14ymedio, Madrid, 2 June 2023 — The Cuban communist press aligns itself with the hated capitalist media by including, this Friday, its first commercial advertising paid for by a private company. Cubadebate has an ad for the micro-business Cubamodela, which defines itself as a “Cuban Amazon” and sells products at prices inaccessible to the vast majority of the population.
The sponsored text, as indicated at the end of the publication, appears with the epigraph publirreportaje, which only includes five previous topics, three from Havana Club and one from Caudal S.A., both state. On this occasion, it is a 100% private company that is announced, becoming a precedent for those who are about to deal with the new Social Communication Law approved a week ago, which will enter into force in six months.
The new legislation puts on paper a practice previously banned in the Cuban media by indicating in Article 38.1 that it can “complement the financial and material assurance of their activities with the commercialization inside and outside the country of their productions and services, the sale of advertising spaces, sponsorship, national and international cooperation projects and other means, all legally recognized, provided that the fulfillment of their public function is not compromised.”
However, this first advertiser is not a stranger to Cubadebate. Cubamodela, founded in 2015, in the wave of the thaw between Havana and Washington, was born as a platform dedicated to the exchange of interests of models, photographers and other people in the environment, but soon began to evolve into a website in which makeup, clothes or rentals are offered. After several years navigating this panorama, at the end of 2021, its founder and director, Alejandro Peñalver, associated with other self-employed people who wanted to use his platform to publicize their products and services.
“Currently, our business is linked to about 18 local enterprises, from leather goods, jewelry, toys, furniture and artisanal wines to photography services and clothing rental for weddings,” Peñalver, a graduate in Economics from the University of Havana, told Cubadebate in April 2022.
The media gave wide coverage to this online commerce platform, which at that time did not yet deliver the purchases at home, but was already preparing the new page, released in 2023. In it can be found everything from clothes and jewelry to spare parts, pet products and food, organized by departments in a way that, as its founder announced, refers to the American giant Amazon, although in a much more modest way.
“We want to sell and be attractive, and thus contribute to meeting the needs of the population. We accept both domestic and foreign payments. Those who have relatives outside Cuba can execute the purchases by paying from there, and the savings will be even greater,” says Peñalver in the promotional article.
One of the keys to the business is the “links with national producers,” which allows costs to be reduced. Its director insists that Cubamodela is specifically a showcase for self-employed and Cuban entrepreneurs to offer their products, achieving visibility in return, thanks to the popularity that the web already supposedly has and that improves its positioning.
“No more standing in lines under the sun,” says the campaign slogan. The businessman recognizes that the most sold products are spaghetti, tomato paste and detergent and, although he claims that their price is cheaper than that of “most private points of sale,” the products are very expensive compared to Europe, the United States and Mexico. A package of pasta costs $1.50, and a package of 32 rolls of toilet paper reaches $16, despite being on sale.
The commerce, explains Cuban economist Elías Amor, “attracts a very specific segment of customers with high purchasing power, who don’t need to pay attention to the relationship of their pay with prices. It’s a market segment in which the heat, the buses or the strenuous lines are not known, nor do they have to experiment with their negative effects, aspects that Cubamodela’s advertising and marketing highlights to ensure and give content to its competitive offer.”
The expert dedicates an entry on his blog to online commerce from the promotion that appeared in Cubadebate and considers that ideas such as that of Cubamodela are very good news. Amor analyzes the project and praises Cubamodela for having “thought of really interesting ideas,” including the deployment of relationships with suppliers, which guarantees the quality of the product and the stability of supplies.
“This, of course, would never have been done by communist state commerce. It has had empty stores with nothing to offer for 64 years.”
However, the economist is also aware of the limitations of the experiment, precisely because it addresses a percentage of the population that once again leaves out those who have the most needs. “In any case, it is easy to assume that online commerce moves in a very specific segment of customers with high purchasing power, and that they do not pay attention to the relationship of their remuneration with prices. A market segment that coexists with the majority of the population that, because they have an insignificant purchasing power from their salaries and pensions, have to waste their life suffering from the aforementioned heat, the poor bus transportation and standing in lines. These injustices exist currently in Cuba, and nothing and no one seems to avoid them, quite the opposite. Faced with the parsimony of the state sector, the private sector takes advantage of the situation,” he concludes.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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