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
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 -