Cuba — Perhaps I Spoke Too Soonby Brad Warbiany
About a month ago, I blasted an article by a tongue-in-cheek reporter who wanted to use Raul Castro’s easing of restrictions on cell phone ownership as an excuse to criticize cell phones (suggesting– implicitly– that oppression and no phones is better than freedom and phones).
I stand by that post, but I stepped over the line in another regard. I suggested that while I didn’t expect much of Raul Castro, that he should be applauded for easing some of these restrictions. Instead, I’ve now heard reports that he may be using this freedom as a honey pot to catch those with “illicit” monies:
A Cuban dissident I met in Havana last year sent me today an article he wrote about the real motive behind relaxing these bans. It has been reported in the state-controlled media that people purchasing these goods are later being investigated by the authorities who want to know the real sources of their income. As it’s widely known, the average Cuban salary is less than $20 a month, while the cost of most of these goods ranges in the hundreds of dollars. Many Cubans get their extra money from relatives in the United States, but many others run independent (and illicit) small businesses.
My friend tells the story of the first person to purchase an electric bicycle, which cost the equivalent of $1,070. This man had a small butter factory that apparently was very profitable, since he was selling the butter at a lower price than the government. After buying his electric bicycle, the authorities investigated him and discovered his factory. They proceeded to confiscate everything they found in his home, including the bike.
It’s still possible that these reforms may be a bit too addictive for the Cuban people, and actually may help them to break the stranglehold that the regime has on the island. In particular, personal computers and cell phones open doors of communication that will not be easily shut.
But I must apologize. I too quickly defended Raul Castro, assuming that perhaps he was doing this merely as a PR move to soften the image of his regime to the world. I didn’t catch the implications above. It appears that very little has changed down there.