HAVANA — Waleska Rivera has worked for many years at Danosa Caribbean Inc.
She began there as an ordinary factory worker, very young and without experience in the business world. Today, she’s the president of Danosa, the first Puerto Rican company to participate in the Havana International Trade Fair.
“Danosa much resembles the Cuban people, who have learned to overcome obstacles continuously, as we ourselves have done,” she says, making an enthusiastic comparison.
This year, U.S. companies came to the fair for the first time without being represented by Alimport, the Cuban agency that traditionally buys food in the United States and enabled the U.S. firms to evade the blockade in the past.
The U.S. companies that participate in the Fair number 30, according to the U.S. Embassy. Danosa is the only Puerto Rican company.
In general, Puerto Rican firms do not compete at a level of equality, because the regulations come from Washington and grant privilege to the U.S. companies. But Waleska believes in efficiency as a form of compensation and, acting on that belief, Danosa Caribbean has survived since 1978, when it was founded. Obviously, part of its exports are bound for the U.S.
For practical purposes, Puerto Rico has been expropriated as just another state of the Union, so “the challenge of dealing with Cuba would be the same as it would be for any other U.S. company.”
Waleska Rivera has visited Cuba three times this year. As she explains, when the subject of bilateral relations comes up, Cubans clearly prefer to deal with Puerto Rico.
“We have to get busy, because the whole world is looking to Cuba as a possibility,” she says. “But we can feel a much closer connection, beyond mere business. We can direct our efforts at helping the Cuban people.”
Danosa manufactures asphalt roll roofing membranes, which not only protect houses and other buildings against rainwater seepage but can also reduce the indoor temperature as much as 8 degrees, depending on which of the 30 varieties of membranes is used.
“Many of these products are finished in white. How does that help the Cubans? Well, under each roof where the sheets are placed, the temperature is lower, regardless of whether or not air conditioning is installed.” The Danosa products “improve your quality of life inside the building,” she says.
“We also have products that have an anti-root system,” she adds. “Therefore, you can waterproof [the roof] and, atop that, you can sow, create an orchard, which could be very important to some people. Besides, it helps the drainage system, which won’t get all the water all of a sudden, but a little at a time.
“This is an issue that could help Cuba, because we know a little about its limitations in infrastructure and, for people who don’t have backyards, it would not be a problem to plant vegetables or flowers.”
Waleska says that the Danosa Caribbean business model bets on the creation of local jobs. Because the company focuses on the manufacture of its products, the labor for installation, commercialization, transportation, etc., would be handled by Cubans.
“Those people would be ‘cuentapropistas’ [self-employed workers] in the construction sector,” she says.
Distances are short
Waleska was president of the Industrial Enterprises Association of Puerto Rico. Two years ago, she came to Cuba on a trade mission. At that time, she was accompanied by 29 other business leaders, because “we’ve always looked at Cuba as the door to international trade for Puerto Rican products, the same as our country could be Cuba’s window to other markets.”
The business people explored possibilities (as everyone else does today) but with “a visionary strategy,” in Rivera’s words, and with a greater understanding of the island’s internal dynamics, learned through the cultural nearness.
In October of this year, the new president of the Association recommended that that strategy be continued. And the result was a second trip, this time with 40 businessmen. Some of them agreed to accompany Danosa Caribbean’s presence at this 33rd edition of the Havana fair. Waleska is the only woman in the group.
“At the meetings held during our stay here, we have confirmed that, between our two peoples, there are ties that are impossible to cut,” she says. “The factors that link us are many. That is why I am convinced that Puerto Rico will have an important role in this opening. No doubt, we must take advantage of the privileged geographic position we both enjoy.
“Why not strengthen our ties as a community, and strengthen the Caribbean by creating this kind of alliance?”
Sure, why not?
All photos by Carlos Ernesto Escalona Martí (Kako).
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