Last updated at 02:07 GMT, Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Red tape in Cuba: A struggle to change hotels in Havana
By Nick Caistor
Cuba has declared war on inefficiency. The state is preparing lay off
half a million people, and novelties such as income tax are on the way
in. But inefficiency has put down deep roots.
I made the mistake in Havana recently of trying to change hotels.
The first young woman I asked about this was very charming. She
telephoned her main office, was told the person responsible was at
lunch, and said I should come back in an hour.
When I returned, another charming young woman was sitting at her desk.
She told me that her colleague had now gone off to lunch herself, and
had left no instructions.
I waited for half an hour, then went back to my hotel.
A couple of hours later, I received a phone call in my room from reception.
A map of Cuba
This time there was not one but two equally charming young Cuban girls
waiting for me downstairs.
The first of these said I was to hand over several hundred euros and she
would give me a voucher for the new hotel.
I had to pay up-front, because that was how it was done in the state
I pointed out I had never seen her before, and so had no guarantee she
was who she said she was. Would she mind using her large
rhinestone-decorated mobile phone to call her office and let me speak to
"Ay, no mi amor," was her instant reply. "This is my private cell phone.
I would never use it for work. That costs money".
I said could she please come back in an hour with some sort of official
document proving she worked for the travel firm?
Of course, she said, then she and her friend disappeared.
Two hours later, when they had still not re-appeared, I decided to go
down to the tourist office myself.
Six people had taken up to eight hours to change a single booking
Here, another two charming women professed no knowledge of my request at
It took the pair of them another half an hour to ring the new hotel,
locate the manager, and extract a promise from him that there was a free
room for me.
Satisfied with this, I went back to my first hotel.
By now it was early evening, and I thought the matter was closed.
But no, another hour later the two charming young ladies rang up to my
room again. They said they had come back earlier, but had been unable to
find me, did I not want to change hotels after all?
I went down to the lobby to confront them with my signed voucher from
Far from appeasing them, this seemed to cause even further problems.
They knew nothing of the visit I had made to what was supposed to be
their main agency, and again would not phone there. They have all gone
home at this time of night, they said.
I still had to hand over euros for the exchange, but had lost the chance
just to give it to them, they insisted.
The next morning I would have to go personally to their office – which
it turned out was not where I had been, but another one dealing with
I set out bright and early for this second office to pay for my voucher.
Once again, the two charming young women were there.
This time, things went more smoothly, and I was able to hand over the
euros and get my receipt – except that it took them half an hour to
write all this down longhand, then get the receipt stamped in yet
I calculated that by going through the state tourist agency, six people
had taken up to eight hours to change a single booking.
It is this kind of bureaucratic inefficiency that President Raul Castro
is trying to stamp out by announcing that at least half a million jobs
in Cuba's state sector will have to go over the coming months.
Those who no longer have a job will be expected to register as
self-employed, and be taxed on their earnings.
Both paying tax and not having a job are complete novelties for Cubans.
Two of the gains of the revolution were meant to be that there would be
work for everyone, and that the state would generate enough revenue for
workers not to have to pay tax.
Now, as Raul Castro himself has admitted, that model has completely
Cuba now faces the challenge of what will happen when its citizens have
to try to earn a living on their own.
It seemed to me that just one competent person could have dealt with my
transfer in a couple of minutes – but when I asked one of the tourist
women if she was concerned about the coming redundancies, she proudly
announced that no, tourism was a productive sector, and that if
anything, they would need to take on more staff.
Tag: tourism, tourist, bureaucracy