Why We Should Care About Cuban Entrepreneurs

Hint: It’s not politics (well, that’s not entirely true)

Politics is inextricable from anything related to Cuba and specifically anything related to Cuban Americans. We try to pretend it’s not but in reality, nothing is really black and white when it comes to Cuba. There’s this grayness, a vague space — a space that always leads back to politics somehow. Yet, in the midst of Cuba’s complexity, two things are straightforward when it comes to cuentapropistas (Cuban entrepreneurs, or directly translated “self-employed”).

Startup Cuba Episode 1: Meet Today’s Cuban Entrepreneurs

The first is that Cuban entrepreneurs are changing their lives. This new generation of cuentapropistas in Cuba has a better quality of life than the generation before it. The average state salary in Cuba is $25 a month. This salary was the only option before Raul Castro loosened regulations to allow entrepreneurship. Now, most of these entrepreneurs who choose to (or can) take the risk to leave the safety net of their state salaried jobs, make more than that in a day.

The second fact here is that Cuba, as a country, depends on this sector. The country is propped up right now by tourism and the privately owned businesses. These two spaces, just like everything in Cuba, are linked to a degree. Money that flows into the private tourism businesses such as casas particulares find their way to the barbers, paladares owners and other small businesses. These businesses then pay taxes to the government.

Leire Fernandez, Co-Founder of Clandestina, Cuba’s 1st Fashion Brand.

See what’s happening here? Cuba’s experiment with small business is already changing the country. And, the island nation needs these entrepreneurs to not only survive, but to grow. The stronger that the private business sector gets, the closer the “people” of Cuba and the “government” of Cuba can move to an equilibrium. Let’s not bullshit ourselves of course. Cuba is run by the Communist party so equilibrium is a big word in the absence of true market forces. But, let’s also not forget that supporting the private businesses is, for the first time in decades, indicative of real forward momentum in Cuba (the government motivations for doing so notwithstanding).

We’re not here to push capitalism down Cuba’s throat. Cuba needs to figure out it’s own situation. Forcing our ideals or instant change on the country (see “Marco Rubio” ;-) ) will destabilize more than just the political system. When that happens, it’s the Cuban people that will suffer. People who are our friends. People who want to live their life just like we do. People who want to take care of their kids just like we do. People who want to see their country prosper just like we do. Anything that happens to drive Cuba in the direction of prosperity, both economic and political, needs to happen incrementally so as not to prompt destabilization. That would suck for everyone involved.

VERV.tv’s Startup Cuba crew en El Malecon de La Habana.

We’ve created the Startup Cuba documentary series to show our fellow citizens in the United States that there are entrepreneurs in Cuba (over 500,000 of them to be exact). We don’t ignore everything else. But, you already know about that stuff so our job is to offer a glimpse into the world of the cuentapropista. A glimpse into a part of Cuba that you may not know. We hope that by doing this, we can open people’s eyes and play a role as one of the incremental steps forward. For if we all have the same goal; moving the new Cuba further along its journey — the first step in that incremental path is to even know what’s already happening.