Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Opera Unfolds When A Cuban Cabaret Is Shut Down

by Nick Miroff

July 31, 2012

Ulises Aquino was already one of Cuba's best-known baritones when he

founded his own company, Opera de la Calle, or Opera of the Street, in

2006. By combining Cuban rhythms and dance with his formal musical

training, he won fans at home and abroad.

Aquino also considers himself a good "revolucionario," meaning he's a

loyal supporter of Cuba's socialist system. And when President Raul

Castro urged Cubans to increase productivity by starting small

businesses, Aquino answered the call.

He cleaned up a vacant, trash-strewn lot in Havana and built a

restaurant and cabaret, El Cabildo, where his Opera of the Street could

finally have a home.

It was a big hit. And true to socialist principles, Aquino split

earnings among his 130 employees, held free children's theater on

weekends and kept his prices low.

But it didn't last a year.

Aquino says a team of inspectors sent by Havana city authorities

interrupted the show on July 21 as the stunned audience looked on.

"They ordered me off the stage and began a four-hour inspection," he

says. "They told us to shut down the kitchen and freeze all sales."

Ulises Aquino, a prominent Cuban singer, is the owner of the caberat and

restaurant. He describes himself as a strong supporter of Cuba's

socialist system and split the earnings among his 130 employees.

Owner Blames Bureaucrats, Not Castro

The officials ordered El Cabildo closed and Aquino's business licenses

revoked for two years. His supplies lacked proper receipts, they said,

and he had too many chairs. But the most severe charge was personal

enrichment, meaning he wasn't authorized to charge a $2 cover at the door.

No hearing. No appeal. Just a stern letter from officials who weren't

interested in helping bring Aquino into compliance. But he's not blaming

Raul Castro.

"This kind of thing is the exact opposite of what our government has

been telling us," Aquino says. "The people behind this are the midlevel

bureaucrats who see Cuba changing and know that they're going to lose

their power. They are the ones holding our country back."

Raul Castro himself told Cubans in a recent speech that bureaucrats who

stand in the way of change will be swept aside. He's laid out plans to

resuscitate Cuba's state-run economy by creating millions of jobs in new

small businesses and cooperatives.

But the process is dragging. Closing El Cabildo has eliminated 130 of

the jobs created for Cubans like Angel Basterrechea, who fears he may

have lost the highest-paying job he ever had.

"Life has changed for me and for my family since I started working

here," says Basterrechea, who Aquino hired to help build El Cabildo and

work as a night watchman. "I've made $120 — even $160 — a month and

that's more than I've ever made."

A Test For Reforms

No one is getting rich on that sort of wage in Cuba, where the average

state salary is a meager $20 a month. But even a modest display of

success may have led to Aquino's downfall.

Related NPR Stories

Two self-employed florists prepare bunches of flowers in Havana last

year. The Cuban government is stepping up economic reforms and estimates

that in four or five years, nearly half the workforce will be employed

in the private sector.

Cuba's New Mantra: Viva Private Business

Just before Aquino was busted, the cabaret was featured in a Reuters

article that called it "Cuba's largest private business" and laid out

his profit-sharing model for socialist enterprise.

Aquino insists he broke no laws and that he's the one on the side of the

Cuban Revolution, not the local officials who shut him down.

"I am a revolutionary because I'm not a conservative," he says. "This

was done by people who pretend to be revolutionary but are fakers,

lacking in any ethical principles. This is not what the revolution is


Aquino's case is a test for Castro and his reformers as they begin an

experiment converting state-owned companies into employee-run

cooperatives. If they intervene and help Aquino reopen, it'll send a

message to lower-level officials that small businesses that create jobs

deserve support.

If they let El Cabildo remain shuttered, they'll be sending a different

signal: that the skeptics are right, and Cuba hasn't changed much after all.

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