Despite its Enormous Profits, Etecsa Runs Out of Resources

Etecsa is one of the few Cuban entities that generates large earnings, and, nevertheless, it is in crisis. (14ymedio)

By Natalia Lopez Moya (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – With its blue logo, air-conditioned offices and no competition in the national market, the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa) is experiencing a paradoxical situation: it is one of the few national entities that generates a large income, and, even so, it is in a difficult financial situation.

“We’re tying pieces of cables together in order to solve the breaks,” complains José Ángel, a worker of the state monopoly, a company that is experiencing “the worst crisis since its creation,” an employee of the Plaza de la Revolución municipality tells 14ymedio. “The bosses still have privileges, but we are without the resources to serve customers.”

Jose Angel lists everything they lack. “There are no landlines to replace the old ones; we lack the boxes to install inside homes; the supply of cables is also having many problems, and even mobility is affected by the shortage of fuel.” The rosary of hardships stimulates the desertion of employees who once saw in Etecsa a “comfortable and privileged” place to work.

“This has changed a lot in recent years. They used to sell us products at a preferential price, but that happens less and less,” says a worker at the customer service office located in the Trade Market. “Here we are a little better because this place is very central and works like a display window, but in the other municipalities they can practically not even turn on the air conditioning.”

Every 15 days, Etecsa launches a cell-phone recharge promotion with extra bonuses to be paid from abroad. In 2019, computer science graduate Luilver Garces Briñas estimated that on each of those occasions the state monopoly could be earning more than 7 million dollars from abroad.

But most of that hard currency isn’t invested in the telecommunications infrastructure. “About 90% of what Etecsa collects leaves the company in a large item marked “undefined,” clarifies another employee linked to the accounting area, who prefers to remain anonymous. “With what remains, it’s very difficult to maintain a quality service because we can’t make large investments.”

The lack of liquidity is also beginning to take its toll on Etecsa with its foreign investors. “In 2022, for the first time in 15 years, we haven’t been able to fulfill our financial commitment to Nokia,” the Finnish company that has worked on the Island to implement part of the data service for cell phones. “Investors are pressing us like crazy, but there’s no money,” says the accountant.

“A point has been reached where a large investment has to be made to improve connectivity, because the submarine cable with Venezuela is not enough now,” adds the source, who assures that alternatives are being sought with the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. At the same time, he says: “Although negotiations are in the works with Mexico for the possible laying of another cable, such a project will need investments, and the company is not able to make them right now.”

“The problem is that cell-phone usage has grown very fast, and we went from almost zero to approaching the 8 million cell phones we have right now. Customers are increasingly making use of data, downloading and uploading videos, making video calls and watching movies on the Internet, and all that is overtaxing the infrastructure we have, which is not expanding and improving at the speed needed,” he explains.

Bad news will continue to accumulate for the monopoly. Etecsa has not updated the exchange rate between hard currencies and the Cuban peso, as state exchange offices have done since last August. The delay in assuming the new exchange rates brings many distortions, including for immigrants, who find it better to send euros or dollars in cash to their family in Cuba to pay for a recharge, instead of paying for the service from abroad.

“A recharge from the United States costs between 20 and 23 dollars, and my relatives in Cuba receive 500 pesos of fixed amount, plus the bonuses that Etecsa promotes,” explains Indira, an immigrant from the Island who has been in Miami for a few months. “That same amount of money in Cuba is equivalent to about 4,200 or 4,500 pesos, enough to put eight packages of 500 pesos and still leave money for a smaller package.”

“Every day that passes without Etecsa correcting this great difference, more people here realize it and prefer to send the money for the recharge directly to the relatives,” says the young woman.

In the customer service center, the phone rings and the operator says: “Good morning, Marilu is taking care of you, how can I help you?” On the other side of the line, a subscriber complains with an annoying tone that his landline has not been working for three months and that he has reported this five times. “I’m going to put it on the list, but right now we don’t have supplies for repairs,” the employee says.

