I can hear the subtle anguish as he tells me this, despite the echoing static of the poor telephone connection. I listen between the lines of our conversation, amid the clicks and pauses of the phone lines, and I don’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what he will do to support his family. His wife, who is also seasonally employed in the tourism industry, is in a similar position but the odds are slightly better for her return to work this winter. That would be hard for his Latino pride, I think, even though he’d likely deny it was a problem.
Like most Cubans I’ve encountered, he is resourceful and resilient but, the reality is, there are few options in Pilón, his hometown. Where I live, tourism also fuels the local economy but there are other job prospects here in Huntsville (Muskoka). In Canada, someone with a dash of entrepreneurial spirit can start a business of his/her own. In Cuba, according to what I’ve read and heard, it is theoretically possible to start a business but it’s much easier said than done, especially in an impoverished rural region like Granma.
Under-the-table self-employment and sideline businesses have been common practice for decades, without authorization. Recently, however, the government has begun “encouraging” legal self-employment by cutting state jobs (about half a million so far) and offering licenses for more types of private businesses. I’m not sure if it’s a jump to the left or a step to the right but, it seems to me, the rhythm is quickening in these dances with capitalism.
Employment and the Cuban economic upheaval are frequent topics in Havana Times articles, a news and opinion blog I regularly peruse – it’s very well done and informative. Here are some relevant excerpts from today’s post by Patricia Grogg:
“...In the first quarter of this year, about 300,000 people in this country of 11.2 million moved from the state sector to the private sector, in light of the expansion of self-employment from 157 to 178 trades and activities and the drastic reduction of the state payroll. The authorities hope to encourage more people to apply for permits for self-employment, with rules aimed at easing the tax burden.”
“...The greater opening and flexibility in the self-employed sector is part of the reforms of the so-called ‘updating’ of Cuba’s economic model, and was designed by the government to help create alternatives to the cutting of more than one million state jobs between 2011 and 2015.”
My friend and his wife, as staff at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, are actually employed by the government, which supplies workers through its Cubanacan tourism agency, if I understand the structure correctly. Many people at this small resort, in the historical middle of nowhere, have already had their jobs cut or their hours of work trimmed. Some, like this couple, are holding their collective breath, awaiting news of their employment fate, their future.
What is the next step in this evolutionary dance? I’m not sure anyone really knows. My best guess is hard times, followed by an economic upbeat and a nice dosey doe. I just hope the upcoming period is nothing special and the hard times are merely a short caper, not a desperate tarantella.
|Some of the entertainment crew at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, as of April 2011.|