Posted on Friday, 08.08.14
Cuban women say their businesses are doing well
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
One of the Cuban women makes fancy soaps. Another is a party planner and
a third owns a combination beauty parlor-gym. One owns a restaurant;
another dreams of expanding her pizza parlor “to the rest of Cuba and more.”
Each used her own capital to launch her business. All are making good
profits and hope to expand to new or better locales and new product
lines, the women told a conference Friday at Miami Dade College (MDC).
On a group visit to South Florida, the women — aged 20s to 40s — are
some of the players on the successful side of Cuba’s efforts to allow
more private micro-enterprises.
Obtaining business licenses was not difficult, they said. None
complained about high taxes, fees or bribe-seeking government inspectors
– areas that have drawn complaints from other self-employed Cubans.
They are allowed to advertise with signs and posters, on Cuba’s version
of the Yellow Pages and even on Conocehabana, an application for smart
phones. They also can give discounts and other perks to frequent
clients, the women said.
MDC professor Juan Antonio Blanco cautioned that despite the women’s
positive experiences and optimism, Cuba currently does not have “the
juridical and institutional structures” that most other countries have
to guarantee private enterprise.
Without those guarantees, many questions hang over the future of micro
enterprises on the island nation, restricted to 201 specific categories,
said Blanco, director of MDC’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean
Blanco’s caution echoed the comments made by opposition activist Eliecer
Avila during a presentation Thursday night for the Cuba Research
Institute at Florida International University.
Cuban ruler Raul Castro’s reforms are benefitting only “small sectors”
of the country, such as restaurants in tourist areas or heavily
populated neighborhoods like downtown Havana. But they are “not
practical for the majority of Cubans,” Avila said.
The five women are on a 10-day swing through the United States to talk
about their experiences and meet with U.S. micro-businesses in their
same fields. The trip was arranged by the Cuba Study Group, which favors
closer U.S. relations with Havana.
Some of the women received training in private entrepreneurship through
Cuba Emprende, a program run by the Catholic Church. Others said they
found their own way to the micro businesses that Cubans call auto-empleo
– self employment.
The entrepreneur-speakers included Yamina Vicente Prado, a former
professor of economics at the University of Havana, who said she started
a party planning and decorating business, Decorazon, with her
photographer sister because it required little capital.
Another, Decire Verdecia, started Decy Salon. Stylish black-and-white
business cards list multiple services, including women’s and men’s hair,
manicures, pedicures, facial and body massages and facial cleansings.
The salon also acts as gym.
Sandra Aldana, trained as a special education teacher, makes and sells
the line of D’Brujas fancy soaps. Niuris Higueras runs Atelier, one of
the best known restaurants in the Vedado section of Havana.
Marianella Perez said she hopes to soon open a second Pizzanella in
Havana, then expand to the rest of Cuba and beyond. Higueras said she
has eight projects in mind. The most important, she says, is a school
for women interested in business.
For most of these micro businesses, the clients are Cubans. For the
Atelier restaurant, 85 percent of its diners are foreign, Higueras said,
and her profit margin over a one-year period amount to 20-25 percent.
The women said that many Cuban workers prefer to work for the private
businesses because they offer better salaries and working conditions
than the state bureaucracy.
Their main issues, the five women agreed, were finding appropriate
equipment and locales for their business and steady sources and prices
for supplies. Training to improve their businesses is also a struggle,
Renting state-owned storefronts is a long and complicated process, they
said; most require major repairs. Privately owned spaces are easier to
rent but more expensive, and neither options fully answers questions
about contract guarantees.
Despite their personal successes, countrywide enthusiasm for
micro-businesses has waned since the Castro government began allowing
private enterprise in 2008, they said.
Growth in the number of licenses issued for self-employment has clearly
slowed. The most recent official figures show that only 455,577 of
Cuba’s 11 million residehts hold business licenses. Of those, nearly
58,000 were for the making and sale of food and 48,000 for the
transportation of passengers and cargo, two businesses that together
accounted for 92,000 hired workers. Another 30,000 licenses were issued
for the rental of homes or rooms.
“The tide is beginning to drop, said one of the women.
Source: Cuban women say their businesses are doing well – Nation –