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Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

A Cuban washing machine mechanic

January 22, 2013 | Print Print |

Jorge Milanés Despaigne

Aurikia washing machine. Photo: cubamaterial.com

HAVANA TIMES – Mateo repairs old “Aurika” model Russian washing machines. Impelled by the need to better his economic situation, he has earned his living this way since he first arrived in Havana.

At first he worked clandestinely, but when the new economic policies went into effect, he obtained his self-employment license.

He’s doing very well now and can barely keep up with his clientele.

“A few days ago, a company contracted with me to repair seven old commercial washing machines for a very tempting sum in CUCs (Cuban hard currency). It was the first time that I had faced this type of technology, but I accepted anyway.”

In fifteen days, with a lot of work, he got all the machines to function. Seeing that, they offered him a permanent job maintaining the company’s other machines, located in different establishments all over the province.

But he hasn’t decided yet. When he gets home, he begins to enumerate the pros and cons of this change.

“I like my current work; I feel free and daring in it. Although right now I have a lot of work, there’s nothing that can equal the feeling of taking my bike off to work, feeling that I’m free, and can go back home whenever I want.

“Also, and most importantly, are the jobs that I do every month for free for the elderly who don’t have any way to pay for their repair work – not only their washing machines, but also other appliances. That brings me prestige in the community and a certain level of satisfaction. What do you suggest I do?”

I felt proud conversing with someone with such a high level of humanity. It would be wonderful if other people with businesses did the same.

“I know that having secure employment is important, but what you have been doing is, too,” I told him. “I think that you should negotiate with the company to find a compromise between your own independent work and theirs, if that’s what you want. If not, then stay wherever you feel the best.”


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Mateo experiences reflect the experience of may micro-business owners all over the world. Because of the economic reforms the Castro dictatorship has been forced to make out of necessity, many Cubans are making the same decisions to remain independent despite the risks. Others will choose to rejoin a larger operation because of greater security. Both decisions bring value to the community. While Mateo, as a sole proprietor, can continue to help less fortunate individuals, the larger enterprises can do larger charitable giving and assist the community in other ways. This evolution will demonstrate to Cubans that the description of capitalism they were taught as being inhumane and uncaring was a lie. They will learn that truly successful businesses support Boys and Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army, Senior Citizens Centers, build parks and daycare centers and a variety of other valuable charitable organizations. The Castros will be revealed and socialism as a whole will have to adapt.

  • Walter Teague

    Again Moses, what world do you really live in? Where have you experienced small businesses, either privately owned or corporate that actually add to the net “charitable giving” in a community when they replace people like Mateo?

    Yes some individuals and some community based companies give to charity, but it is almost always to cut taxes and buy publicity. Anecdotes don’t prove anything. If you want to predict companies will be more altruistic in Cuba than all of the rest of the capitalist world, then what is your proof? I’m sure you’re not saying growing up with socialism will make sure greed and self-interest will not creep back in. Or maybe you were referring to worker owned, community based enterprises, which will be checked regularly for ethical and community health practices! But, business in general?

    Mateo is to be praised and supported in his clear appreciation of honesty and community appreciation. At a minimum, he should be on guard about being corrupted and maybe offer to teach the humanity he has learned along with his growing technical skills.