Unfair Competition Among Cuba’s Self-Employed

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — Thousands of Cubans are trying their luck in different private businesses in response to the country’s new self-employment laws. For some, the adventure of opening up a cafeteria or offering any type of service is just that: an adventure.

Since I was a kid, I’ve heard it said that one needs a special kind of charm to succeed in business, and I agree. Thousands of other Cubans have had to turn in their licenses after their small businesses went bust (practically before they could even get off the ground).

My mother’s husband (whom I’ll refer to as “Paneque” from now on) didn’t want to miss the boat and has opened up a modest little cafe in his home, where he sells a number of light snacks.

His products include bread and crackers with mayonnaise, soft drinks, juices, coffee and popsicles (made of frozen juices or soft drinks, without milk). Popsicles are very popular in Cuba, particularly among children. They usually cost no more than a peso.

There is a small amusement park across the street from where my mother and Paneque live. After the idea of opening up the cafeteria had gotten in Paneque’s head, one of his main arguments for it was that the children taken to this park everyday would spell steady business for them.

Though D’ Los Angeles (that’s what the small establishment is called) has only been in operation for a few weeks, it has already run into a number of obstacles. Getting one’s hands on the supplies needed to prepare the food is one of the hurdles that a worker intent on becoming a successful small business person must overcome.

A number of subjective factors also have a say in this. The lack of business experience and in dealing with the strategies of the competition (which aren’t always of a strictly commercial nature) are two cases in point.

Paneque lives in very humble neighborhood. In addition to being humble – and I do not buy into the stereotype of the uneducated, uncouth and impolite worker – the people there have questionable morals and are often driven by low instincts and ill will.

Twenty years and a long list of experiences attest to this, though I should be careful not to generalize, as every rule has its exception.

Now, they’re saying that the popsicles Paneque sells are made with watered-down drinks. We know this is a deliberate attack by the competition because the words people use to criticize the popsicles are the same in all cases, which suggests they have a common source.

One of Paneque’s neighbors also sells popsicles. He, however, does not have a license to do so. Instead of competing fairly, he employs the tactics of many others in Cuba, who deal all sorts of low blows in order to discredit their opponents.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.