Cuba: Where Employees Ignore the Owners

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago, I read a book by journalist Ignacio Ramonet which claimed that the 200 largest multinational corporations had more of a say over the world’s economy than any government, such that we would only have true democracy if we could elect their executives.

Of course, it would be difficult for shareholders to allow us to vote, as these are private companies. It would be much easier to achieve this in Cuba, where the bulk of the economy is in the hands of the State, or, better said, in the hands of public companies.

The correct thing would be to start calling these “public companies,” for they in fact belong to all citizens. When we say they are “State” companies, it would seem the owner were a diffuse, ethereal entity represented by any bureaucrat with a position, a desk, a secretary and a State vehicle.

Even though it doesn’t appear to be the case, the fact is that all Cubans are shareholders and therefore the co-owners of those companies. But, if average folk find this hard to believe, much harder is it to convince company managers that the people of Cuba are his/her bosses.

Why do these companies belong to everyone? Because they were financed with public money, with the resources that Cubans made available with their work, because all surplus value goes to State coffers and, ultimately, because they must adjust to the general strategies traced by the nation.

No one knows what public companies do or why. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

It would probably not be very practical to democratically elect the managers of all Cuban companies, or having to hold a referendum to approve their development plans. But Cuba is topsy-turvy, and here owners are completely ignored by their employees.

Recently, there was a huge scandal because the Cuban blog La Chiringa published a document from the public telecommunications company ETECSA. It revealed a plan to take Internet to Cuban homes, something which the population (the bosses, that’s to say) has been asking for years.

Company executives acknowledged that the leaked document was real, but declared that it is based on “assumptions based on possible objective market scenarios and implementation stages,” adding that the price schemes were not real.

In connection with the future plan to make digital technologies more widely available, one of the nation’s most important programs, they told Cubans that “the company will make a timely announcement once the conditions needed to offer new services have been created.”

What this boils down to is that the employees of the Cuban people are informing them that they will do what they deem convenient with the nation’s money. Then, in official speeches, they tell the people they should consider themselves the owners of everything and develop a sense of belonging.

How could the people feel they are the owners of a country’s companies when they aren’t even informed of the strategy, aims, schedules, prices, benefits and resources (money that belongs to all Cubans) these handle as part of one of the sensitive plans the nation has undertaken?

Public companies ought to inform the public of their development plans. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

It has been said many a time that those who select the country’s cadres ought to have confidence in the leaders chosen. But people’s “blind faith” was a little undermined after seeing so many of these “cadres” be removed from their offices in hand-cuffs, on charges of corruption.

It is not a question of burning ETECSA at the stake for, ultimately, the same holds for the majority of the country’s companies. Directors and managers feel so powerful, so high above people, that, many a time, they don’t even offer the representatives elected by the people any explanations.

Cuban company executives act like vampires, always hiding from the light of day. Hence, a good first step would be to force them to come out of the shadows and act transparently, offering citizens a full accounting of their plans and, later, the results.

I am sure Ignacio Ramonet’s idea is shared by many Cuban politicians, provided it is applied to “capitalism,” but very few promote such mechanisms in Cuba. The Cuban band Buena Fe has a song that tells of a spyglass that lets people see as far as Mars but incapable of showing them what’s under their very noses.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

2 thoughts on “Cuba: Where Employees Ignore the Owners

  • Accountability. That is the key difference between private sector and state ownership. Private companies could be policed by the state. No one policies the state. Power corrupts. Only a check and balance system can assure accountability so that the people benefit. Ownership can take many forms. Widely held corporations owned by citizens and regulated by the state are the best course.

  • So where is the record of GAESA. Where is the description of RAFIN SA? I had previously understood that Ravsberg was a professional journalist! The military are the owners of the bulk of Cuban so-called companies. So I guess that Ravsberg considers the poor impoverished people of Cuba as synonymous with the Military. Writing that: “all Cubans are shareholders” does display a morbid sense of humour. I guess the dividends are all re-invested as my wife has yet to receive any from any of the companies in which apparently she is a shareholder.

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