Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cuban businesses freer to advertise

Cuban businesses freer to advertise
AFP September 20, 2011, 3:08 pm

HAVANA (AFP) - Small businesses, freer to tout services after President
Raul Castro's economic reforms, are hanging advertisements in Cuban
cities that vie for attention with patriotic communist slogans.

The number of neon business signs in a city like Havana, population 2.2
million, is still small compared to other Latin American cities, and
light years away from, say, New York's Time Square.

However until recently the only legal advertisements were stern calls
for Cubans to "Give All For The Revolution," and the president's slogan,
"Work, Discipline, Rigor."

"Advertising was associated with capitalism, but this is not capitalism
-- just look at China and other socialist countries," said Javier
Acosta, who in January opened a small private restaurant named "Parthenon."

For a neon sign featuring an ancient Greek temple that measures 90
centimeters (three feet) in diameter, Acosta needed government
permission and pays $25 a month in taxes.

"These are small businesses, and we are creating jobs, working hard and
struggling," Acosta told AFP.

Arnel, a waiter at the Decameron, a competing 'paladar' (palate) -- the
local name for private restaurants -- says that advertisements are

"There used to be few of us, but now there is fierce competition and
it's necessary to advertise," Arnel told AFP.

"This used to be the only 'paladar' around here, but now there are
around eight," he said.

The Decameron went into business first during a brief economic
"mini-opening" in the mid-1990s following the collapse of Cuba's
long-time patron, the Soviet Union.

But by the end of the decade, then-president Fidel Castro reversed
course and cracked down on ads and on private businesses.

At the time state-run media complained about the "anarchy" of commercial
ads, complaining they were a troubling sign of a growing market economy.

The Decameron discreetly stayed open, and to this day the front door
still has a small window that lets the owners screen out anyone they
deem suspicious.

Until recently the only way to find this restaurant -- or to a private
hairdresser, or cobbler or seamstress -- was through 'radio bemba', or
word of mouth.

To get around taxes and regulations on ads, some entrepreneurs have
turned to paper flyers. Others have turned to clever strategies like
attaching keys or scissors to their doors, a sign that a locksmith or
hairdresser is present.

President Raul Castro, 80, introduced a series of reforms in April that
loosened government rules to encourage small private businesses. He also
eliminated many subsidies, and slashed the size of Cuba's Soviet-style
centralized bureaucracy.

The reforms allowed many underground businesses like the Decameron to
legalize, and in a few months the number of private-sector workers
jumped from nearly 150,000 to 350,000.

"In Cuba advertisements are still not allowed in the media, so colorful,
well-lit signs are essential," said Gisel Nicolas, with a recently
opened 'paladar' called "The Gallery."

"A lot of people come here because of the sign," she said.

Acosta is proud of his restaurant and his sign, but he's convinced that
it's not enough.
"As all Cubans, I know well that the best advertisement is done by word
of mouth," he said.


No comments:

Post a Comment