State Run or Private

Lisduania Victorero Reinoso

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — A short time ago I went to the Coppelia, the famous outdoor ice-cream parlor on 23rd Street here in Havana. After standing in line for about an hour, this is what I found:

One: the flavors posted on the display didn’t match those that were actually available.

Two: the service was poor, just like any place where we pay in national currency – and since we we’re not tourists.

Three: I was left with the question as to whether Coppelia is state run or private.

The facility is divided into halls, each with X number of tables and divided for service by X number of employees, though there’s a single area of ice cream bins with several employees filling the orders. So far, so good – nothing out of the usual.

But then our waiter said, “We just ran out of chocolate ripple.” Though a little disappointed, I simply changed my order. But when I looked across at another table, I saw them serving the very same flavor that had supposedly run out.

At first I questioned the waiter because of his apparent lie, but he explained to me that if I wanted that flavor I’d have to buy it from waiter serving that other table.

I asked why there was a division of flavors among the waiters if there was one dispatch area for all the tables in the different areas of the ice cream parlor.

Either the ice cream was the same for the general public in the three halls or a scam was going whereby the waiters with the most money were buying the tastiest ice cream so that they could resell it and make the most profit for themselves as individuals?

Then, the question that struck me was whether Coppelia is state-run for the public good or privately owned for profit?

And all this only to eat half scoops of ice cream, because they never give you a full serving.

But then if it were privately owned this wouldn’t happen and I’m sure that not so many people would have left upset like they did when I was there.

Another equally amazing thing what that the “syrup” (which actually looked like sugar syrup), something that was going to be digested, was packaged in plastic shampoo containers.

I’m no chemist and I don’t know a lot about that science, but I’ve always heard that plastics retain chemical residuals that can be harmful to people’s health. On top of that, they’re esthetically displeasing.

But what’s worst of all is that we keep coming back to Coppelia as if this were the most normal thing in the world, with us responding with no more than snide comments to the employees, when we should be taking things to higher levels.

16 thoughts on “State Run or Private

  • Are you, John Goodrich, speaking for the Cuban population? I would think a gringo would not have the audacity and lack of common sense of coming to a Cuban website to antagonize those who criticize their daily life while comfortably sitting in front of a computer in your mother’s basement probably eating a tub of Breyer’s ice cream while you’re at it. Please notice — if you can keep your attention focused for more than the time it takes your knee to jerk — that NOT ONE CUBAN here is mentioning a thing about your Leftie gringos’ meme of “the embargo” — now, think hard and try to come up with a plausible answer as to why that is. I promise, thinking won’t hurt…much. However, even if you can’t stop that knee of yours from doing the talking, please, re-read the article and you will see that what is described has NOTHING to do with the embargo and everything to do with poor management, service and quality. But knowing the likes of you, you’ll probably blame the CIA, the Mob and the Marines for that one. Here in Cuba, we call the syndrome that affects the likes of you “pajitas mentales” — I hope you can figure out what that means. 🙂

  • “By the way, I don’t want capitalism for Cuba. I want Cuba to be able to choose for themselves.”

    Hypocrite. From everything you say about the wonders of Walmart and even inviting me for a chat in a future Starbucks in Havana, you do. You do want Cuba to be the US backyard again. We can read beneath the lines, thank you very much.

    The Cuban Revolution is something unique, as it is intrinsically entwined with the History of Cuba’s independence and sovereignty. Like John said, ‘going back’ would be like the equivalent of the US returning its territory to the British Crown a few decades after its War of Independence. John never said he’s ‘afraid’ of anything. You are putting words in his mouth. What I think he’s afraid, like what usually happens when the US decides to ‘spread freedom and democracy’ around the world, is tragedy in the likes of coups here in Latin America – and this threat it’s not over, as we have seen on Honduras and Paraguay recently or the frustrated coups in Venezuela and Bolivia – or the devastation of the Iraq war.

  • John, likewise, do you really believe that Cubans want socialism? If so, why are you so sure? Unlike Venezuela, they have never truly been given the choice. However, if you believe that Cubans want socialism, then why do you fear democracy and a multi-party system in Cuba? By the way, I don’t want capitalism for Cuba. I want Cuba to be able to choose for themselves. So should you.

