The Crime of Prosperity in Cuba

Veronica Vega

The La Fontanella pastry shop.  Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Whenever I see a self-employed person suffer the misfortune of Cuba’s legal system, I ask myself what would have become of people like Rockefeller or Carnegie had they been born on this island after 1959.

Without losing from sight of the lack of scruples with which they pursued their dreams of wealth and turned individuals into chess pieces that could be swept off the board with a stroke of the hand, we must acknowledge that they helped develop the world with companies that started practically from scratch.

Reading a post published in Diario de Cuba on January 21, The Rise and Fall of Fontanella, I found out that a pastry shop in Havana’s neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado (whose cakes were ordered from around the country and even by ambassadors), was ruined because of the petty interests of a neighbor, a high Ministry of the Interior (MININT) official.

The official arguments used were that the owners had “illegally obtained ingredients for the preparation of the pastries and evaded tax payments for their employees.”

We all know, however, that when the State authorized self-employment ventures, it did not guarantee them any means of obtaining their supplies. How the owners of these private business get their hands on these becomes news only if their venture “flourishes.”

The author of the post in question refers to the testimony of employees who remain anonymous (the owner also did not agree to an interview), but the arbitrariness of the measures are more credible than they are suspicious. Such measures (supported by the people) were used to penalize prosperity decades ago, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) were set up to implement them – to exacerbate the collective envy and morbid feelings awakened by those who are set on material success.

When an attempt to reinvigorate Cuba’s socialist slogans was made some time ago and the adjectives of “prosperous” and “sustainable” were suddenly thrown into the mix, I could not manage to efface the loaded tone with which secondary school teachers spoke to us of capitalism, private property and something called “business” (which sounded almost like “crime”) at a class called Foundations of Political Science.

When one considers how badly distributed the planet’s wealth is, the fact that millionaires eat and shit gold while people are literally starving, the boundlessness of human greed can certainly strike one as criminal.

The sad part about cases such as this one is that those same people who fear the prosperity of others enjoy privileges born of practices that are far less innocent.

If there is something people long for in Cuba it is the steady and reliable quality of food offers. Good initiatives tend to draw people’s attention but they almost always end up disappointing customers. The sense of respect towards the customer and respect for one’s own business has been trampled for so long by the “meritocracy” system and the surreptitious tolerance of corruption that many private companies end up losing prestige and clientele for resorting to cheats and scams.

What’s curious is that these zealous guardians of individual poverty never go to the trouble of reporting those businesses that take advantage of people’s naivety with adulterated products. Cheating the average Cuban with terrible products isn’t as disreputable as prospering on the basis of honest work. After all, the self-employed who cheat customers are only doing what State establishments (where no quality guarantee exists, not even if one pays in hard currency) do best: it is no secret that homemade products marked with registered brands are often sold there.

It’s a shame: the customers of La Fontanella lost a reliable and trustworthy option. It’s also a shame that the owner of the establishment chose silence, helping bury this injustice.

2 thoughts on “The Crime of Prosperity in Cuba

  • The fatal flaw in these utopian socialist experiments are the humans that run them. Without checks and balances human’s tend to be rather poor administrators. Perhaps when we can turn over Goverment to a machine a more equal and just system than private markets with rational but imperfect regulations produces.

  • Veronica asks, “…what would have become of people like Rockefeller or Carnegie had they been born on this island after 1959?”

    Any man or woman with an entrepreneurial spark, born in Cuba after 1959 would either escape the island or be crushed by the system. There are hundreds of successful Cuban-American entrepreneurs who left Cuba as young children either just before or shortly after 1959. Some, like Carlos Miguel Gutierrez, CEO of Kellogg Co, US Secretary of Commerce, rose to the very top of the corporate world and served in senior political positions. The Cuban people have the creative genius for success, it’s the inhuman system imposed by the Castro regime which has stifled them.

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