Competition in the Realm of Incompetence / Miriam Celaya

Castillo de Jagua State Restaurant, though centrally located on 23rd and G Streets in the capital, remains empty.

I heard on good authority that the government is “studying” how to allow state-owned restaurants and other eating establishments to become mini-cooperatives in the hands of their own workers, to make them productive and rotate the food, which — due to poor quality of the ingredients, the deplorable condition of the premises or a combination of these and other factors — accumulates in the warehouses of these entities. Operations for the inspection process in the gastronomic industry have been unleashed in the capital, specifically in premises belonging to the Provincial Enterprise of Luxury Restaurants — a mouthful to describe the unfortunate culinary slums that were formerly Havana’s pride(!) — and they have revealed that the value of stored ingredients, products not being rotated for lack of customers, is several million dollars, not counting the numerous violations and detected corruption cases that are inherent to the system. This is how the system of renting those venues to restaurant co-ops by the year 2013 is being analyzed by (competent?) authorities.

It is a well-known secret that, while state restaurants and cafes remain completely lacking in customers, many of the so-called “paladares“, [eating places] in private hands are the choice of Cubans and foreigners. Some of the paladares usually have long lines from the time they open until closing which demonstrates the better quality, working conditions, service, etc., of private versus state performance.

The implementation of co-operatives is still good news. In any case, for a long time, the offering of services in general should have enjoyed autonomy. In fact, this turning of pages to what is officially and euphemistically being termed “other forms of employment” is the tacit acknowledgment of the failure of nationalization and the need to privatize as the only way to turn profitable these and other places of the domestic economy. The bad news is that, most likely, the process will be fraught with obstacles and excessive controls that will slow down the results, and that state restaurant employees should be patient; such an old government moves with difficulty and is slow to learn.

So the addition of these state establishments in the autonomous culinary chain adds a new component to the already established competition among the private ones, and a potential increment in the demand for foodstuffs that the government will not be able to satisfy. It is expected that the new measure (reform?) is accompanied by greater economic freedom for food producers, i.e. the private-sector farmer, given the proverbial incompetence of the state agricultural production. In the end, the government will be forced to give up obstacles to producers and to establish a more flexible marketing system for foodstuffs. Competition, a natural result of the market, will expose the incompetence of the socialist system that currently the Reformist General insists on “renewing”, which is to say that apparently the only way to “upgrade” socialism is to return to the production and market ways of capitalism… or what the voice of the people is saying: “all that swimming and swimming to end up dying on shore!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

July 2 2012