  • An interesting report on the condition of employment in Cuba today. It is tragic the the Revolution, which was supposed to protect the Cuban worker from exploitation by corporations is now complicit in the exploitation, selling the labour of the Cuban worker in a system which is functionally no better than slavery.

    The Plight of Cuban Workers: Rights Violations by the Cuban Government and Foreign Investors

    “For the past half century Cuban workers have been subjected to an oppressive system which violates the most elemental working class rights. The state controls labor employment and salaries. There is only one labor union and is controlled by the state. Strikes and collective bargaining are prohibited. All major enterprises in Cuba are owned by the government and the ruling military elite manage over 60% of the country’s key economic activities, particularly in the tourist and mining industries. This militarized social and economic environment oversees Cuba’s “workers’ paradise.”

    …These are but some instances of the systematic workers’ rights violations perpetrated by the Cuban regime’s economic apparatus. The Cuban government is in clear violation of international treaties such as the United Nations Convention concerning the Protection of Wages (No. 95), ratified in 1959. Article 6 states that “employers shall be prohibited from limiting in any manner the freedom of the worker to dispose of his wages.” Furthermore, Article 9 of this convention prohibits “any deduction from wages” made by “any intermediary (such as a labor contractor or recruiter).” Thus the payment mechanism enforced by the communist regime for Cubans laboring in joint ventures with foreign investors remains as a severe violation of Workers’ Legal Rights.”

  • John G. wrote:

    “…the hard life Cubans are forced to live for daring to defy the U.S. demand that they go back to capitalism…”

    To be sure, the Cuban people never asked to follow the route the Castro’s forced upon them.

  • Do ya think that the U.S.’s 50 year war against the people of Cuba, meant to be so dire that life would be unbearable that they would overthrow their revolution, do ya think that might have some bearing at all on the hard life Cubans are forced to live for daring to defy the U.S. demand that they go back to capitalism ?

    What do you think ?

    You never seem to mention that the embargo has cost Cuba close to a trillion dollars over that 50 years and most certainly affects the life of every Cuban very heavily just as it was intended to do .

    You are in the position of someone defacing a neighbors house and then complaining that his house is a eyesore.

    You’re intellectually dishonest.

  • Like a broken clock, even you are correct twice a day.

    The Cuban people SHOULD rise up against the cause of their hard life and shortages but since they have a relatively weak military and since Khruschev took away all the nuclear missiles, putting an end to the United States and its 50+ year war on the islands people ( which Cuba’s enemies never fail to fail to mention ) is not likely.

    The Cuban people grumble about things but bad as things are under the embargo, they prefer what they have now to what they’d get if people like you had their way and Cuba went back to capitalism .

  • Touche Luis. People like Grady Ross Daugherty live in the world of “theorectical understanding” yet all the while shop at the WalMart Superstore. They occasionally visit the natural food coops which survive outside city limits but unless they tap into trust fund accounts, they wear the Che T-shirts and shop where you and I shop. They benefit from the hard work and ingenuity embedded in capitalism yet promote the imaginings of a Never-neverland of socialism. Unfortunately, my Cuban in-laws don’t have the same luxuries. They have to buy their sugar and rice in the corner bodega and hope to arrive early at the agro down the street to get the fly-infested pork. They do not misunderstand anything. They just don’t have a choice.

  • Grady wrote,

    “What is needed in Cuba is a correct theoretical understanding of how the institution of private productive property rights is necessary for successful socialist economy.”

    If you please… the Cuban people have had it up the yin-yang with “theoretical understandings”. You think it’s all been a lack of theoretical understanding, these past 54 years of narcissistic dictatorship?

    The Cuban nation has had a very thorough practical education in all that is wrong with the “theoretical understanding” they’ve been forced to live through. Enough. Basta. No más!

  • You are absolutely correct! The point is that here in the US, we have choices. Cubans don’t.

  • I visited Coppelia as a tourist last year. I wanted to enter the local peso area, but the staff sent me away and directed me to the convertible peso section. If I have to pay more for the same product, it’s no great hardship. after all, I make more in two hours than the average Cuban makes in a month, and Copellia’s prices for tourists were still cheaper than La Paloma or Greg’s in Toronto.

