McDonald’s Cuba

Dmitri Prieto

HAVANA TIMES, March 23 — In his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, the famous Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker comes up with the somewhat curious conjecture that countries having McDonald’s fast-food restaurants have very little likelihood of going to war against each other.

Likewise, The Economist magazine (UK) uses a “Big Mac index” in its country-to-country price comparisons.

All this may be obvious in an era of globalization, but what’s worrisome is that Cuba is one of the few countries where there are no restaurants marked by those big golden arches.

However, in 1990 a state-run restaurant chain opened in Havana selling good hamburgers (though smaller and with less ingredients than the Big Mac) at the horrendously high price of 2 pesos (in national currency, there was no other legal tender at the time.)

My friends and I cut our high school classes one day and after about a half hour in line we were able to try the new burger, along with a pitcher of soda. Today the low prices seem mythical, but not the lines.

People began to call the new hamburger and the restaurant “McCastro’s,” but these didn’t last long since the so-called “Special Period” crisis hit shortly after.

That experiment coincided in time with Soviet perestroika and the opening of the first McDonald’s in Moscow. There they had lines that were measured in kilometers, since every Muscovite wanted to taste for themself what capitalism had come up with.

Later they had more opportunities to get a taste of that system –, including empty stomachs.

My own experience with McDonald’s was actually in Europe.

When I arrived in Paris, what surprised me was the uniform black clothing of its inhabitants; the city of lights seemed more like a city occupied by Nazi storm troopers.

I didn’t have a good idea of how much it cost to eat out, but I ventured to take part in the uniformity that The Economist claimed would save one a few euros: For lunch I had a Big Mac along with those French fries that people say exude poison.

While eating, the professor-friend of mine who invited me to France gave my hair a sharp yank: she was an anti-globalization activist and we knew that Big Macs and anti-capitalism didn’t mix.

Me? I apologized profusely and went along with her.

But that was a long time ago. These days I can’t travel beyond the perimeter of Havana’s Malecon seawall.

I’ve just finished reading the book by Pinker, and I continue to mentally mull over his conjecture concerning war and immunity provided by the golden arches.

I have no desire for war or for the cannibalistic and predatory variants of globalization for our Cuba.

Nevertheless, some people think more pragmatically.
On centrally located G Street in Havana, there’s a café run as a “self-employed workers” establishment (though we all know this is a euphemism for a nano-maquila). It’s called “Los Pepes” and proudly displays his own sign and logo.

It looks very professional indeed, though it’s not exactly a franchise.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on “McDonald’s Cuba

  • May 20, 2012 at 10:04 am

    there has never been a war between countries that have Quick restaurant chains. not since 1815 anyway but there were no Quick retaurants in belgium and france in 1815. Quick bought burger king, france for a Quick expansion. i can´t wait for a war betwwen japan and china. maybe a food fight with crappy meals? moses seems to think that 1 new mcdonald´s every day in china is a wonderful thing. china has it´s own chain . i was in china when the chinese chain opened it´s first restaurant. someone asked me what a good name for a burger chain would be. i said “there was 1 in australia called the hungry cowboy. there´s a new 1 in the philippines called texas chicken. how about the texas cowboy?” i wonder who he was? when the chinese burger restaurant opened it was named the texas cowboy. a coincidence? jollibee has beaten the crappy meals out of mcdo in the philippines and is in america, hongkong and the gulf states/emirates and texas chicken has beaten the kentucky chicken. what does mcdonald´s sell it´s franchisees? a brand, a menu and advice to get the money from a local bank to buy mcdonald´s real estate. but mcdonald´s does do demographics well and few mcdonald´s restaurants have failed and if they do fail the franchisee is given another one. so you can say that mcdonald´s, more than others, understands that old axiom. there are 3 secrets to success in business. position, position and position. tri-continental – YUM foods wouldn´t let their thai franchisee sell chicken. he told YUM foods to take a hike and opened a pizza hut copy which has been doing as well as pizza hut. the rapido-lento and hamburguesa chains in cuba need a mcdonald´s hamburger school. they have the business plan of wimpy´s and jolyons in england which failed so they copied mcdonald´s. waiter service for basura. slow/lento basura. mcdonald´s is basura but it is fast basura and you won´t get food poisoning at mcdonald´s. maybe in the long term. but another idea is to invite in a foreign fast food chain to pay for the highway franchise for money to improve the roads. burger king got the interstates in america and jaques borel in france sells better food on the autoroutes. mcdonald´s makes 70% of income from the sale of real estate.

  • March 23, 2012 at 7:56 am

    By the way, today McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in Russia. The owner of the greatest number of franchises in Russia is also among the richest and most politically influential men in Russia. Also, there are plans to open at least one new McDonald’s restaurant in China every day for the next three years. So odd as it may seem, Pinker’s conjecture may have merit. Maybe the wrong people are negotiating the peace with Cuba. Send a McDonald’s executive and while you are at it, send someone from WalMart as well. Between the two surely relations will improve.

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