The 39th Havana International Trade Fair FIHAV 2023 lowered its curtains after an intense week of activities. At the event, contracts were signed as well as agreements and letters of intent that seek to give a breath of fresh air to the Cuban economy in the midst of a severe and prolonged crisis.
In this scenario, the largest commercial exchange in Cuba managed to bring together some 670 foreign companies and businesspeople from more than 60 countries, including a representation of Cubans residing abroad, as well as the main enterprises in the state sector, endorsed by the government as the main economic actor in Cuba.
But along with foreign firms and state corporations, perhaps in a less visible and glittering way, representatives of the private sector were also protagonists of the fair ― with a greater presence than in previous editions ― and confirmed that, despite the reluctance of some and the suspicions of others, the Cuban economic framework cannot remain aloof from their work.
MSMEs, cooperatives, local development projects and creative groups showed at FIHAV 2023 a varied range of products and services that not only confirms the quality and competitiveness of many of their offers, but also debunks the erroneous — and widespread — perception that private Cuban enterprises are just mere importers.
Automotive services and renewable energies, food production, computer products, furniture and construction materials, were among the proposals of Cuban private enterprises at the Havana commercial event, even though not all of them occupied the most central and attractive pavilions of the fairgrounds.
There, in their most modest or comprehensive stands, they exhibited their work before colleagues and visitors from Cuba and the world. They strengthened their brands, interacted with potential clients and suppliers, signed new contracts and expanded their professional horizons in a scenario unthinkable for them a short time ago.
OnCuba spoke with three of these private actors about their proposals and their development at FIHAV 2023, as well as the perspectives that open up for their businesses based on the participation in the event.
TDEA, “a great small enterprise”
With less than a year as an MSME — it was established as such in January 2023 — but with three decades of growth in its professional profile, TDEA Servicios de Electricidad Automotriz SRL had its first participation as an exhibitor at FIHAV in the 2023 edition.
The private enterprise, based in Marianao and which many clients still call “David’s workshop,” in reference to its founder, is, in the words of its representative administrator, Alfredo Hernández, “a great small enterprise.”
“Small because we only have 25 workers and a space that, for the work we can do, is still limited; but great because we have thirty years of experience in the activity, we have a high level of operations and we consider that we cover the services we carry out with speed, quality and guarantee for our clients,” said Hernández.
TDEA provides a wide range of services linked to its profile, a specificity that, Hernández highlights, is its “distinction.” It specializes in electrical systems and accessories, alternator, starter motor and automatic and automotive electronics, and includes assembly, disassembly, cleaning, maintenance, defecting, repair and replacement of parts.
At the time of the fair, the MSME had 115 contracts with enterprises, most with a validity between two and three years. The state sector is its main client, with around 90% of its operations, “which does not mean that we do not work with the private sector and individuals, as in fact we do.”
With an average age of between 25 and 30 years, the TDEA team stands out for its high professionalism. The majority are engineers who, however, recognize themselves as heirs of the practice and knowledge of the workshop’s founders.
With consolidated work with brands such as Hyundai, Toyota, Daewoo, KIA, Nissan, Peugeot, Fiat and Lada, the Havana MSME acquires ― through state importers such as Maquimport and Transimport ― equipment, parts, additives and other inputs from markets such as South Korea, Europe and the United States, depending on the origin and technology of the cars they usually work with.
Hernández describes participation in FIHAV 2023 as “very profitable.”
“We have signed new contracts and we have been able to meet with potential clients, with suppliers of different products, means of protection, paints for workshop maintenance, and also with businesses that can help us expand our services and the way we operate,” he commented.
In this sense, he advanced the possibility of becoming distributors in Cuba of TAP enterprise products, mainly batteries. This, the administrator confirms, would round out his work, which does not contemplate the sale but rather the inclusion of the batteries within an assembly and replacement service, and would contribute to TDEA’s intention to extend the warranty period that it currently offers to its customers.
Alacero: “We are what we do”
Very close to the TDEA stand and other private sector actors, in Pavilion 17 of ExpoCuba, Grupo Creativo Alacero showed its work at FIHAV 2023. Anyone who passed by during the fair could not help but stop to admire the attractive productions of the venture, specialized in the development and manufacture of stainless-steel furniture and props.
Led by the brothers Ángel and Reinier Araujo, Alacero has been a group for seven years. Their work, however, is based on a decades-long family tradition of working with metals that Ángel and Reinier learned as children with their father, a master tinsmith, in the former Ramón Balboa sugar mill in Cienfuegos.
The stoppage and dismantling of that sugar factory led them to dedicate themselves entirely to creation, a commitment to which workers from the defunct industry joined. This is how the project was born, in which they opted for stainless steel, their hallmark, a material with which they began making car accessories.
Seven years later, their work has diversified and today they produce furniture and accessories for tourism, gastronomy and health institutions ― including medical furniture ― with attractive and functional designs. Its product portfolio also includes sculptures, lighting, automated fountains, stairs and even jewelry.
