Tag Archives: Economic Illegalities

CUBA’S BLACK MARKET THRIVES

[Apologies: I lost this somewhere in the computer last autumn! AR]

Havana (AFP) Carlos Batista, October 17 2014

Original here: Cuba’s black market thrives

ca536627f7ec7ad1d8f6a66bb6b8a8857cee4e2dFrom foreign DVDs to perfume, rum and coffee, Cuba’s shelves are packed with pirated and counterfeit goods, which are sold as authorities turn a blind eye — using the longstanding US embargo as justification.

The more than 50-year US trade freeze with communist-ruled Havana has bred a healthy appetite for smuggled goods, including TV series, films, music and software — all available at a low cost.

“Here, everything costs one CUC,” the Cuban convertible peso equivalent to one US dollar, explains 28-year-old vendor Jorge, standing before three bookcases packed with CDs and DVDs.

In southern Havana’s October 10 neighbourhood, where Jorge peddles his wares, pirated DVDs featuring current American blockbuster films, children’s movies and Latin music are all on sale to delighted crowds. For Jorge, the cost of doing business is affordable. For 60 Cuban pesos ($A2.59) a month, he can buy a vendor’s licence to sell his goods.

He is one of half a million Cubans who work in the 200 or so independent jobs authorised under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms. Though buying and selling pirated goods is technically illegal in Cuba, the trade is widely known and mostly tolerated, even by the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution officers who rarely punish vendors.

“I pay for my licence on time and no one interferes with my work,” said Jorge, who declined to give his full name.

Like many other merchants, Jorge’s stock extends far beyond entertainment DVDs. He also sells “packages,” which feature hundreds of megabytes of data obtained weekly from overseas sources.

The bundles include television series, sports programs, films, anti-virus software and up-to-date listings from the banned classified sites “Revolico” and “Porlalivre”. The online classified listings, which are officially banned in Cuba, offer interested buyers anything from air conditioners to black market tyres, and even empty perfume bottles to be secretly refilled in off-the-grid factories.

With the help of complicit employees, some of the black market fragrances and other items even find their way to the shelves of government-owned stores.

Every so often, the heavily-censored state-run media report on police busting illegal rings producing fake perfume, rum, beer, coffee or toiletries — items rarely found in supermarket aisles — but authorities mostly ignore the contraband sales.

Authorities struggle to contain this Cuban “tradition,” which emerged during the dark days of severe shortages in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of Cuba’s staunchest Cold War-era allies.

“The new situation in the 1990s was so sudden, so violent, so unexpected… that people started, with the only means they had, to find ways to fulfill their needs,” said sociologist Mayra Espina in the online newspaper Cuba Contemporanea.

“Certain activities, previously deemed unacceptable or socially negative, started to become legitimate.”

This time of shortages bred a social phenomenon called “la lucha,” or “the struggle,” which has seen Cubans do whatever is necessary to tackle the island nation’s social and economic malaise, Espina said.

Pirated programs have also crept into the state’s sphere, with public media and government-owned cinemas running illegally-obtained shows and films. Some television networks lacking their own means to produce original programming have “resorted for years to carrying shows from American channels without paying for the rights,” Cuban TV director Juan Pin Vilar told AFP.

Indeed, this is one of the fringe benefits of the US embargo — the Cuban TV channels and cinemas could act with virtual impunity, as legal repercussions were unlikely.

“There is a kind of tactical willingness (in the US) not to bother Cuba because culture… is a very effective means of communication,” said Jorge de Armas, a member of a group of Cuban exiles calling for a rapprochement with Washington.

But the flip side, according to Vilar, is that certain stations in Miami — home to most of the Cuban diaspora — air Cuban programs to satisfy their viewers, nostalgic for home. On Miami’s “Calle Ocho,” or 8th Street, in the heart of Little Havana, the Maraka shop sells pirated music, films and television programs brought in from Cuba.

On the other side of the Florida Straits, the international Cuban television network Cubavision offers its signal to satellite suppliers around the world. The idea, said one Cubavision executive, is “to spread our image”.

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ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

 Archibald R.M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

 2014/373 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62637-163-7 hc $79.95 $35

A FirstForumPress Book

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Special limited-time offer!Mention e-blast when ordering

 CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTRODUCTION:  Cuba’s Chabging Policy Landscape” 

“A provocative, compelling, and essential read. The ethnographic work alone is worth the price of admission.” John W. Cotman, Howard University

“A multifaceted analysis of Cuban economic activity…. Ritter and Henken paint a lively picture of daily life in entrepreneurial Cuba.” Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations

 SUMMARY

During the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has dramatically reformed its policies toward small private enterprises. Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken consider why—and to what effect.

