Cuba and the McDonald’s Myth

For various reasons, some even contradictory, Cuba has always aroused the interest of many people. However, since last December 17, things are seen from a different perspective. Like it or not and come what may, Cuba and the United States have embarked on a path of no return, thus changing the scenario created 55 years ago when a huge gap opened up. And, in a way, not only Latin America but the Americas as a whole have bled through this “wound”.

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No doubt, on last December 17, the bell struck for the start of a new era between these two “old opponents.” As our grandparents used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.” But for those who think it is not enough or simply refuse to believe what lies ahead, the historic meeting held between Barak Obama and Raúl Castro in Panama City on April 11 has sent out a clear signal to the world of what we can expect to happen in future.

In the meantime, emerging like the tip of a huge iceberg, the mere mention of the word Cuba generates great excitement in almost everyone. The fact is that “Cuba is in fashion nowadays” and, based on own interests, people have their eyes on this large Caribbean island. Note that during the first quarter of the year international tourist arrivals increased by 14%.

“We have to go”, “we have to see what happens”, “we have to see if there are any opportunities”, “we have to see where opportunities lie”, “we have to see if we can capitalize on what’s coming up”, “we have to visit the island once and for all”, “we have to…”. Whatever the intention, these statements repeated time and again have turned into a clamor that has been powerfully resounding in North America, in Europe, and beyond. So much so, that sooner or later this roar will deafen the reaction of opponents that howl like wounded animals in the face of an inevitable result; the lifting of the embargo.

What is mostly heard and has become a hackneyed phrase is «we have to get there before McDonald’s. Among the Europeans that have not yet visited Cuba and the Americans that till recently thought they would die without going to the island, it is commonplace to say “let’s go there before the arrival of the first McDonald’s”, as if the possible opening of this fast-food champion announced Cuba’s apocalypse.

It looks quaint and it even adds a touch of color, but what’s pretty obvious is that McDonald’s will probably open in Havana and in other major destinations in Cuba. Regardless of what may happen, the Cuban people will not let Ray Croc’s followers and the fans of fast food and foreign trends give up on the values that make up their identity, that give meaning to the most important country in the Caribbean; those values and beliefs that have been so critical to overcome the hardships of these last 50 years, just for the taste of a good Big Mac.

As I’ve heard people say in Havana, “those who speak about McDonald’s don’t know us, don’t know anything about us.” I have even heard phrases like “those who talk about McDonald’s despise us because they ignore not only what we are like but our capabilities, that we are open to everyone, but without forgetting who we are and where we are going.”

The years to come will undoubtedly be fascinating in Cuba because diversity will broaden the horizon, as has happened in most countries in the world. Perhaps in a short while we can have a mojito at “La Bodeguita del Medio” before grabbing a Big Mac, or relish a daiquiri at “Floridita” prior to eating at TGI Fridays. To the Cubans’ contentment and to that of travelers from around the world who hope to enjoy the powerful culture offered by the land of Martí, Fidel, Che Guevara, and many more, and of businessmen who see in the strength and values of the Cuban culture one of the reasons for investing in the country, situations as those described above cannot stop happening, as there are things that shouldn’t be changed but should rather be preserved and enhanced. Just have a look at the huge restoration works undertaken in Old Havana by the celebrated city historian Eusebio Leal, who with scarce resources but with much passion and commitment to his homeland has undertaken a vast heritage and cultural refurbishment project in such a beautiful city as Havana, soon to be visited by over ten million tourists a year.

The table is laid. Welcome to those people of good will who wish to partake in this banquet, the blossoming of a people that has endured the longest period of isolation in modern times, as a result of what Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset proclaimed “I am I and my circumstances”.

Wherever they are, Compay Segundo, Celia Cruz and all those who have already left us will certainly sing those tunes like only they know how, to liven up the party and shake it up while celebrating the reunion of two giants.
Sugar, rum, and tobacco. Cheers to the future, chico!