Jueves, 27 de Octubre de 2016
20:58 CEST.

Returning to the scene of the crime?

There is increasing talk, in Miami and in Havana, about Cuban emigrés who are showing interest in returning to the island. In fact, more than a few have already done so, including many who have gone back with the hope of investing their savings in small private businesses, such as restaurants, public transport and other services.

Mathematically, their calculations seem to be sound, given the rather low prices at which they can still buy property and hire workers in Havana, in addition to the rising demand for the services in which they plan to invest. They have also, presumably, thoroughly studied the very peculiar ground rules on the island. And if they have, they should know that they will be operating in a market where illegality is like oxygen, essential to remain standing, the supreme law, that of the strongest, remaining the only one, just like always.

Apart from this, this is a decision that deserves more praise than criticism. Not only because everyone has the right to settle wherever they like, with due permission, but because, even if unintentionally, these Cubans could be taking an important step towards the future of integrity and civil society that we all dream of, however far out of sight it still seems.  

These emigrants, due to their experiences, have presumably become accustomed to living in democratic environments and acting under binding laws that cannot be violated. Hence, it is to be expected, and desirable, that in their new businesses on the island they will choose to uphold those customs, though it remains to be seen how they will grapple with that challenge in the face of reality.              

I personally know more than one business owner who has failed in his effort to insist on total honesty and respect for the laws, no matter how bad they may be. I also know several who gave up, or are on the brink of economic strangulation due to, among other pleasantries, the endless outlays they have to make to bribe inspectors and corrupt officials. Not a day passes, not one, in which a restaurant owner in Havana is not forced to shell out serious amounts in response to extortion.

Some cope with it better than others. There are two types of owners. First, there are the genuine strugglers, who invested everything they had in a small business, and are now giving it all they have to keep it, even with minimal profits. Then there are those "lucky" ones who managed to set up one, two or even more prosperous businesses at once, and without scrimping, thanks to miraculous contacts with people at the top. For the latter, the threat of closure is not the same nightmare that the former have to deal with every single day. But even they have to pay, in their own way.

Of course, those countrymen who return from abroad will have to join that class of authentic fighters (with exceptions), since the other category is a closed circle made up of relatives of higher-ups, more or less covert agents of the political police, and those favored by patronage. No one can have two restaurants in Havana without being an agent or accomplice of the dictatorship. And, unless he falls into one of those two categories, no entrepreneur can prosper much without suffering constant harassment by the system. No one, in short, is spared the constant fear of seeing their business closed.

Perhaps this is why, among other things, there are those skeptical of this endeavor by some emigrants, which, if looked at in a certain light, could be described as a kind of return to the scene of the crime. And yet, in this case those returning are not the criminals (who never left) but rather their victims. 

Not long ago the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS), based in Havana, concluded that more than 90% of Cuban families commit crimes as the only way to meet their basic needs. Had they dug even deeper, I'm sure that the remaining 10% would have made the list too. Illegality has for too long been our indispensable raft upon which to stay afloat, and it is also the regime's oxygen and hydrogen. It needs lawbreakers to keep us subjugated and manageable. Particularly now, and especially those who are struggling to get ahead.

These are things of which Cuban emigrants eager to return and make good on the island might be aware. If they are, and still prefer to bite the bullet, despite the Biblical adage that "haste is the mother of imperfection," then we can only tip our hats to them.