Working for the state is an ordeal: the wages are not nearly enough, productivity is zero, accountability is chaotic and worst of all you have to put up with the torpid meetings of a union which represents anyone but the worker. There are, however, those who have accepted all these conditions stoically and have endured years and years of state control in their jobs. It is not masochism that ties them to the apron strings of the state bureaucracy, but rather the little faith that a private investment will see them into their old age.
This isn’t the first time the government has decided -- with a rope around its neck -- to allow citizen initiative to sustain the national economy. We already saw, in the nineties, the emergence of private restaurants -- los paladares -- B&Bs, taxis, and little jobs in food service and household help. Today there is little left of that explosion of the self-employed. That is the problem: for how long will they let you keep your business?
To launch a restaurant, rent a room, or sell pizzas is not a short-term investment. People want to see the fruits of their efforts but the likelihood that the bureaucracy will, one day, knock on your door to take away all your permits has cycled through the history of the Revolution. I have a friend who had been operating a fairly popular restaurant for two years, when one afternoon an inspector came and took her papers to “verify them.” She is still waiting for them to be returned and in the meantime she cannot open the doors of her restaurant. She has received no explanation. She committed no crime.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.