by Ricardo Fuentes-Ramires
The New York Times recently published an article on Cuban vendors protesting in the city of Holguín, Cuba. The article states that Cuban artisans and vendors marched in protest to local government offices as a response to a government crackdown on self-employed Cubans selling imported products. Some articles from Miami-based news services reported there were over a thousand people protesting, with emphasis in that this was not merely a manifestation of anti-Castro dissidents, but a worker’s revolt. What really happened was much less dramatic.
Upon reading about the protests, Cuban blogger Yohandry Fontana decided to call up a friend in Holguín to verify the facts. During the months of October and November 2013, the Cuban government established new rules for self-employed workers as part of the ongoing effort to expand self-employment in Cuba. Self-employed Cubans have gone from a little over 150,000 in 2010 to close to 450,000 in 2013. The latest measures clarified that self-employed workers licensed as tailors or dressmakers were not authorized to import and resell clothing. Self-employed workers requested permission to sell what they still had in inventory, which was granted until December 31st 2013. According to Fontana, on January 21st 2014, eight or nine people were fined for continuing to sell imported clothing. There were also some confiscations, while other self-employed Cubans were inspected. Unsatisfied with the measure, those who were fined managed to organize 49 self-employed workers to go to the local government offices. Once there, they were all attended, their complaints heard, and all the actions taken by the government explained.
In seconds, this spread across social networks, but the number of people was elevated to 700. Apparently, this wasn’t enough, so the Miami-based counterrevolutionary organization Democratic and Independent Cuba (CID in Spanish) elevated the number to one thousand protesters.
The “CID” interpreted this as a popular uprising and escalated the news across Twitter and some Miami radio stations. However, Fontana notes that by the afternoon, the city of Holguín was talking more about baseball than of the incident with the self-employed workers.