ETECSA-Cuba: the Company Without the Drive to Progress

April 20, 2017 |

By Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — Finally, Cuba’s telephone company ETECSA seems to have heard the people’s cries and has improved its previous offer, benefiting users of their service and the country, which receives a lot of hard currency for top-ups made abroad.

No other Cuban company has been the target of so much of the Cuban people’s criticism as well as that of some government media. Their inefficiency in developing new technologies, their price policy and slow internet, are the most common complaints.

However, up until now, the company appeared to be impervious to its customers’ annoyance, which makes sense if you take into account the fact that they have nothing to fear. Cubans have no other alternative because ETECSA is the only telecommunications company in the country.

Their monopoly control of the market has allowed them to do whatever they want, establishing regulations and prices at its whim. This has led to Cuba having very limited Internet access, with skyrocketing prices, incredibly slow as well as very expensive long distance calls.

The ETECSA company denied offering mobile phone services to Cuban citizens for years. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Owning a telecommunications monopoly is the dream of many private business people but in some capitalist countries, like the United States, laws have been issued so as to stop them from having absolute control of the market, protecting the rest of the business community and customers.

In capitalism, such an attitude is logical because one of the fundamental incentives behind private businesses is to create the greatest profits. However, that shouldn’t be the dynamic in socialism, where state companies are owned by the people.

How then can you explain ETECSA, which belongs to the people, denying these same people mobile phone services for years? And that today, being a “socialist state company”, it treats users as if they were customers who they don’t owe any explanations to?

A State-run company should ensure that they provide an efficient and cheap service to the people, because they exist thanks to them, even more so in the case of telecommunications, a public sector where Cubans are both users and the owners of the company.

Their accounts should be transparent so that everyone knows how they use their money. It’s development plans should be public knowledge, with clear objectives and marked out timeframes so that the efficiency of its management can be assessed.

ETECSA is one of the companies which receives the most criticism on part of the Cuban people because of its high prices and poor service. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Journalist Ignacio Ramonet has said that in order for there to be true democracy in the world, we should be able to vote for the leaders of large corporations, those who control the international economy, imposing their strategies and financing political campaigns.

And in the case of Cuba, the democratic process would be much more real if, as well as neighborhood representatives reporting back, the CEOs of large state companies should also report back to the people, some of whom influence people’s lives more than the National Assembly of the People’s Power.

It would be interesting to know, for example, the public’s opinion about how to develop telecommunications in Cuba. Some people believe that it would be more intelligent to authorize the existence of several state-run phone companies which compete among themselves.

The meditation techniques which appear on ETECSA business cards seem necessary for dealing with the phone company.

It’s true that resources would be spread out but it’s also true that this competition would force them to be more efficient in reducing their costs and offer a cheaper and better quality service. The great winner in this situation would be the people-owners of these companies.

Orthodox Communists don’t have to worry, the fathers of Socialism said that the fundamental means of production should belong to the State but they never recommended making them monopoly companies, with absolute control of the national market.

What’s more, if I remember correctly, dialectical materialism says that contradiction is the drive behind progress. If this Marxist principle were applied to the Cuban business system, more efficient means of production and services might exist than the ones we currently have.

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  • Carlyle MacDuff

    If you count RAFIN SA (Raul and Fidel Castro) with their 27% shareholding in ETECSA as “the people” then the article is correct. But ETECSA holds special privileges. For example virtually all its vehicles are French Peugeots not the junk Chinese Geelys.. When away from home, employees stay in Casa Particulars with ETECSA paying CUC 13 per person per night. The Castro family regime has a vested interest in preventing any competition whether it be by other state (or GAESA) company. ETECSA offices are invariably air conditioned but the supposed owners – ‘the people’ waiting to make payments have to do so outside in the heat. Usually there are a few dozen folks sitting around outside taking advantage of Wifi.
    The good news is that due to the use of cell phones and WIfi, information about political matters both internal and external is increasing and the young folks are quietly questioning!
    As for Marxism and efficiency, mid-19th century thinking has little relevance in the 21st century unless as in Cuba enforced by communist dictatorship. Such antiquated theory has proven to be inefficient and detrimental to any form of real social progress.
    But, at least those using ETECSA services do actually get some service – in contrast with the Cuba Correa (Post Office). This year they tried to promote greeting cards in early February for St. Valentine’s day to be posted. That was a joke! For as anybody who knows Cuba recognizes that the percentage of posted mail that reaches its intended destination in Cuba within three months is miniscule.