After reviewing the evolution of policy since 1959, the authors contrast the approaches of Fidel and Raúl Castro and explore in depth the responses of Cuban entrepreneurs to the new environment. Their work, rich in ethnographic research and extensive interviews, provides a revealing analysis of Cuba’s fledgling private sector.

THE AUTHORS

 Archibald R.M. Ritter is distinguished research professor of economics and international  affairs at Carleton University.

Ted A. Henken is associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, CUNY.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Cuba’s Changing Policy Landscape.
  • The Small-Enterprise Sector.
  • Revolutionary Trajectories and Strategic Shifts, 1959–1990.
  • The “Special Period,” 1990–2006.
  • Policy Reform Under Raúl Castro, 2006–2014.
  • The Movement Toward Non-Agricultural Cooperatives.
  • The Underground Economy.
  • The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Paladar, 1993–2013.
  • The Future of Small Enterprise in Cuba.
  • Appendix 1: Timeline of Small Enterprise Under the Revolution.
  • Appendix 2: 201 Legalized Self-Employment Occupations.

Lynne Rienner Publisher’s page on Entrepreneurial Cuba: https://www.rienner.com/title/Entrepreneurial_Cuba_The_Changing_Policy_Landscape

For order and general inquiries, please contact: questions@rienner.com

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The Causes & Consequences of Cuba’s Black Market

21 August 2014 –  Havana Times – Fernando Ravsberg*

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=105653

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban press is out to get re-sellers, as though their existence were news to anyone, as though they just now realized there is a black market that’s on every street corner in the country, selling just about everything one can sell.

In a news report aired on TV, they went as far as insinuating that some employees at State stores are accomplices of those who hoard and re-sell products. They are now “discovering” that the black market stocks up, in great measure, thanks to the complicity of store clerks. The reporting remains on the surface, addressing the effects but not daring to go to the root of a problem that has burdened the country for decades as a result of the chronic shortage of products – from screws to floor mops.

During the early years of the revolution, these shortages could be chalked up to the US embargo. Today, however, Cuba maintains trade relations with the entire world and can purchase the products people need in other markets. It doesn’t even seem to be a financial problem, because the products become available and disappear intermittently. Shaving foam can disappear for a couple of months and reappear at all stores overnight.

These ups and downs are what allow a group of clever folks to hoard up on and later re-sell these products at higher prices. A lack of foresight and planning when importing is what creates these temporary shortages that make the work of hoarders easier.

There is no doubt Cuba has a planned economy. The question is whether it is actually well planned. The truth is that, for decades, the country’s domestic trade system has functioned in a chaotic manner and no one has been able to organize it minimally.

A foreign journalist I know recently noted that, when toilet paper disappeared from all State shops, a supermarket in Havana had a full stock of pickled partridge that no one buys.  Who would decide to buy such a luxury canned product at a time when most store shelves are practically empty? The story brings to mind that anecdote involving a government official who imported a snow-sweeper to Cuba.

The Market and Consumption

Cuba’s domestic trade system doesn’t require “reforms”, it demands radical change, a new model. Such a change should begin with Cuba’s importers, bureaucratic companies that are ignorant of the interests and needs of consumers and buy products without rhyme or reason.

Many of their employees receive [under the table] commissions from suppliers and therefore prioritize, not the country’s interests, but their own pockets. They are the same people who received money from the corrupt foreign businessmen recently tried and convicted in Cuba.

To plan the country’s economy, the government should start by conducting market studies and getting to know the needs of consumers, in order to decide what to purchase on that basis. It Is a question of buying the products people need and in quantities proportional to the demand.

Planning means being able to organize import cycles such that there is regular supply of products, without any dark holes, like the ones that currently abound in all sectors of Cuba’s domestic trade, from dairy products to wood products.

Sometimes, this chaotic state of affairs has high costs for the country’s economy, such as when buses are put out of circulation because spare pieces were not bought on time, there isn’t enough wood to build the crates needed to store farm products or a sugar refinery is shut down because of lack of foresight.

Even the sale of school uniforms at State subsidized prices experiences these problems owing to a lack of different sizes. This is a problem seamstresses are always willing to fix, charging the parents a little extra money.

Cuba’s entire distribution system is rotten. Importers are paid commissions, shopkeepers sell products under the counter, butchers steal and resell poultry, ration-store keepers mix pebbles in with beans, agricultural and livestock markets tamper with weighing scales and bakers take home the flour and oil.

In the midst of this chaos we find the Cuban consumer, who does not even have an office he or she can turn to and demand their rights (when they are sold rotten minced meat, and old pair of shoes or a refrigerator that leaks water, for instance).

Speculation is no doubt a reprehensible activity, but it is not the cause of the black market. The country may launch a new campaign against hoarders, but it will be as unsuccessful as all previous one if an efficient commercial system isn’t created.

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