“We are what we do” is the slogan of the collective, which has facilities in Ramón Balboa and the city of Cienfuegos, and which imports certified quality material from China for its productions, without discarding recycling. Its distinction, and a source of amazement for those who discover its pieces, is that all production, from ovens and sinks to lamps and works of art, is handmade.
“Our production lines have a very artisanal factor when compared to the large industries that work with stainless steel. Everything is handmade, from the machines we work on to the parts and accessories we produce. But that, which has a socioeconomic cause, is perhaps our greatest strength. That craftsmanship is our hallmark, it is what differentiates us,” said Ángel.
This fact has not limited the demand for its products, both in the state sector ― with contracts, among other entities, with hotel facilities and international medical services ― and in the private sector, mainly linked to leisure and gastronomy. This is why, Reinier affirmed, they are thinking of increasing Alacero’s forces to respond to this demand and open up internationally.
“We hope to start exporting soon, if luck and the market are with us, in Europe and in our region: in the Caribbean, in Central America,” he said.
Regarding their participation in FIHAV 2023, the Araujo brothers do not hesitate to recognize that it has been “a great opportunity.”
“We had been to other fairs and events, but this was our first time as exhibitors at FIHAV, and the experience has been very fruitful. We have exchanged with other enterprises and projects, not only from Cuba; we have spoken with potential clients, we have received new orders, and there are great opportunities for us with this fair, which satisfies us very much,” Reinier explained.
“The truth is, we almost don’t believe that as a private sector we could have been at the fair, along with state enterprises and companies from other countries,” said Ángel, “but that’s what happened.”
“We have made our work and the quality of our products known to the world; we have shown the skill, knowledge and dedication behind these works, and we have contributed to confirming that the Cuban private sector does have something to teach and that it can be competitive at this level. It’s a matter of commitment,” said the creator and entrepreneur from Cienfuegos.
Renova: sustained growth in favor of renewable energy
In the central pavilion of ExpoCuba, along with important state and joint ventures such as Havana Club, Habanos, Cuba Ron and BioCubaFarma, this time Renova was present, in its second foray as an exhibitor at the Havana International Trade Fair.
This privileged location in the busy trade fair says a lot about the progress and recognition of this MSME, which was created just two years ago and is aimed at the strategic renewable energy sector. Founded in Camagüey on November 4, 2021, it is dedicated to the sale, assembly and maintenance of solar panels and other systems based on so-called “clean energies,” and other associated activities.
Being located outside of Havana has not prevented the expansion of Renova, which has around 300 clients from all over Cuba, including the Isla de la Juventud, and works equally with the state and private sectors.
“This has been a difficult year due to the situation in the country, but for us it has been very good from a professional point of view. We have consolidated and expanded our work with projects such as the Cayo Cruz tourist center, to the north of Camagüey, where all the electricity is generated with systems that we install, and with other entities such as the Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA), several universities and MSMEs, among other clients,” said Daniela Cano, partner and executive advisor of the enterprise.
Added to this is the desired start of its services for the residential sector.
“Until last year we had not had that possibility,” said Danelis Peña, Renova’s legal advisor, “but we have done projects for individuals who have requested our services, trying to adapt them at the most economical price possible. We know that it is still not an affordable offer for the entire population, but we hope that this service can be expanded.”
To this end, she specified, they even have “an approval from the BPA so that individuals can request a loan to install the panels and systems that we offer at Renova, and that credit is paid in installments in the bank, as can currently be done for the purchase of household appliances.”
In general, Cano pointed out, “our services today have a growing demand and that commits us to carry out work of increasingly higher quality and to further promote the use of renewable energy in the country, which is so necessary due to its environmental impact and due to today’s situation with power generation in Cuba.”
In this regard, the executive advisor of Renova celebrates the recent government resolution that benefits those who develop power generation projects with renewable sources, with an exemption in the payment of utilities for a period of up to eight years, and provides other incentives for the use of these sources with the aim of promoting a change in the energy matrix on the island.
“For us, as an MSME that is dedicated to this work, this measure is very favorable, because it helps us promote our services more and have more clients, in addition to the positive impact it can have for the country,” she said.
With collaboration projects with sectors such as health and education, and the upcoming opening of an office in Havana, the Camagüey MSME imports ― through state enterprises ― products from markets as distant as China and Canada, and from other closer ones, such as Panama and Mexico, and during the fair they had contacts with other importers and possible suppliers.
“The fair has been very profitable,” Peña said. “We have signed letters of intent, we have made valuations, we have contacted our clients and other potential clients who have approached us with interest in our services, many of whom have specifically sought us out, and it has been very good. We have more than thirty orders and possible contracts.”
“As an MSME that has been following a path of development and also greater recognition for our work, being able to be in FIHAV and have these results is very important and also satisfactory,” added Renova’s legal advisor.
“What has happened with us and other MSMEs at the fair shows that today the private sector has an increasingly important presence in the Cuban economy. We are increasingly chained to state enterprises and to each other, and we can no longer talk about the socioeconomic development of the country without taking into account our work. That is a great commitment, but also a source of pride for Renova.”