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.