    Reminding me of the old Henry Ford slogan, “you can get a car any colour you want, so long as it’s black”, …we got the only flavour in stock, vanilla, dressed up with some crushed nuts, caramel sauce and shaved chocolate. The staff were pleasant enough and the ice-cream was ok, but nothing special. Still, my young son loved it and I enjoyed our visit including all the people-watching in what has been a legendary local of Havana public life. It was fun to recall the opening scene in the great Cuban film, “Strawberry & Chocolate” , which begins at Coppelia. Watching the Cubans hanging out in the long lines it was clear that part of the experience is social: a place to hangout, to talk, to flirt. The stories of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez tell of some more seedy social activities that take place at La Coppelia after dark. That too is part of its lore.

    Why do people still go there? Perhaps it’s an escape from the dreary reality of day-to-day existence. Ice-cream is still a relatively affordable treat for Cubans. Although with rising prices this is becoming less so. Whatever does happen to Coppelia, such as privatizing it, let’s hope the original character of the landmark is never lost.

  • Absolutely, we have the same problems here in the states with private owned shops as well. The quality of service has less to do with private or public and more to do with worker professionalism or worker laziness.

    There are some ice cream companies here that are great and renown for their quality. There are others that you only go to if no others are available and even then you always think twice.

  • Thanks, Luis, for the word “fucktards.” I will enjoy it always!

    You’re right of course that some people everywhere will cheat you, if given half a chance. What we both look forward to are societies that are eroding both the need and the culture of economic opportunism among all the people. These would be authentic socialist societies. What is “authentic” of course is arguable.

    Engels and Marx had been won to the communism of Moses Hess by 1844. The duo then set about injecting this communism into the cooperative-oriented working class socialist movement, beginning with the Communist Manifesto, published in elaborate editions by the “monied-men”–as Weitling described them in his letter to Hess.

    This Hess-inspired communism called for the immediate abolition of private property rights, however it might be brought about. Engels and Marx simply stuck it into the core economic principle of any future socialist state, and there was the origin of the 1968 idea in Cuba of nationalizing the property of the small bourgeoisie.

    We should keep the focus on the correct program for any successful socialist republic. Coppelia could easily and socialistically be run by private small bourgeois or cooperative worker associates, but only if the Hess-inspired moralism of Engels and Marx can be understood for its disfunctionality, and its ultimate destruction of socialist state power.

    It is not the institution of private property that must be abolished during a successful socialist bridge. The institution is needed for the productive small bourgeoisie and the cooperative proletariat. What is important under authentic socialism is ownership by those who do the work. Cheers.

  • Thank you for your excellent reportage, Lisduania.

    The situation with Coppelia illustrates the well-meaning catastrophe begun in 1968 of nationalizing the property of the small entrepreneurial class.

    What is needed in Cuba is a correct theoretical understanding of how the institution of private productive property rights is necessary for successful socialist economy. Cheers.

  • There isn’t a ‘magical’ property that makes public services be this way and private services that way. Some people if given the opportunity will try to cheat you. Last week I was in Arraial do Cabo, Rio and the Hotel owner cheated on us, because we had reserved 5 beds and when we arrived she told us there was only 4 available and ‘luckily’ one of the rooms reserved was vague. The result? I had to pay the full-price on that room (the double that I’d pay for a previously-reserved room). And guess what? I woke up before my friends and waited with my Anti-Oedipus in the lobby. After some reading I took a snooze. When I woke up I discovered that the owner had reached my key room from my pocket – without my permission. Damn her.

    Next day we decided to take a boat ride. The people advertising the service on the streets told us that it would be a 4-hour trip for $25 each. When we got to the beach every boat owner offered a 3-hour trip for the same price. Fucktards.

    Summing up, the Negrinian concept of the ‘common’ can help us to surpass this old ‘public vs private’ dichotomy.

  • Since no one still goes to Coppelia for the ice cream and everyone knows that service in 95% of all state-run facilities sucks, none this should have come at any surprise. What continues to surprise me however is how long Cubans will continue to suffer poor quality, shortages, bad service, and rising prices and do nothing.

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