A Carte Blanche to the Market of Tourists’ Dreams / 14ymedio, Marcelo
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 November 2016 — For tourists
coming to Cuba, one of the most cherished fantasies it is to get into a
car of the last century and cruise the streets of cities and towns. A
new type of permit for private carriers is bringing that dream even
closer to reality, as it authorizes the drivers to operate at airports
and in the vicinity of hotels.
Since early this year in the streets of Havana you can see that the
best-preserved models of Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Ford
displaying a yellow sticker on their windshield. It is the carte blanche
to park outside hotels and legally offer their services to foreigners.
Previously, the areas of the Cuban capital most frequented by tourists
were a feudal estate, where the only legal operators were the so-called
Panataxis and the vintage cars owned by the government. The
self-employed had to settle for picking up tourists on the periphery
or managing the business through intermediaries.
The mouth-watering market for tours in convertible cars for recently
arrived visitors, costing between 40 and 50 Cuban convertible pesos
(CUC) per hour (about $40-50 US), is attractive to drivers everywhere.
Antonio Martinez, 52, is one of those who long to get the “yellow
sticker” that would “turn a pumpkin into a carriage,” as he says
sarcastically about his old Toyota jeep.
“I’m getting less and less business on the route between Santiago de las
Vegas and Fraternity Park,” the driver explained to this newspaper. The
entrepreneur spent more than five years working as a collective taxi
driver focused primarily on domestic customers.
However, since the middle of this year local authorities have imposed
price caps and “business is getting worse,” said the driver. “Many are
switching to this type of work with tourists, because it always pays
better and there’s the tip on the side,” he adds.
Following a decision by Havana’s Provincial Administration Council, it
was established that the carriers cannot decide to raise fares on their
own, and only the prices charged before July 1 are acceptable. The
majority of drivers have shortened their routes and others make deals
with the riders not to reveal to the inspectors the actual fares paid.
But Martinez is tired of this “cat and mouse game.” After an investment
of more than 2,000 convertible pesos to make his car “as smooth as
silk,” the driver has begun the process to obtain the longed-for sticker
that would allow him to “carry Pepes without having to be hiding around
corners,” he says.
Competition is strong, because of the more than 496,400 people
throughout the island who were engaged in self-employment at the
beginning of this year, at least 50,482 carry cargo and passengers. But
there is a very small number who have cars “in the impeccable condition
that is lovely in the eyes of the tourists,” says Martinez.
Asking around among other drivers who already have the sticker to
operate in tourist areas and make “airport pickups,” led the
self-employed driver to the No. 9 taxi base on Ayestaran street.
It was not as easy as he thought. The director of the state agency,
Ernesto Reyes, first described to him the simplest requirements to
achieve his goal, including “opening two bank accounts, one in national
currency and another in convertible pesos, and taking out the operating
license needed by all taxi drivers.”
To not lose the sticker, drivers must pay about 25 CUC and the same
amount in national currency, the Cuban peso. “With that you will be
allowed to park outside Havana hotels and may take or collect clients at
the airport, but it is not valid to go to Varadero beach,” said Reyes.
The most insurmountable barrier is that with the new permit the driver
is required to “consume 90 gallons of fuel monthly” that must be
purchased at the taxi base on Ayestarán Street at a total cost of 360
CUC. The measure seeks to prevent the self-employed from turning to the
informal market to buy their fuel*.
Antonio Martinez has decided to “leave the yellow sticker for another
time” because, he said, “rather than a permission, it seems like a shackle.”
*Translator’s note: The “informal market,” in this and other cases, is
essentially state resources that have been “diverted” (stolen) for sale
on the black market. Much of the Cuban economy – at all levels, from
households to businesses – is supported by “under the table” purchases
of diverted state resources.
Source: A Carte Blanche to the Market of Tourists’ Dreams / 14ymedio,
Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba –