The Private Sector Consolidates Its Presence in Gastronomy and Services
/ 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 1 March 2017 — The corner of
Galiano and Zanja is a hive of people at noon. The area’s private cafes
sell everything from bread with croquettes to a complex meat lasagna,
but the nearest state places only sell cigarettes. A third of the
food services in Cuba are managed privately or by cooperatives, a sector
that is attracting a larger and larger clientele.
According to public statements in Monday’s official press from Interior
Minister Mari Blanca Ortega, 32% of food, personal and technical
services operating on the island “have moved to non-state forms of
management.” This formula now seeks to “achieve more quality and
efficiency,” says the official.
In the last two decades, the scene in the nation’s streets has been
transformed with the appearance of timbiriches – tiny private businesses
– sales counters in the doorways of houses, all the way to restaurant
complexes serving Creole and international food. But the sector is still
burdened by the absence of a wholesale market and a strong tax policy.
“The taxes are very high,” says Dario, who manages a small fruit and
snack store near the Military Hospital in Havana. “The account doesn’t
balance because the products have gone up a lot of price and I have to
pay the Office of the Tax Administration (ONAT) almost half of what I
earn in a year,” he complains.
Right now, more than 200,000 workers, of whom at least 170,000 are
self-employed, must submit their formal declarations of accounts. Those
who have annual incomes in excess of 50,000 Cuban pesos (about US
$2,000) must pay the Treasury up to 50% of the total earned.
Darío says that in the area where he works “many small businesses have
closed because they have not been able to maintain a stable
supply.” However, at the national level the numbers have grown, albeit
slowly in recent years. By the end of 2016, the country had 535,000
self-employed workers, according to data from the Ministry of Labor and
The most common activities are the preparation and sale of food, the
transport of cargo and passengers, the rental of dwellings, rooms or
spaces and telecommunications agents.
Cases of tax evasion are common. Recently ONAT indicted 223 of these
entrepreneurs in court. If found guilty they could face sentences of up
to eight years in prison, ONAT’s legal director, Sonia Fernández, told
the official media.
Outside a bakery on Carlos III Avenue, several of the self-employed were
waiting Monday to supply their businesses. “I come every day and buy
about 30 flautas, but sometimes I have to wait up to two hours to get
goods,” says Migdalia, a cafeteria employee at nearby Calle Reina.
The bakery belongs to the retail network and the line alternates
entrepreneurs and customers who only want to buy for home
consumption. “If behind me someone buys wholesale, I’m left with
nothing,” protests a retiree who considers that “the normal consumer is
affected” when he must stand in line with small businesspeople.
Due to shortages affecting domestic markets, other products must be
imported directly from abroad. “All the olive oil and Parmesan cheese we
use we have to bring in from the outside,” said the administrator of a
busy Italian restaurant in Havana’s Chinatown, insisting on anonymity.
In September 2014, new resolutions of the General Customs of the
Republic attempted to restrict shipments of goods for commercial
purposes by air, sea or postal. But the flow of products to the private
sector has not stopped.
“I cannot tell a customer that we are not making a dish because there is
no nutmeg in the country or because I ran out of sesame,” complains the
manager of the Italian restaurant. “When people come here they want to
see that everything on the menu is being served; to guarantee that, you
have to import many ingredients,” he says.
A report published a few days ago from the Economic and Trade Office of
Spain in Havana says “the lack of stable access to raw materials and
supplies necessary for their activity” as one of the greatest
difficulties that the self-employed and cooperatives must face.
The lack of legal status is also at the root of most of the problems in
In spite of the rapid growth in numbers, and the contribution to the
gross domestic product made by entrepreneurs and cooperatives, these
forms of management have not been able “to squeeze into the productive
fabric with sufficient force, due to the strong regulation and legal
obstacles they encounter.”
Source: The Private Sector Consolidates Its Presence in Gastronomy and
Services / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba –