Pilar Fernández is a Spanish entrepreneur living in Cuba for 16 years now. She fell in love with this country with her first visiton the occasion of Havana’s International Fair in 1995, the same year in which the government passed the Foreign Investment Law. At present, she is a permanent resident in the island, where she works as private entrepreneur, but she prefers to be called a freelancer. She is the owner of Bikos, an exclusive restaurant in Vedado, in Havana. We paid her a visit to talk to this woman that has become so Cuban that she doesn’t want to return to her country of origin.
“Before settling once and for all in Cuba I used to come here a lot. I used to have a hospital furniture factory in Austria. I sold furniture for the Frank País, Cira García and Hermanos Amejeiras hospitals. Then, my personal situation in Spain changed, I divorced and decided to take sometime to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life. I had really good friends here so I decided to settle. Living in this city I was hired to set in motion a powder milk factory with Havana’s Dairy Complex. That was my first job, but it was a short one. Then I did different things with the support of foreign companies. Time went by and I got married in Cuba and I decided to become a permanent resident because I didn’t want to depend on foreign companies that are here one day and the other they aren’t. I wanted to become my own boss, to take my future in my own hands and I had the chance to have the business I wanted and I’m really happy to be living these moments of economic change in Cuba.”
What’s the greatest challenge for a Spanish entrepreneur in Cuba today?
When a foreign entrepreneur settles in another country, he must respect the traditions of that place. He cannot impose his opinions; both cultures have to dialogue so as to establish a mutual feedback. That’s what I have been trying to do with my business, and I think I’ve made it. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge for all freelancers in the gastronomic sector in Cuba, beyond all the red-tape I have had to deal with, is the supply of goods for the menus. Sometimes there is shortage of some products and we have to travel the city to find them. We loose a lot of time in that. We would save a lot of time if there were specific markets with the supplies with need for our businesses to function properly.
What do you consider the social impact of the new foreign investment law might be and how will it impact the Cuban economy?
Cuba has had experience with joint enterprises and foreign companies that have been here for more than 20 years. Today, the country needs to take the next step to move on because that experience allows learning from mistakes and making the most of advantages. Thus, we can be able to boost the positive and discard the negative elements.
I think Cuba can choose the course to follow and I’m sure it will make the right choice. Besides, there are many companies that are used to working with Cuba; that’s an advantage now more than ever in view of the economic changes. They should support one another to attract new and better investments. Those that have spent sometime in Cuba should advice potential investors and thus attract the best investments possible. They can also serve as role models for other entrepreneurs and answer their questions. It is essential for the new entrepreneurs not to be ruled by the State alone but also by foreign entrepreneurs that have been in the island for more than 20 years.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of this law for the private sector?
I think it will contribute with our growth; the more investments, the more jobs and the more production. As long as Cuba develops economically, we will do fine.
What are the perspectives and expectations of foreign entrepreneurs living in Cuba from the new law?
They are all waiting to see what happens and they have two main concerns: juridical safety, which is the most worrying for entrepreneurs, and hiring freedom. Both issues are essential for anyone investing a certain amount of money. Hiring freedom is vital in order to choose freely who they are going to hire for their academic and training levels and also paying people legally because if we have to pay people under the counter, that’s no way to start a business. It would be nice to be on board legally speaking. Those are the biggest concerns of some Spanish entrepreneurs I’m acquainted with and are willing to invest in Cuba for the first time.
If you had the chance to add an article to this law, what would it be?
I’ve heard many Cubans complain about not being able to invest, this law is about foreign investment as there are in every nation; however, there are laws that allow Cubans to make businesses in their own country. I believe these are two different things we cannot be mistaken. Many Cubans believe a foreign investment law should be the same and should be open for everyone; that doesn’t make any sense because that would be just an investment law and wouldn’t honor its last name, what I do believe is that there are many businesses represented in the guidelines but there are many others that should be created to give professionals the chance to put into practice what they studied so that their effortsnot be in vain. Beyond the foreign investment law, as private entrepreneur and freelancer in Cuba, I ask for improvements for the self-employment sector.
What are your plans to be consequent with the economic changes the new law will bring about?
I will open a new business; it is still in the construction stage. It will be called Casa Pilar and will be inaugurated in June. It will be a different choice, located in Miramar, between 1st and 36th. It will be a restaurant with a special space for music for musician friends to share their work. It will offer excellent gourmet food with a great variety of styles, tastes and trends. Each offer will stand out for its design; although the place would rather be informal, people will be able to enjoy food even with their hands and feet. There will be a great variety of bar snacks and Spanish cuisine dishes which is in fashion these days.
Phopto: Gustavo Ávila