No, McDonald's Won't 'Ruin' Cuba
Say what you will about McDonald's. No other restaurant franchise has ever been accused of orchestrating a coup.
On Wednesday, the U.S. announced it was moving toward more normalized relations with Cuba, which has been under sanctions since the Communist takeover in 1961. Among the expected initiatives will be increased financial transactions, more open trade and the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana.
Reaction was mixed to the move, but the decision to increase ties certainly opens up an opportunity for American businesses to more freely operate in Cuba.
And, by "American businesses," most folks in the Twitterverse could only think of one: Mickey D's. And many weren't happy.
Gotta pay a visit to #Cuba before the first McDonald's opens up.— Yasemin Ayarci (@DCyasemin) December 17, 2014
coming next to #Cuba: drunken spring breakers, McDonalds and a couple more military bases— Irina Galushko (@IrinaGalushkoRT) December 17, 2014
The US opening up Cuba is huge news. Cuba is an amazing country...hope it doesn't get ruined with Starbucks & McDonald's on every corner— SPEAK (@speakz) December 17, 2014
You get the idea: Hundreds of trite, mindless and critical tweets all along the lines of lamenting that somehow a hamburger joint is going to "ruin" a nice, quiet dictatorship like Cuba.
McDonald's is the easiest target because it is American and it is everywhere. It has become the symbol of all that's wrong with the U.S., which is making the world fat and imposing our calorie counts and McRibs on a planet that is quite happy with its insect meals and pasty flour dishes.
But it is a credit to McDonald's that it is this symbol of American capitalism. People around the world know it because of its phenomenal success. You can't go most places without seeing the Golden Arches. Why? Because -- wait for it! -- people of all cultures love it. The product is predictable, recognizable and comforting. You couldn't open a McDonald's in Paris if the French didn't want it. The French are a very picky crowd, known for their food, mind you, and they like the french fries at McDonald's. That's why there are more than 1,200 McDonald's franchises in that country alone. Sacre bleu.
So people like the product. But there is another place where McDonald's gets wrongly slammed: as an instrument of American capitalistic imperialism. America, you see, imposes Big Macs on the world. Every time a McDonald's opens, we are told by the Salon crowd, a little bit of native cultural independence dies, as if a shamrock shake could wipe out Irish history. America wants to own the world, and, where gunboats and drones fail, we always have our grease traps.
But critics ignore one fact: America is not opening these restaurants. Locals very often are. Look at what happened in the old Eastern Bloc. When capitalism slowly and clumsily came to many of those countries, entrepreneurs turned to franchises to help them build their own piece of the capitalist dream. Opening a McDonald's is a logical first step to financial freedom. It isn't expensive to open a McDonald's location, given the support international franchisees get at the start, and supplies are easy to come by, prices are relatively cheap, marketing is simpler and there is instant customer demand. That's why it isn't hyperbole to say McDonald's is a pathway to freedom, rather than a cudgel of capitalist oppression.
That is what every free-market proponent should hope happens in Cuba, if indeed the Golden Arches dot the Havana skyline someday. If done right, and with some regime change, the owners of those arches will be the people themselves, Cubans whose entrepreneurial spirit has been crushed and discouraged after more than half a century of Communist rule.
In that way, Americans who truly believe in freedom, who truly want to see people breathe free should want that air to have a healthy tinge of griddled burger to it. Wring your hands and rend your garments all you want, but Cuba will be better, not worse, if franchises thrive there. And the ribbon cut on the McDonald's in Havana will have far more impact than any open door at a new embassy.