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    The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio, Miriam

    14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2017 — On one of the side
    walls, inside a small newspaper stand on Avenida 26, in Nuevo Vedado
    (Havana), an unusual sign announces: “This stand became private property.”

    The event is unique. The elderly self-employed man behind the counter is
    normally cautious. Survival instinct has taught Cubans to mistrust those
    who ask too many questions, particularly when what’s in play is the
    relative security of some additional monetary income to round off the
    meager retirement income.

    However, when an informal conversation is established, some information
    and small details always surface which, at least in principle, confirm
    that a new secret experiment has been initiated by the
    State-Party-Government: the process of legal privatization of the sale
    of the main ideological weapon of the revolution: the press.

    It is obvious, in addition, that this event is taking place barely three
    months after the death of the infamous creator of the information
    monopoly, as soon as the last prop tears of his faithful have dried up
    and in the midst of constant invocations in the press “to his memory,
    his legacy and his work.” No one can ignore that the colossal Castro
    press, and especially the Granma newspaper, was the apple of Fidel
    Castro’s eye, who commanded it for decades from his office, from where
    he was taken daily through the tunnel connecting the Granma building
    with the Palace of the Revolution, for his final approval, before going
    to press.

    The true nature of the information about the new measure that includes
    the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship
    activity was confirmed to this publication by Yordanka Díaz, director of
    the Cuban Postal Service Habana-Centro, in the Plaza of the Revolution
    municipality. “It is necessary to satisfactorily complete a 3-day
    course, after which the contract is made and then the worker must go to
    the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) to try to obtain his

    The official director added that, in the municipality under her
    management, there are at least three vacant places to negotiate a
    newspaper stand. So far, those who have filled the previous vacancies
    are retired workers or housewives returning to the workforce.

    Although the vendor at the Avenida 26 location has misgivings that make
    him seem unwilling to reveal many details, it is obvious that he is more
    satisfied with his new status as self-employed, than that of his former
    status as an employee of the State. “Before, the State paid me a salary
    of 120 Cuban pesos a month, now I must pay 10 pesos a day. The price of
    a newspaper is still 20 cents in national currency, so I would have to
    sell 300 newspapers to earn 3 pesos, but people ‘help me’, some leave me
    a peso or 50 cents The state does not have to pay me a salary, but it
    charges me 300 a month; they win, I earn more now …and everyone is happy.”

    The vendor does not reveal that, in fact, his greatest gain is in the
    established practice of selling wholesale to unlicensed street dealers,
    or informal home delivery, where there is a fixed minimum monthly rate
    of 30 Cuban pesos, which may be higher if the customer receives more
    than one daily newspaper. It is not a business that yields significant
    profits, but it does not require much effort or investment, and it helps
    to put food on the table.

    Something else that’s new is that the State will not distribute the
    papers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” rather it will be the
    responsibility of the vendors to pick up and transport the papers to
    their individual stands, which is another advantage for the State, since
    transportation costs from the printing locations to the stands
    throughout the city are no longer the State’s responsibility. There is
    also a fixed allocation of newspapers for each seller, in order to avoid

    The vendor becomes more talkative as the conversation progresses. “They
    say they are going to repair the kiosks, which are in very bad
    condition, they are going to fix the ceilings and paint them, but I’m
    not sure about that. The stands are theirs, the sales, mine.”

    “But I can only sell newspapers, no magazines, no books, no calendars or
    anything like that,” the old man explains. “But it’s okay, I don’t
    complain. It’s always easier to unload newspapers; people buy them more
    readily than they do magazines. They even buy old newspaper… imagine, of
    course they’ll sell, seeing how difficult it is to get toilet paper!”

    At this point, everything has a certain logic, though it would seem, at
    least paradoxical, that the airtight press monopoly – so pure, so
    anti-capitalist, so Marxist – has consented, at least partially, to the
    commercialization of this important “trench” to the private sector, even
    if it is such a humble and low-profit activity as the sale of
    newspapers, usually taken over by retirees or other low-income workers.

    However, taking into account the calamitous economic situation and the
    high costs arising from this archaic way of disseminating information,
    the State is compelled to exploit any way of lightening the load that
    results from the maintenance of a printed press monopoly in a country
    where limited and costly internet access, coupled with the Government’s
    imperative need to control information, prevents the absolute
    digitization of the media.

    This way, the government is tied to its own Gordian knot: the monopoly
    of the press and the country’s laughable internet access are musts for
    the regime if it wants to keep the population uninformed or
    ill-informed, without other alternative sources of information about
    what is happening in the world or even within the nation, and without
    the possibility of comparing the news offered by the official media. But
    this, in turn, forces the government to sustain an unaffordable industry
    of the press in the middle of an economic crisis that produced negative
    numbers in 2016 and threatens an even more unfortunate 2017.

    In reality, the rationing process of the official press machinery has
    been showing signs for a long time. Recently, the country’s main
    newspaper, Granma, with only eight pages (four flat sheets) renewed its
    old and recharged design, not so much to improve its print quality and
    presentation – which remain aesthetically deplorable – but to save ink.
    For a long time there has been only one national edition in circulation.

    Now, by allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the
    Government has simply legalized another black market item – a phenomenon
    that has marked the entire “list” of what is regulated for the private
    sector – since for many years and to date the private (illegal) sale of
    the official press has existed, carried out by elderly and needy people
    who, not trying to disguise the act, and with their face uncovered,
    loudly yell out the headlines and sell without fuss in the middle of the
    road, buying the papers at 20 centavos and selling them at the price of
    one peso in national currency. In short, the black market of the
    official press has been legalized.

    Curiously, this new form of self-employment has not been reviewed by the
    official press, although it is news of a clear symbolic meaning.

    Translated by Norma Whiting

    Source: The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio,
    Miriam Celaya – Translating Cuba –

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