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Cuba: The Economic Philosophy of Pizza

'In Cuba, pizza could be used as an economic yardstick. How much does a Cuban pizza cost, with cheese and tomato sauce, erroneously called a Neapolitan ... '

A pizzeria in Havana.
A pizzeria in Havana. efe

In Cuba, pizza could be used as an economic index. Before it was a pack of Popular cigarettes. But many people have stopped smoking. How much a Cuban pizza costs, with cheese and tomato sauce, aromatic herbs and garlic (misnamed a Neapolitan) reveals the real market, the one on the street. The first stories of hunger arrive from Cuba with the cost of the pizza in question: 60 Cuban pesos.

The complaints do not stop coming, and this is only logical: the calculation made by the authorities with respect to the impending Tarea Ordenamiento measure has sown chaos. One cannot organize what, by nature, has always been disorganized. With an average monthly salary between 2,000 and 2,500 pesos, one could eat 40 "Neapolitan" pizzas, or 23 with ham, costing 100 - 105 pesos each. But, as Cubans do not live on pizza alone, their electricity bills are at least 500 pesos per month; that is, a third of their salaries.

But let us leave those always deceptive and politicized calculations to those who do have the extraordinary task of reviving an economy that was only rescued from complete collapse by foreign subsidies, and by depending on those abroad who send a fortune in remittances to Cuba. Those who travel in style, and summer in the places they were once barred from because – oh, the irony – they were Cuban.

Let us focus on the looming sociological crisis, and the role of the US as almost the only solution. The metaphor that best illustrates what has been happening on the island for six decades ago is a kidnapping: a group of people have taken, by force, on an airplane, in a bank, or a hotel.
At first, the hostages, because the prices were abusive, or for some other plausible reason, actually supported the perpetrators. Over time, none of the results promised materialized, and they became disenchanted with what at first seemed like a fair revolt. Thus, the kidnappers could only do what any liar does: resort to indirect violence, that which masks the tormentor.

The system’s survival is due to two basic factors, at least.

One: it is a system whose operation is actually based on constant instability. Under these conditions, systems make changes without modifying their structure. In its instability lies its flexibility to face any challenge and return to the beginning; what we might call a high degree of resilience. Once abnormality is made the norm, anything is possible. Thus, the day there is bread freely available, and it is good, and the buses run on time, the system disintegrates. It is simple: the problem - survival - has created its own system. No problem, no system.

Two: subjected from the beginning to external pressure (that is, embargos; in regimespeak, blockades) the system has gained internal cohesion and external support. The greater the external pressure, the more the forces of stasis organize and coerce those forces striving for change. Thus, Barack Obama, smart and innovative, tried to do the opposite. He just forgot one detail: contrary to the Marxist precept, leaders do define history. The article "Brother Obama", written by Fidel Castro, was enough to teach him a lesson in this regard.

This moment in history is unique due to the absence of any legitimate and charismatic leadership on the Island. Despite all the propaganda apparatus to make the designated president presidential, likeable, and eloquent, it has failed. One is born a leader, he does not become a leader. Everyone knows who really calls the shots. That leader installed is aware of his historical legitimacy, but he also knows that he was not born to be presidential or charismatic. Thus, he carried out a shrewd act of political castling with the designated one.

Faced with a system like this, a kidnapping where the victims have become accustomed to subsistence levels, there are only three options for those who yearn for change. One is the dangerous use of force. The hijackers are only left with the ruin and the damage that they can inflict until the very end. Sacrificing hostages is in terrorists' DNA.

The other way is negotiation. Obama and company also tried this. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac, said Henry Kissinger. The kidnappers, spouting false patriotism, and with the security provided by their Venezuelan colony, had the insolence to refuse any arrangement that would improve the lives of their detainees: their own people. Today not even the chavistas know what will become of them on the road from an authoritarian to a totalitarian society.

The system, without its usual flexibility, and capacity to maneuver, has reached maximum stability. But this means that it is fragile, and it is revealed for what it is: ruthless. The repression will be directly proportional to the lack of resilience, if there is a return to the initial form of "soft dictatorship". And, for greater conflictiveness, the discourse is the same: imperialism and the "blockade" are to blame for everything; discordant and neurotic rhetoric that almost no one buys anymore: "Yankee I hate you, but I need you"; "Abusive Americans, send a lot of dollars"; "Traitorous aunt, remember my size ..."

If the Biden Administration tackles the Cuba phenomenon realistically, it must understand, first of all, that change will not be brought about by more or fewer sanctions. Doing nothing will be the best way to do something. Change on the island will take place from within, and probably from the upper echelons of the regime, triggered by some particular incident: a desperate mother, an industrial accident, police going too far.
Second, the human deterioration has been so acute and prolonged (including that of the hierarchy) that the regime continues to bank on the Tarea Ordenamiento being accepted like many others, without a peep. And this is an almost philosophical error. For now, neither the captors nor the captured are the same. To paraphrase Heraclitus, not the one from Ephesus, but the one from Central Havana: you can never bite the same pizza twice.

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