Cuba and the Big Yellow “M”

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Something that's missing  in Cuba is a draw for some visitors.
Something that’s missing in Cuba is a draw for some visitors.

HAVANA TIMES — In her native English, she told me that, in Cuba, she had not yet seen a single big, yellow “M”. “No, we haven’t got any of those,” I replied without thinking as I gave her back her camera, after taking a picture of her standing in front of Havana’s Capitolio building.

Though I speak English fairly well, I did not understand what she had meant with “big yellow M”. I had already replied on reflex, however.

My pride and my uncertainty were at a stand-off. I had to find out about that “yellow M” somehow, without appearing to be ignorant.

We continued to walk slowly down the street as we talked about the history, style and charm of a number of buildings on Prado Street. We spoke of Havana’s leading ballet venue, the Gran Teatro, and about the Inglaterra and Telegrafo hotels.

I was constantly on the lookout for any opportunity to dispel my doubt, but it hadn’t yet arrived.

She told me where she was from: Canada. “This is the second time I come to Cuba and everything seems very interesting to me, especially the people and old American cars.”

Havana, she said, seemed like a Hollywood set to her.

“Cuba is frozen in time, in the 1950s,” she would say to me, and I could only agree with her.

But none of the interests she shared with me answered the question I still had, until I asked the reason she had come back to Cuba, to which she replied:

“In addition to what I’ve told you, because of something that caught my eye the first time I came, that you don’t have any McDonald’s ads around the city.”

“Have I come just before things start to change?” she asked me.

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.


11 thoughts on “Cuba and the Big Yellow “M”

  • June 19, 2013 at 7:29 am
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    It is not what you or I want that matters. It is what Cubans want. They just want to choose. The tourists, by the way, will still come.

  • June 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm
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    I think you are missing the point that most of the tourists who go to Cuba do so either to see a country that is different politically and hasn’t been Americanized. If the Cuba you want to see with a Starbucks next to the Walmart on every corner happens, I reckon three quarters of the revenue from tourism will be lost. Add to that an increase in violence and corruption and you can kiss the other quarter goodbye. Who will want to go to Cuba from Europe or Canada when they can go on holiday to cheaper places with the same McDonalds and Starbucks.

  • June 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm
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    Ya’ think? You have clearly never seen or smelled the exhaust from the old American cars still in use in Cuba. You also have never seen the black smoke belted from the smokestacks of Cuba’s 60 year-old oil refineries.

  • June 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm
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    Just think how happy all the Cuban Nationals will become.. when they can forfeit time spent with family.. for a slave wage job at McDonalds… just wonderful!

  • June 16, 2013 at 7:47 am
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    at least one country is contributing to the environment

  • June 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm
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    You make my point. For those tourists who want ‘quaint and rustic’, Vermont is the preferred destination. But for other tourists (screaming kids, minivan), who want to know in advance what they are getting for their money, Mickey D’s in New Hampshire is the choice. In Cuba, there is only ‘rustic’ (not even quaint). Cubans have no choice. People with fewer opportunities, regardless of the economic system, will choose to migrate to places where they believe they will have MORE opportunities. It is not for lack of opportunity or the failed economic system such as exists in Cuba. Instead, if you have a skill (read carpenter) that earns $10,000 per year in Mexico but $30K a year in the US, you will want to go where there is more money. It is not rocket science. BTW, the net migration between the US and Mexico for 2012 was statistically zero.

  • June 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm
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    If the opportunities are so much greater under capitalism, Moses, then why has there been such an outmigration from nearby nations like Mexico, Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. etc.? In most cases, their environment has been despoiled, yet most of the citizens of these nations have nothing to show for it.
    Incidentally, I should have book marked this, since I can’t find it now, but a wag on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree, Cuba Branch, posted a photo-shopped image of Habana Vieja’s Plaza Catedral bedecked with Kentucky Fried, Burger King and Micky D signs! A true nightmare! In The People’s Republic of Vermont, where I live, there are laws limiting highway billboards, discouraging the over-development of “strips” on the edge of town and encouraging the vitality of the old biz. districts and buildings in the centers of towns. As a result, Vermont is a preferred tourist destination, whereas New Hampshire, just across the river, with no such planning controls, has the rep of being a tacky destination.

  • June 14, 2013 at 8:23 am
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    Brrr, many foreigners who visit Cuba say the same thing. The lack of ‘development’ in Cuba is ‘refreshing’ to them. You are being hypocritical. I am sure that wherever you live there is an undeveloped region near you that is relatively free of “advertising pollution”. Go live there if you want to be ‘refreshed’! But you know why you don’t? Because there are no good paying jobs there and to live there would require greater sacrifices. Then why the heck would you wish the same fate for Cubans? The Cubans I know want at least the choices that you have. Sure there are those Cubans who wish to continue the status quo but there a many others who at least want the option of eating at a McDonalds. Cubans want the same things you and I want.

  • June 14, 2013 at 1:29 am
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    The lack of advertising pollution, and big American franchises is one of the things I really like about Cuba. It’s so refreshing to see.

  • June 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm
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    First, Havana is just over 2 million people. The low ambient lights of the city is not due to the lack of McDonalds or Starbuck’s or Krispy Kremes. It is because homes and office buildings in Havana are generally poorly lit up at night. Owed to yet another hair-brained Fidel proposal, Cubans traded in their incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones and have been bumping around on poorly lit streets and inside poorly lit public spaces ever since.

  • June 13, 2013 at 9:29 am
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    One night I climbed up to the roof terrace, azotea, of a friend of mine at San Lazaro in Centro Habana. The traffic bellowed somewhere below us as we talked a good bit the way we always do, and since it was a clear, cloudness night, you could see the stars and galaxies above very clearly. Then it struck me: this is a metropol of 3 million inhabitants where you can still see stars at night. Quite unique in our world.

    For this we can thank the absence of the yellow M and all the rest of the advertisement based companies and businesses like McD. I hope Cuba can survive without all those for a good bit still. Or the rest of us can get rid of, at least, some of them too.

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