Cuba’s Telecommunications Company: The Vanguard of Socialist Reform

Daisy Valera

The ETECSA building at Aguila and Dragones Streets.

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), born in the worst years of the Special Period crisis, looks back on twenty years of operations this 2014. More than three years ago, it ceased being a joint-venture company. ETECSA seems to be swimming against the current [at a time when Cuba seeks foreign investment in most fields].

While trying to stabilize its infrastructure and have text messages (charged at 9 CUC cents) actually reach their destination, and regulate Cubans’ Internet access, the company expands, creates jobs and increases profits.

So-called “Telecommunications Agents” sell pre-paid cards for cell phones, Propia landline phone cards and phone credit coupons. They also collect phone bills in different neighborhoods. These workers are ETECSA’s latest acquisition – and they enjoy the perks of being able to work at home and to decide their working hours and regulations.

What does being an operator, reached at 112 (Cuba’s commercial services operator number), entail?

For the employees of the 112 service (most of them women), a regular working day unfolds in a room monitored by cameras aimed at their work cubicles. These cameras are used to strictly enforce such norms as:

• Sitting up straight in one’s chair.
• Not talking to other operators (even if no one is on the phone with a caller at that moment).
• Not taking one’s cellular phone into the room (even if turned off).
• Refraining from bringing food or drink from home and eating company meals (generally not too healthy, like soft drinks).
• Going to the bathroom only three times a day.
• Asking the supervisor for permission to go on one’s lunch break (a permission which may not come on time).
• Being on the phone with a caller for no more than 40 seconds (after this time, the call is diverted and the operator flagged as “inefficient.”)

Operators of the 112 service are also incentivized. They are paid salaries on the basis of their efficiency, in the tradition of New Keynesianism.

All calls received by the operators are recorded and the wage incentive is calculated on the basis of the number of callers received and the time spent with each.

Finally, there is a confidentiality agreement which forbids employees from making information of this nature public.
Union leaders, on the other hand, have no doubts as to who they ought to protect: those who pay.

Very little remains of the ETECSA once impelled by foreign capital, with positions coveted because of their monthly incentive packages (baskets with personal hygiene items), the food, the company handbags and socks – products which made Cubans look on their foreign employers as saviors during the 90s crisis.

The State socialist ETECSA, while offering salaries that are high in comparison to Cuba’s average, imposes openly capitalistic schemes on its employees.

ETECSA is one of the first to adopt the model which the current reform process aspires to establish, and it does so without competition, from the premises of what once was the Cuban Telephone Company.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

9 thoughts on “Cuba’s Telecommunications Company: The Vanguard of Socialist Reform

  • June 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    There used to be a near monopoly on telecom, back in the days of wired landlines. But with the advent of cell phones, the environment has opened up considerably. There are now many more telecom companies operating than before.

    It should be noted that pro-free enterprise governments have made it esker for more teleco’s to enter the market, while socialist governments have restricted the markets and awarded monopolies.

    So go ahead and bash monopolistic telecom companies. Just be sure you understand that ETECSA is the ultimate example of that which you (pretend to) deplore.

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