Micro-enterprise in Cuba

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Cuba movers with TV by Roland Poland

Having a moving business might seem like common sense, but many such professions of self-employ have been outlawed by the Cuban government. [Roland Poland/Flickr]

America’s coverage of Cuba usually focuses on one of three things: whether or not the US should lift its decades long embargo, something involving the Buena Vista Social Club, or when the heck Castro is gonna die. We want to tell a different kind of story about Cuba, and investigate a different kind of reality. We want to talk about the way individual people are earn a living in a country cut off from most of the world by Communism on one hand and sanctions on the other. Like the microbiologist who was forced to open a black market video rental store, or the male hustlers who line the boulevards of Havana.

Are you a micro-entrepreneur trying to make your way in present day Cuba? Are you a Cuban ex-pat watching your family struggle back home? Or one of the thousands of Americans who have passed through Cuba for one reason or another? Tell us what you’re doing, what you’ve seen, and what you think about it.

Jorge Dominguez

Jorge Dominguez is a political science professor at Harvard and the director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He has a new book out, The Cuban Economy at the Start of the Twenty-First Century, which he edited with Omar Everleny PĂ©rez Villanueva and Lorena Barberia. He will be joining us in the WGBH studio and helping to frame Cuba in terms of the domestic and international politics of Latin American countries.

Ted Henken

Ted Henken is a professor in the Departments of Sociology and Black and Hispanic Studies at the City University of New York. He’ll be speaking with us about the ramifications of informal economics on Cuban society.

He told us that things that weaken socialism aren’t necessarily good for capitalism–such as stealing to sell on the black-market. Ted quoted Dylan, “To live outside the law, you’ve got to be honest.” Ted will be joining us from a studio in New York City.

From Vanessa’s pre-interview notes

“There’s a vagrancy law, so most people have some sort of on-the-books job, but only as a cover. The government looks the other way because it’s fully aware that the country would disintegrate without the grey market. The ideology sets up a structure that is kept up for sake of saving face.”

Maria Finn-Dominguez

Maria Finn-Dominguez wrote a memoir about falling in love with her Cuban taxi driver and their subsequent wedding in Havana. It will be published by Algonquin in 2007. She’ll be sharing her insights about the underground bridal industry and the traditional coming out parties for 15-year-old girls–Quince Anos. Maria will join us via phone in Brooklyn.

From Vanessa’s pre-interview notes

“I found myself in the middle of a wedding industry that I didn’t even know existed. We rented a convertible with a horn that played the wedding march tune, for God’s sake. I saw a nascent middle class that has these ‘luxury’ desires. If you go to Cuba as a tourist, you stay at a big hotel or a casa particular, so you have very little contact with the actual way of life.”

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