Thursday, May 28, 2015

State Inefficiency, Convenient Business

State Inefficiency, Convenient Business / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang
Posted on May 27, 2015, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 22 May 2015 — Attestations
about poor or non-existent attention in Cuban state businesses are so
abundant that few pay attention to them. In order to offer a response to
the indignant, the island's official press searches for causes of such
abuse not in the inefficiency of the state enterprise but in other
absurd factors like poor education or lack of professionalism, which do
not reveal the corrupt essence of a system that, in spite of the proof
of its uselessness, will be kept in place by government will, as is
expressed in the Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party.

Why do we receive better treatment in a private restaurant or cafeteria?
Why do customer demands bother the clerk and managers of a state eatery
and why do they not improve the quality of their offerings? Why do they
hide behind any justification in order to remain closed or to reduce
their public service hours to the minimum?

According to Vladimir Rodriguez, owner of a busy little restaurant in
downtown Vedado, the problem is in the objectives of each:

"As the owner of my business I seek to attract more customers, to offer
more variety. I listen to the opinions of the people, the suggestions, I
serve them like they were kings because it winds up as earnings. In a
state restaurant the earnings do not come from the clients' consumption
and satisfaction but in that quite miserable thing that happens in the
warehouse, in the sale to the black market of everything that arrives to
be produced and sold to the customers, who turn into a nuisance. What
little gets to the table is only to justify the work in case an
inspector comes, but the clerks as well as the manager live on the black

"That is something everyone knows. (…) I worked for years in restaurants
in Havana, even in luxury hotels in Varadero, and what I saw in the
kitchens is nasty. (…) Rice that customers leave on their plates went
back in the casseroles, a bit of meat, salads, the olives, everything
that people leave on the plates is served again. That is way of dealing
with leftovers. That's why I left and opened my own business. I would
not be caught dead in a State restaurant; God only knows what they are
serving you."

For Iraida, a clerk in a private cafeteria in Arroyo Naranjo, the matter
is more complicated: "It is a secret to no one that in the stores as
well as in all the state enterprises the people do not work, they are
going, as they say, to struggle, that is to say, to steal. And the worst
is that the government knows it and "plays the silly goat" [pretends not
to know]. (…) Why? Because it is convenient for them. If they attack the
black market the people will rebel because everyone lives off that, even
them. There, yes, the revolution is over. They promised to create a
wholesale market for the self-employed and even now we continue in the
same way, buying on the black market because there is nothing in the
stores or if there is, it is hidden in the warehouses, so that you have
to buy from a warehouseman, who has a fix with the manager, and so forth
and so on. There you realize that the government is involved in that
mess (…) if it does not benefit with money, at least it does by leaving
it to the people 'to struggle' so that they see the 'blessings of
socialism.' In troubled waters, fishermen gain."

Marta Li, owner of a café in Vedado, illustrates for us with her own
examples what she considers the superiority of private enterprise. "In a
State café no one worries about serving the customer well because it
does not end up as earnings. They sell or not, the salary is the same
for the manager as well as for the sales clerk. They care about what is
left from a liter of oil and the chicken, to resell the cheese and the
spaghetti; they are not sold because no one would buy them. I, on the
other hand, have to constantly create sales strategies; my objective is
that nothing is left, not in the pots or in the freezers, to sell
everything because what I have paid is quite a lot. (…) Since I am close
to the university, I make offers to the students who present their
student ID, I discount the price. Sometimes for someone who buys more
than one pizza or for a repeat customer I give them a free drink. People
come because they know that they will receive good attention. It is not
about lowering prices but giving good service."

A former civil servant of a business enterprise in Havana, who wishes to
remain anonymous because she is currently the owner of a restaurant,
tells us of her experiences in a state business:

"Satisfying the customer is the last of the priorities [of a state
enterprise]. Whatever it may be. They all work in order to steal
everything that can be stolen and in the least time possible. One enters
with good intentions and ends up coming to terms with the corruption
because there is no other path. (…) The socialist economy has neither
feet nor head. When I studied [economics] at the university the
professors themselves said that there is no way to explain the Cuban
economy. And when you try to apply any model you realize that they all
fail. (…) It is not that you propose to steal, it's that you have to do
it because everyone is out for himself. It didn't matter to me or to any
of the workers in all the stores where I worked, which were more than
twenty; it didn't matter if the wages were low or not, not even the
bonus, the salary was a formality, the true earnings are not even on the
counter as many think. Where the money comes from (…) is not the
counter. And be careful with making yourself the conscious one [honest]
because you wind up blaming yourself for everything."

Will they be able someday to prove the efficiency of the socialist state
enterprise, as Cuban leaders claim, based on a couple of suspicious
exceptions? According to the recent statements by Miguel Diaz-Canel,
this "demonstrative work" is one of the main undertakings of "the
country's leadership with the Cuban people." As if half a century of
failures that we Cubans currently suffer did not matter, the government
pushes to prolong an economic experiment behind which is hidden a vast
fabric of corruption.

Against that piece of nonsense, for years it has been very common to
hear on the street a phrase that sums up the inefficiency of state
enterprises: "The government pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work."

Satisfying the customer is the objective of private business. There are
more menu items than in State companies. This snack bar gives students
5% off (photo by author)

About the Author
Ernest Perez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, 15 June 1971). Writer, graduate in
philology from the University of Havana. He studied Galician Language
and Culture in the University of Santiago de Compostela. He has
published the novels: Your Eyes Are in front of Nothing (2006) and
Alicia under Her Own Shadow (2012). At the end of 2014, the publisher
Silueta, in Miami, will publish his most recent novel: Food. He is also
the author of books of stories: Last Photos of Mama Nude (2000); Sade's
Ghosts (2002); Stories of Silk (2003); Variations for the Preliterate
(2007), The Art of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Deadly Stories
(2014). His narrative work has been recognized with prizes: David de
Cuento of the Cuban Gazette twice, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin
American Story prize on its first call in 2002; National Critics Prize
in 2007; Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others. He has
worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions like the House
of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Publisher, the Center
for Research and Development of Cuban Music. He was Chief Editor for the
magazine Union (2008-11).

Translated by MLK

Source: State Inefficiency, Convenient Business / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez
Chang | Translating Cuba -

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