Cuban self employed: It was already time for change

The reaction of Cubans in Havana to today’s news is , as a rule, of joy. Although many common Cubans do not specifically know what the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States entails, they know it’s the start of something good.

Others remain skeptical by the weight of the years in which economic precariousness and ineffective official discourse have left the people incredulous to the news announcing the change. And it is, to some extent, justifiable: after years of seeing so far what has now happened, one day the country wakes up, turns on the television and listens to the news contradicting the fact that everyone wanted to see changed, but which immobility many took already for granted.

OnCuba went out (after the telephone contact between Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro became public) to interview some self-employed and private businesses owners of varying economic weight, to see how they received the news, what their wishes and thoughts are to what President Obama announced as the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral relations.

In 23rd and M Craft Fair, at Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, like other businesses, many of the salesclerks and owners of tables were not yet aware of the news:

–           “I left my house early; I do not know what you’re talking about. You tell me what happen, ” one of the vendors says:

–           I explain her and says:

“We must wait. But it will bring some benefit, it was about time. It will be good for all businesses: for ours and for theirs (the state). If indeed everything they have proposed comes into fruition, I think we can overcome all the backwardness we have had for years, and could reach some developmnet. Maybe we can open more business, either here or abroad.

–           Another vendor was more skeptical about the possible lifting of the economic embargo: “You better do not play that key, we have spent years hearing the same for topic, and nothing ever improves. And don’t you ask people out there, they’re going to throw stones on you. If the block is removed, what justification can we now give to our problems? “.

Other self-employed workers speak of the need that unsolved issues represent within the country, some of which do not need direct diplomatic relations with the United States, such as is the matter of dual currency.

At Almendares Candy Store (J Street, between 25 and 27), one with the most quality offers in Vedado, some workers report that they heard the news on the street.

“They said that Raúl was going to speak on the release of the three prisoners who were in the United States and the return of Alan Gross, one of the saleswomen says. They said they still had not spoken of the end of the blockade, but that this would be a step forward in the economy.

“I took it very positive, very happy –she continues- because we are advancing slowly. We’re still not at the point where we wanted regarding Cuba’s relations with the US, but this step is important. For our business, it would improve our situation, by having access to buy many more things we need for the candy store to works well, and thus also contribute to the country’s economy. “

When leaving the establishment we find an old sweets peddler.

“I have not seen the news, but I think anything to happen with that” – he notes.

-How do you think the restoration of relations could help you?

– To me? No way. Now I am 80, and nothing benefits or harms me. I’m just doing something here to live the time remaining to me. Life expectancy in Cuba, according to the census of 2013, is 78.4 years. I mean, I’m already dead. You’re talking to a dead man. I do not care anything about that, because I already lost my time. “

One of the workers in the Gift Shop located on L Street, between 25 and 27, said: “The release of Cuban prisoners is fantastic news for their mothers, who are elderly, and because they are human beings who have already suffered enough.

“The reestablishment of relations with the US and the lifting of the blockade would be a crucial thing to Cuba, both economically and politically. This could affect private business in many ways; it all depends on how every business gets the things they sell and the equipments that produce them.

“There are many people that bring things from trips abroad. And there are restrictions on the purchase of goods, also from Cuba. If the entry and exit to the United States is arranged, this is going to help too much the Cuban government, because state companies may also support themselves directly, without the mediation of third countries, and so it is with private business. It would be great if it were so. “

OnCuba went to El Pachanguero Bar-Restaurant, one of those nice private businesses located at San Lazaro Street, where its owner comments the good news: “They prove that each passing year, people come to a better understanding, and that makes us happy “.

On the impact of the economic embargo in private businesses like his, he comments: “The Cuban people are the ones who have primarily suffered the blockade. An opening, political exchange with the US government would benefit not only the private business but Cubans, it would also improve the health system, supplies to work could be acquired, we could jump-start the country and reach certain development “.

The purchase of supplies and equipment to ensure stable and prosperous operation of any self-employment business is perhaps the most difficult ridge faced by the Cuban entrepreneurs especially in bars and restaurants: “The situation is now difficult for the purchase of raw materials used by various types of work, not only in restaurants. By having a political understanding or commercial exchange as the one existed in previous years, before 1959, the island would benefit from inputs to work: in construction, design, improvement of infrastructure… There are many things today that we can not buy, and others that we can, but they are much more expensive in third countries. It is not the same as having things “there in front.”

“And this is regardless of the emotional part: there are families divided, suffering: the ones from here and those from there. The change would be wonderful, especially for Cubans. When there is political opening, the economy grows, and so does the work, forms of employment. Then the ordinary Cuban could succeed, undertake projects, and take his family to eat at a nice restaurant, something still the majority can not do.

“The peoples, regardless of their creed or political status, are peoples. What must be between them is harmony and understanding, because we are in the 21st century. We can not remain at the time in which we could not civilly talk. “

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