Unfair Competition Among Cuba’s Self-Employed
September 6, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — Thousands of Cubans are trying their luck in different
private businesses in response to the country’s new self-employment
laws. For some, the adventure of opening up a cafeteria or offering any
type of service is just that: an adventure.
Since I was a kid, I’ve heard it said that one needs a special kind of
charm to succeed in business, and I agree. Thousands of other Cubans
have had to turn in their licenses after their small businesses went
bust (practically before they could even get off the ground).
My mother’s husband (whom I’ll refer to as “Paneque” from now on) didn’t
want to miss the boat and has opened up a modest little cafe in his
home, where he sells a number of light snacks.
His products include bread and crackers with mayonnaise, soft drinks,
juices, coffee and popsicles (made of frozen juices or soft drinks,
without milk). Popsicles are very popular in Cuba, particularly among
children. They usually cost no more than a peso.
There is a small amusement park across the street from where my mother
and Paneque live. After the idea of opening up the cafeteria had gotten
in Paneque’s head, one of his main arguments for it was that the
children taken to this park everyday would spell steady business for them.
Though D’ Los Angeles (that’s what the small establishment is called)
has only been in operation for a few weeks, it has already run into a
number of obstacles. Getting one’s hands on the supplies needed to
prepare the food is one of the hurdles that a worker intent on becoming
a successful small business person must overcome.
A number of subjective factors also have a say in this. The lack of
business experience and in dealing with the strategies of the
competition (which aren’t always of a strictly commercial nature) are
two cases in point.
Paneque lives in very humble neighborhood. In addition to being humble –
and I do not buy into the stereotype of the uneducated, uncouth and
impolite worker – the people there have questionable morals and are
often driven by low instincts and ill will.
Twenty years and a long list of experiences attest to this, though I
should be careful not to generalize, as every rule has its exception.
Now, they’re saying that the popsicles Paneque sells are made with
watered-down drinks. We know this is a deliberate attack by the
competition because the words people use to criticize the popsicles are
the same in all cases, which suggests they have a common source.
One of Paneque’s neighbors also sells popsicles. He, however, does not
have a license to do so. Instead of competing fairly, he employs the
tactics of many others in Cuba, who deal all sorts of low blows in order
to discredit their opponents.
Source: “Unfair Competition Among Cuba’s Self-Employed” –