US Executives Tour Cuban Auto Repair Co-op

May 28, 2014 | Print Print |

Questions workers about the switch from State company to cooperative

By Progreso Weekly

Thomas Donohue at the car-repair cooperative. To his left is manager Marcelo Gonzalez, and on far right is Marcel Smits of the Cargill Corporation.

Thomas Donohue at the car-repair cooperative. To his left is manager Marcelo Gonzalez, and on far right is Marcel Smits of the Cargill Corporation.

HAVANA TIMES – Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday visited an automotive repair cooperative in Havana, where he maintained a “fluid” chat with the workers, Radio Habana reported.

“Donohue was interested in the ‘before and after’ of this enterprise […] about how workers are hired and protected,” said Marcelo González, manager of the Vehicle Reconstruction Cooperative in the Cerro municipality of Havana.

As part of its economic reforms, the government last year authorized the operation of trades and services cooperatives as complements to the state-run enterprises. In the past it allowed only agricultural cooperatives.

The government says that the number of nonagricultural cooperatives is about 450.

The auto repair cooperative visited by Donohue and members of his entourage was created 10 months ago, according to Radio Habana. It has 58 partners, whose income is reportedly in the $300-dollar-a-month range.

Thomas J. Donohue walking with Roberto de Armas (in a guayabera), head of the U.S. desk at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. In background in a navy blue suit is Steve Van Andel.

Thomas J. Donohue walking with Roberto de Armas (in a guayabera), head of the U.S. desk at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. In background in a navy blue suit is Steve Van Andel.

The cooperative system “gives us the freedom to manage ourselves, which allows us to increase our work volume and make decisions about our own resources,” González told The Associated Press. Since the cooperative’s launching, “productivity has increased a lot,” he said.

The Reuters news agency quoted Donohue as saying that “I have been free to go wherever I wanted. I’m talking with people in the private sector and the public sector. We’re going to meet with small businessmen. We are meeting with people from other countries who are operating here. I believe we’re going to have a fair look around and are enjoying ourselves.”

Donohue, a champion of capitalism and free enterprise, has opposed for years the trade embargo the U.S. has imposed on Cuba (which the Cubans call “blockade”) saying that it runs counter to his country’s commercial interests.

Washington and Havana broke diplomatic relations in the early 1960s. The trade embargo was imposed 52 years ago. An exception to the embargo allows Cuba to buy some food and agricultural products from the U.S. Those purchases totaled $509 million in 2012.


What's your opinion?

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    I hope that when Mr. Donohue visited the car repair co-op he enquired about the prices of new and used cars in Cuba. Also that he meets with some small business people who having purchased their 200 peso licenses sell DVDs, fruit and vegetables, clothing and shoes from the front of their homes. The people of Cuba do not lack talent or ability, they have been denied opportunity. The article does not clarify whether the $300 per month is for each of the 58 members of the co-op or total receipts. It is difficult to believe that the regime would allow a net return to each member at ten times the earnings of a Doctor or teacher. I hope it is per member per month and that the general public in Cuba are so informed. That would be a startling announcement on the 8.00 p.m. Noticia on channels 8, 19 and 25 of TV.

  • Moses Patterson

    I am pleasantly surprised to hear that each of these collective members is earning $300 per month. It seems unbelievable. The only Cubans who earn that much money per month are prostitutes and bartenders. Donahue understands that his trip is 90% bullsh*t. However, his trip will send the message that the US is willing to do business. The only issue is under what conditions. The flow of information goes both ways. Donahue is also able to share with the Castros lieutenants how much business Cuba is missing out on by continuing on this ridiculous path they are on. His trip is intended to sow seeds of restlessness and discontent with the pace and direction of Raul’s reforms. The extreme right in Miami are panicked that this trip is a sell-out of American values and interests. Not true, Americans will do business with the Devil himself if the margin is there. On the contrary, for the Castros, who claim to abhor capitalism, to receive this delegation of supreme capitalists is a sell-out of Castro’s values and interests. Moreover, in wake of Donahue’s trip are a handful of wannabe Cuban businessmen who see that the sooner the Castros are run outta’ town, the better off everyone will be.

    • N.J. Marti

      Agreed, to move things forward Cuba needs to recognize the value of moving reforms along. Obama’s time is running out. For a President that never had much strength in way of agent of change on controversial issues, the chances he can make a bold move are weak.

  • sharondika

    Moses sure knows about prostitutes and tipping his bartender well, must be his vast experience he is speaking from. Do many ‘Castro Lieutenants’ work at auto repair?
    90% bullsh*t is much better than your 100% B.S. The extreme right in Miami are panicked is a very true statement, but you’ll need to play more domino’s in the parc to know this. A wise and venerable man like yourself should be over joyed at the ‘sell-out’ of Castro’s values and interests. You sound most envious when you say ”wannabe Cuban businessmen”, what do you wannabe, a Poet Laureate? You should be run outt’a town in a rail, the better off everyone will be.

    • Moses Patterson

      Due to the Castros economic policies there is a tragically high concentration of working girls who approach foreigners. It is nearly impossible for any foreigner who has spent unrestricted time in Havana to avoid knowing of their existence in Cuba. Bartenders earn more money from making ‘mojitos’ from their own stash of Havana Club than they do from the tips they receive. I have no doubt that Donahue was accompanied by a phalanx of Castros agents everywhere he went, even to the auto repair shop. What the Castros feel gives me neither sadness nor joy. Why are your comments directed at me personally?

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Resorting to personal abuse is usually a sign of personal inadequacy.