Coffee and Cooperatives

Daisy Valera

Coffee seller. Photo: Elio Delgado

Though there aren’t too many things that we put in our mouths here on this island, and it’s a daily battle to find and buy food here, Cubans are always trying to get hold of the country’s most popular drink: coffee.

With the new work licenses granted by the Cuban government, especially for the sale of food, there have appeared countless coffee stands and mobile coffee vendors.

The vendors walk through the most travelled streets of the city starting early in the morning (hours when no small percentage of Cubans desperately crave a sip of their favorite java).

A tiny cup of coffee is breakfast for many people, as well as a snack at other points in the day.

In a country where a little packet of coffee costs 15 Cuban pesos on the black market and the same amount of milk goes for four times as much (in the best of cases), it’s not strange that people often choose to have only coffee for breakfast.

Another important role is the one played by the ration book, the means through which each adult in the family can buy one of those packets of coffee for only 5 pesos.

Roughly a year ago, each child in the family was also allotted coffee, but this was eliminated as the first step in the overall elimination of the much needed ration book.

New sellers of coffee have appeared on the scene to solve the problem that had required the government to create cafes for the sale of this product that is both appreciated and necessary.

However the “literary cafes” flopped. They no longer promote reading and many have been converted into bars because they would run out of coffee too fast.

Likewise, the stands the state created for the sale of espresso generally don’t work because most of the machines have broken down and there aren’t any spare parts (those that still work are swamped with people all day).

Self-employment offers itself as a solution to the public’s great demand, but by being sold by mobile vendors or at stands where other food is sold it has turned out that the quality of the product is often not very good and the appropriate places don’t exist for its enjoyment.

A solution to this may lie in the creation of cooperatives aimed at providing suitable places for the consumption of coffee prepared in different ways.

They would not go belly up like all the other the state-run businesses, and by not being a business of a single individual with hired workers they could sell a better-quality product.

Cooperatives, whereby workers would put in an equal amount of resources and feel like non-exploited partners, is possibly the best way to improve the situation of services in Cuba, especially the extended sale of coffee.

Wouldn’t we be more in tone with our socialist aims by seeking and succeeding at preserving the culture of coffee consumption in a more pleasant manner?

2 thoughts on “Coffee and Cooperatives

  • Thanks a lot Grady, i’ll see those videos as soon as posible

  • Superb thinking, Daisy! For a really good example of just what you are suggesting, please to the following:, and enter “Democracy in the Workplace” (don’t forget the quotation marks). It’s a 27-minute video film about worker-owned cooperatives in Berkeley & San Francisco, California.

    You also might do the same for the 50-minute BBC film “The Mondragon Experiment.” Salud!

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