Opinions of an entrepreneur in view of the new economic scenario.
Pedro Campos, Havana, 17 March 2015 — Alex Castro, son of Fidel Castro, declared recently that McDonald’s and Coca Cola are welcome in Cuba. Of course, he must have been speaking in a personal or family capacity, being that he does not hold any representative office.
In this regard it is worth noting that, from the viewpoint of participative and democratic socialism, state-run monopolies harm the economy as much as foreign-owned ones. Both block the development of productive forces and, especially, the decline in costs and prices of raw materials and finished products.
In state-run, centralized economies such as the Cuban one, or in more liberal capitalism, such as that of the United States, monopolies that control economic and market niches are also great sources of corruption, and of the destruction of consumer goods in order to maintain high prices.
Examples of the consequences of monopolistic control abound in the economic literature dating back from more than century ago, and in particular in the international press, and in Cuba’s own official media.
Having consulted the owners of a restaurant that serves fast food (and of high quality), they told me they agree that relations between the US and Cuba should be normalized, but that, for obvious reasons, they are not so enthusiastic about the eventual arrival of McDonald’s in Cuba.
One of these young entrepreneurs told me, “Obama promised help for small businesses, and for the empowerment of the people – not an invasion of large transnational corporations which, instead of helping the self-employed and cooperatives, would try to monopolize our markets, and consequently sink us.
“We are against the big monopolies on principle. We believe that the essence of imperialism is in the big monopolies. We are anti-imperialists not because of politics, but for our need to survive,” he said.
“This is not from a fear of competition,” he added. “We can compete in terms of quality and price even with McDonald’s itself, whose hamburgers are actually not mainly made of meat. Our hamburger is indeed nutritious, mostly pork, and is not junk food, as McDonald’s offerings have been internationally declared to be.”
He also remarked that his business does not pay salaries to its workers, but rather a fixed share of the profits, for which the employees perform with a sense of ownership, even though they are not owners. They all work enthusiastically, taking care of the small restaurant’s means and resources, and they strive to provide the best quality and service.
This restaurateur surmises that Alex Castro may have had the opportunity to try McDonald’s. “He must have liked it very much, to have given it a welcome in the name of Cuba, without having taken into account the Cuban population, the majority of which has not had that opportunity,” he said.
It is also possible that Alex Castro has not tried the hamburgers made in the private Cuban restaurants which lend prestige to our national cuisine – unlike those inefficient little state-run establishments – with far fewer resources than that transnational corporation, but with much higher quality.
I should add that if those Cubans who are self-employed or in cooperatives could count on half the access McDonald’s has to the market for acquiring raw materials, and if the National Tax Administration Office and the inspectors of the various government agencies wouldn’t interfere with them so much in search of reasons to close them down, any foreign business would be hard-pressed to compete with our native enterprises in terms of quality and prices.
In fact, among the causes of the State’s non-declared war against the self-employed is the bafflement of the government-run businesses by the private enterprises, which greatly exceed them in quality and service.
“The reasons are simple,” says the Cuban restaurant owner. “We are broadly fluent in commercial techniques, in the new digital and communication technologies (even without Internet access), many of us have attended schools and courses for hospitality management and tourism, we are fluent in other languages, and we know how to compete, as has been demonstrated by the majority of the Cuban workers, technicians and professionals who have left and established themselves outside the country.”
“We Cubans, who have been so exploited by the State, have learned to try to get ahead through our own efforts, starting with producing the best quality, the best presentation, and the best services at the lowest cost. When we were salaried government employees, with miserable wages, we did not put in the same effort that we now do in our own businesses, and we know that the worker cannot be mistreated and poorly paid, because that just encourages workplace theft.”
“For that reason,” he continued, “even though our restaurant is not a cooperative, we apply similar principles. There are workers who with their tips earn more than even we owners do, and this does not bother us, in fact we are glad for it.”
In closing, he expressed, “Cuba is for Cubans. We do not like, we do not accept, foreign businesses coming here to do what we know and can do, but have not been able to develop because of all the bureaucratic roadblocks. We find ways to raise capital, we borrow, friends and family within and outside the country help us, and we have sold many of our possessions, confident that we are going to do good business.”
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison