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Rich "Comrades"

Experts in the economy and self-employment discussed enrichment and inequality in Cuba.

La Habana

The title alludes to the most recent topic in the public debate organised by Temas, the most important Social Sciences publication in Cuba. At the end of each month, at the Centro Cultural Fresa y Chocolate in the Cuban capital, this forum takes place, generating controversies that, of course, are absent from official media outlets.

Until now, the initiatives implemented by the Government to "update" the economic model have only aggravated inequality, poverty, and nonconformity, while generating an emerging nouveau riche class that is tolerated by the ruling party.

The debate, which will be published in an edition of the periodical Temas yet to be announced, brought together specialists in the country's economy and self-employment. Former Economic Minister José Luis Rodríguez participated, along with analysts Juan Carlos Albizu-Campos, Esnel González, and the young Oniel Díaz, a private activity advisor in Havana, all moderated by Rafael Hernández, director of the publication. A group of almost 200 people crowded the auditorium.

Albizu-Campos disclosed figures of what he considered a high average monthly income for private work on the Island: close to 20,000 CUC. The analyst clarified, however, that this figure is possible due to revenues from the rental of mansions for tourists and diplomats, the flow of remittances from abroad, tourism, and the border and emerging economies. He also noted that the recent manufacture of parts and accessories for classic luxury cars, whose owners are connected to international circles; and the refurbishment of luxury restaurants currently operating in residential areas such as Vedado and Miramar, provide high dividends.

José Luis Rodríguez stated that this is a complex and difficult issue to gauge, since the Cuban State has not disclosed official statistics since 2009 on the nature of these high revenues, measurable only in foreign currencies, while incomes for State work remain depressed.

The former minister also criticized the lack of initiatives to reuse the surplus value provided by these markets, as Cubans have no opportunity to invest their money in the island or to grow as industrial entrepreneurs on their own.

In this regard José Luis Rodríguez commented on the improbability of the expansion of Cuba's new SMEs due to the government's coercive measures to quash their development. In 1994 about 537 million dollars were received in remittances from abroad, mainly from the US. In 2017 the figure was around 2.5 - 3 billion.

"The TRD (Currency Collection Stores) market on the island is not enough to cover all that demand," he said.

Esnel González stated that self-employment generates high profits in the private sector, as does the work of some small farmers who have held large amounts in their bank accounts, going back to the 80s. But this group has not yet found any way to capitalise on agricultural production, expand its businesses or invest in tools and improved mechanization to obtain greater dividends.

Osniel Díaz, meanwhile, called attention to the deficient tax policy applied to self-employment, which merits the application of fairer mechanisms.

Researcher Mayra Espina supported some of the arguments made when she mentioned that it is necessary, at least to obtain an ideal welfare model in Cuba, for a person working in the State sector to receive at least 1,000 CUP, and a salary of 8,000 CUP to solve their most essential problems in current Cuban society.

A survey conducted of the audience and shared right there by Rafael Hernández revealed that the public considered those with the highest incomes to be the owners of rental houses, paladares (restaurants), musicians, small farmers, and, on a smaller scale, scientists, miners, ministers, workers in the sugar industry, lawyers, and doctors.

Havana, Ciego de Ávila and Matanzas, were considered the provinces with the highest incomes in the country.

Other figures not revealed by national statistics were disclosed there. For example: at least 25% of the Cuban population lives below the poverty line, and the average salary for State workers rose to 740 Cuban pesos (approximately 30 dollars) between 2010 and 2018.

The panelists' remarks focused on the activities of high-income groups in various sectors of the private economy, territorial differences within the country with respect to capital, and the lack of diversification of Cuba's agricultural activity.

The audience inquired about the pattern of inequality that the population is politically willing to accept, questioned the policy of implementing agrarian reform, and discussed the formation of new power groups due to high incomes, with public advantages, political privileges, etc., which could fracture Communist ideology on the Island.

The next forum organised by the journal Temas will be dedicated to corruption on the island, in various spheres of Cuban society.

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