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Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana

Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 24, 2014

Just as with most successful businesses in Cuba, the owners of Leyenda
Habana, an elegant restaurant in El Cerro, surrounded by ranch houses,
are white.

Two miles to the east of Leyenda Habana, in the poor and mostly black
neighbourhood of San Leopoldo, the iconic private La Guarida restaurant,
where US congressmen and the Queen of Spain have dined, also has a white
proprietor. And, unless something has changed, the chef is black.

I invite you to visit glamorous bars like El Encuentro in Linea and L,
Vedado: Shangrilá, in Playa, or El Slopy’s in Vibora Park, very near to
La Palma; central crossroads in Arroyo Naranjo.

Apart from being comfortable and with efficient service, the common
denominator is that the owners are white. Black people work in the
kitchen, or, if they are very qualified, and look good, they dispense
daiquiris and mojitos behind the bar.

The waitresses usually are white, young girls with beautiful faces and
spectacular bodies. Could be pale-skinned mulattas who spend a fortune
on straightening their hair to be similar to many white women.

The owners of rental properties with swimming pools or luxury apartments
are also white. Or the owners of fleets of American cars and jeeps from
the 40’s and 50’s, fitted with modern diesel engines, used as private
taxis in Havana.

Ignacio, who has sun-tanned white skin, owns six automobiles and three
Willys jeeps, made sixty years ago in the Detroit factories. Every day
he turns over 600 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“Part of the money I invest in gasoline and in maintenance of the cars.
I make juicy profits, but my business is in a judicial limbo as it is
not something envisaged in the self-employment regulations. For the
moment, the government lets us do it,” he indicated while he drinks a
German beer.

When you ask him why it is that in the most successful private
businesses, 90% of the owners are white, he replies: “Several reasons,
ranging from subtle or open racism on the part of many business people,
to economic reality, in that black Cubans are the ones with the lowest
standard of living and receive fewer remittances from family abroad.”

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that not all of the blame for negroes
and mestizos not occupying prominent positions in private businesses can
be attributed to the Fidel Castro regime.

“This is a long-running story. When in 1886 they abolished slavery in
Cuba, the negroes and mestizos started off at a disadvantage. They
didn’t have property, knowledge or money to invest in businesses. They
moved from being slaves to wage earners. They gained prestige and a
better position in society by way of sport, music and manual trades.”

According to the sociologist, “The Revolution involved the negroes in
the process, dressing them up in olive green and sending them to risk
their lives in African wars. But in key positions in the economy,
politics or audiovisual media, there was an obvious white supremacy.”

For Orestes, an economist, “We cannot overlook the detail that 80% of
the Cubans who have done well in exile are whites. The first wave of
emigrants to Florida were educated white people, nearly all business
people with capital. And those who left without money, thanks to their
knowledge and hard work, moved forward and triumphed in the US society.

And he adds that, in the subsequent waves in 1965, 1980 and 1994, there
was a larger percentage of negroes and mestizos, but they were
ill-prepared and they worked in poorly paid jobs in the United States.
“And because of that, they sent less money to their poor families in
Cuba,” the economist explained.

The situation was capable of change. Now, dozens of sportsmen, mulattos
and negroes, play abroad and some earn six figure salaries.

Although José Dariel Abreu, who plays for the Chicago White Sox and
earns $68 million over seven years, in theory cannot invest one cent in
Cuba, because of the embargo laws, one way or another, thousands of
dollars get to his relations in the island and they are able to open
small businesses in their provinces.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the owners of currently
successful businesses in the capital are white, reggaeton singers, jazz
players, musicians who commute between Cuba, the United States and
Europe, have opened businesses or have provided finance for their family
members.

The reggaeton performer Alexander, the write Leonardo Padura or the
volleyball player Mireya Luis, among others, have opened bars,
restaurants and private cafes with part of their earning in hard money.

But they are the few. Most of the negroes or mestizos who have permits
to work for themselves, work twelve hours filling matchboxes, repairing
shoes or open up a small shop in the the entrance to their house, with
no grand pretensions, trying to earn 200 or 300 pesos a day.

Nearly always the competition from white people with bigger wallets
gobble up the self-employed negroes or mulattos. Leonardo, a negro
resident in La Vibora, in 2010 put up a jerry-built stall made of sheet
metal painted ochre in the garden of his house.

“Things went well. Until in the corner, by the house, a relation of a
general opened a modern, well-stocked cafeteria. From then on, my
earnings have collapsed. I am thinking of closing,” he says. The owner
and employees of the business competing with Leonardo are white.

Although in this case, the advantage didn’t lie in skin colour. Because
in Cuba, if, apart from having money, you have a relative who has the
medals of a general, that will open many doors. Including those which
should remain shut.

Iván García

Translated by GH

13 September 2014

Source: Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia |
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