Calls with similar claims will continue for the whole day. In his daily report, Jose Angel receives calls to attend to breakdowns in his municipality. “I’m going to see what happens, but if you need cables or boxes I can’t do anything. I’m only going to fulfil the formality that we review the problem,” he says while driving a van with a half-deleted Etecsa logo.

Translated by Regina Anavy for Translating Cuba

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3 thoughts on “Despite its Enormous Profits, Etecsa Runs Out of Resources

  • During my last trip to Cuba, the lines outside the ETECSA offices were always enormous. The 21st century craze surrounding cell phones seems to be crashing headlong into a Cuba trapped in the 1950’s. Cubans waiting in line were generally seeking basic cell phone services that are included automatically elsewhere in the world. Most curious: there were as many latest models iPhones, Samsungs, and other popular brands as there would be anywhere in the world.

  • Joe writes: “It amazes me that while in Cuba people would rather put recharge on their mobile than feed their children. Priorities seem not to matter.” Absolutely, the government’s priorities are punishing.

    Joe, nowhere in this article is their any connection between recharging mobile phones from abroad and Cuban working people allowing their children to go hungry. Are you making an erroneous assumption perhaps based on experience that you have seen in Cuba recently? Joe, have you actually experienced in Cuba a family or families recharging their mobile phones and allowing their kids not to be feed?

    Perhaps, you totally misinterpreted or misunderstood in its entirety the article’s thesis. According to my understanding, the Cuban phone company is undergoing a paradoxical economic situation. Walk in to any Etecsa office and you would think you were in a phone company in any Western country. The office surroundings spacious, extraordinarily clean, air conditioned, motivated employees well dressed and courteous. Unlike any other Cuban government office where the stifling heat practically knocks the entrant over, the fading Fidel Castro photo(s) stare glaring at your every move, and the discourteous bureaucratic employees who from their faces and mannerisms let you know they would rather be elsewhere. Etecsa was a Cuban well run icon once – no longer.

    Natalie tells us “The bosses still have privileges, but we are without the resources to serve customers.” And who are the “bosses”? To be a boss in a Cuban prestigious public establishment one needs to be, if not, an ardent communist loyalist certainly at the very least have the necessary connections to the institution’s totalitarian hiring bosses.

    The ordinary Etecsa worker climbing poles installing infrastructure, the Etecsa worker lifting the manhole covers to access cables, the Etecsa worker like Jose Angel explains it this way: “There are no landlines to replace the old ones; we lack the boxes to install inside homes; the supply of cables is also having many problems, and even mobility is affected by the shortage of fuel.”

    How is that possible when Etecsa often offers generous cell phone recharge promotion with bonuses to off shore family members so that they can send money to the phone company to multiply minutes on Cuban phones? The Cuban mobile phone owner does not see any of this money for recharge services. The money goes directly to Etecsa, an arm of the communist state.

    What the readers are learning is Etecsa “. . . the state monopoly could be earning more than 7 million dollars from abroad.” Moreover, most of that hard currency isn’t ever invested in the telecommunications infrastructure. “About 90% of what Etecsa collects leaves the company in a large item marked “undefined,” clarifies another employee linked to the accounting area . . . .” And, what exactly does “undefined” mean in the Cuban context.

    “Undefined” in this context is no doubt a euphemism for “slush fund” for the communist state government to be used at their discretion and certainly not to help phone company workers like Jose Angel unable to do his job properly because of the reasons stated in this article..

    Joe, you are absolutely correct when you state: “Priorities seem not to matter.” in Cuba especially when the government will rob its citizens of vital services and if it means, as you indicate, children go hungry, well, it is not from Cubans recharging their mobile phones with money they don’t see, but from the communist government’s number one priority to predominately look after itself first and the rest can fend for themselves. Not amazing, but sad.

  • It amazes me that while in Cuba people would rather put recharge on their mobile than feed their children. Priorities seem not to matter.

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