Reports from Cuba: The anguish of Cubans in the face of the government’s economic ‘paquetazo’

Yoani Sanchez writes in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

The Anguish of Cubans in the Face of the Government’s Economic ‘Paquetazo’

This Christmas, few dare to believe or say that next year will be better.

Few garlands, scarce Christmas trees and less popular enthusiasm are marking the last days of 2023 in Cuba. Apart from the occasional isolated celebration, the spirit of this December seems more marked by uncertainty than by celebration. Added to the long economic crisis and the mass exodus are fears about the great economic paquetazo* that the Island’s authorities have announced for 2024.

Although President Miguel Díaz-Canel has already come out to try to stop the rumors and insists that the cuts are not part of a “neoliberal” process, we all know that Cuban leaders have their own glossary of terms. For decades they have labelled the unemployed with the almost friendly euphemism of “available workers”; the crisis of the 90s was labeled the “Special Period“; and the onslaught that confiscated all private businesses in 1968, even including the boxes of the shoeshine boys, was given the heroic moniker of the “Revolutionary Offensive.”

Knowing this appetite for naming things their own way, it is clear that the authorities do not like it at all when someone gets ahead of them in naming the phenomena and moments that the Cuban reality has gone through. But, it only took a few minutes after Prime Minister Manuel Marrero began to explain before Parliament the economic adjustments that will come with the new year, for the word “paquetazo” to spread through the networks and instant messaging services. This little word names the snips that will be aimed at cutting subsidies while, on the other hand, prices are increased.

This group of actions would also fit well with the definition of “shock plan,” another of the phrases that the official Cuban press likes to use when talking about other countries. What is coming, broadly speaking, includes an increase in the prices of products and services and the end of the universal subsidy for the basic food basket. Following Marrero’s statements, several officials have rushed to assure us that the rationed market “booklet” will not be eliminated, but without guaranteeing that, after 60 years of existence, it will be maintained for all consumers.

The paquetazo also includes a 25% increase in the electricity rate for the 6% of the residential sector that consumes the most and charging tourists for fuel in foreign currency. The cost of the water supply will triple for those who do not have a metering device and the price of a liquefied gas cylinder will increase by 25%. New rates will also be applied to passenger transportation services. In addition, Marrero warned of a “review” of the number of people currently on the state payroll, which predicts numerous layoffs.

It is evident that in a society where welfarism, crude egalitarianism and the rationed market have been used not only as mechanisms for the distribution of goods and products, but also as a form of social and political control, the announcements before Parliament have raised a wave of concern among both ordinary people and the officials themselves. While inside homes there is fear of an even greater increase in the cost of food and basic products, in the air-conditioned offices of institutions and ministries they suspect that the measures will fuel popular protests or accelerate emigration, which hits the labor sector hard, especially the workforce of qualified workers.

Apprehension is in the air. An inquietude that Cubans express these days at an end of the year with few parties and few Christmas trees. When they pass a friend or acquaintance on the street, they don’t even dare to use one of those ready-made and formal phrases that are customary to say these days. No one utters the sarcastic prediction that 2024 “will be better.”

*Translator’s note: “Paquetazo” is basically ‘package’, but the ending ‘azo’, signifying a blow, adds a certain heft to it. (See “Maleconazo“) See also from “Paquetazo, a term used predominantly in Latin America, refers to a package of economic reforms implemented by the government that often includes a series of austerity measures. Over time, it has become a popular term among citizens to express discontent with these policies.”

Editor’s Note: This text was originally published by Deutsche Welle’s Latin America page .

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