Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana 20 October 2016 — Chinese, Italian or
international food fill the menus of Cuban paladares, but lately fear
has starred as the main dish on the menu of these private restaurants.
The jewel in the crown of entrepreneurship on the island is experiencing
moments of uncertainty after the government froze the issuing of
licenses for these businesses run by the self-employed.
In recent months food and beverage outlets have watched a parade of pop
stars, Hollywood actors, emblematic rock-and-rollers and even US
President Barack Obama through their establishments, but it is a
Even Camaguey province has been shocked, after the closure, at the
beginning of this month, of three of the most important
paladares operating in the city. Restaurant 1800 was searched by the
police, who confiscated some of the furniture and arrested the owner,
Edel Izquierdo. Two other paladares, Mi Hacienda and Papito Rizo’s
Horseshoee, were also forced to close.
The suspension in the granting of new licenses for these premises has
stoked fears about a possible backward step in the reforms undertaken by
Raul Castro starting in 2008. Although officialdom has rushed to clarify
that this is a temporary measure, a sense of a country going backwards
to times of greater controls is felt on all sides.
The Acting Vice-President of the Provincial Administation in the
capital, Isabel Hamze, declared on national television this Wednesday
that “of the 135 license holders [of private restaurants] we met with
129 to alert them to a group of problems that cloud the services that
they offer and we explained them that, with these exchanges ended, it
was time to undertake an inspection.”
The official noted that during several meetings with owners of the
private locales they discussed among other issues the consumption and
sale of drugs inside restaurants, along with evidence of prostitution
Hamze emphasized that those who acquired “money in Cuba or abroad
illegally” in order to “bring it to the island and launder it,” need to
be on guard. “Nowhere in the world is it legal to launder money and it
is not permitted. We are not accusing anyone of doing it, we talked
about where their capital comes from,” she said.
“The state can not compete with the privates, which in a short time have
managed to run more efficient and attractive places for foreign and
domestic customers,” a waiter of the centrally located Doña Eutimia
Restaurant, nestled against the Havana Cathedral. The man believes that
the current “storm will pass, because otherwise it would go against the
Most owners of these private premises prefer to keep silent. “He who
moved doesn’t end up in the photo,” joked a private restaurant owner on
23rd Street. “Everything is on hold, because no one dares to stand out
now,” he added. “The repression of the paladares has come because some
have become nightclubs with musical programs that attract a lot of people.”
According to updated data, more than 150,000 self-employed work in 201
occupations in Havana. There are more than 500 private restaurants
throughout the capital.
In some locations it has become common to alternate good food with shows
ranging from comedy, to magic, to fashion. Lately, the celebrated King
Bar has sent out invitations to spend October 30, Halloween night, with
costumes and frights.
The government undertakes inspections to guarantee strict compliance
with the rules that govern the operations of these establishments: no
more than 50 seats, limited hours, and the purchase of supplies
exclusively in state stores with receipts to prove it.
However, several entrepreneurs consulted by this newspaper agree that it
is difficult to manage a private restaurant following the letter of the
law. The shortages often experienced in the markets that sell in Cuban
convertible pesos, the lack of a wholesale market, and the prohibition
against commercial imports, hobble the sector and push owners to the
In the Labor and Social Security Office on B Street between 21st and
23rd in Havana, this Tuesday, it was not possible to get a license to
open a paladar. “The licenses of those who already have them are not
suspended,” but “the issuing of new licenses has been halted,” declared
an official to the nervous entrepreneurs who came to the site for more
The measure was preceded by meetings with the owners of paladares where
they were warned to comply with the law; officials from the National Tax
Administration Office (ONAT) and the police were at the meetings. The
answer has been felt immediately on the menus of the most emblematic
places, which have reduced their offerings to what can be purchased in
the state retail network.
Lobster and beef have been among the first items to disappear from the
menus, as most of these products are purchased on the black market from
suppliers who circumvent police roadblocks to bring them to the city.
The law criminalizes very severely the theft and illegal slaughter of
cattle – which is nearly all slaughter of cattle outside the state
system – in addition to the “illegal abetting” of such goods. Due to the
decrease in the number of cattle, to a little more than 4 million today,
the Government considers any irregularities in the slaughter and
marketing of these animals to be a serious violation of Penal Code.
However, of the 1,700 private restaurants that offer the country has
many typical dishes known as ropa vieja and vaca frita, among other
dishes made from beef. Given the current onslaught of the authorities, a
stealthy slogan is in play: survive and wait out the storm.
Source: Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz
Escobar – Translating Cuba –