent from the study, however, are the owners of private restaurants known as paladares, which Mesa Lago attributed to the difficulty of accessing these entrepreneurs who, in many cases, function on the edge of legal bounds and do not want to attract attention to their business.

Among the great surprises of the interviews, he said, “was discovering the very high level of reinvestment that the self-employed engage in. Most, including those renting apartments and houses, reinvest.”

Another interesting section of the study, published in bookform by the Ibero-American publishing house and which is expected to have an edition available in Cuba, summarizes the main problems and aspirations of those interviewed: “One of the main barriers that they mention, and there was an impressive unanimity in this, is the level of state interference,” Mesa Lago said.

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