Human Rights in Cuba

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World Watch

June 29, 2012 4:48 PM

Cuba both fuels, fights new private restaurants

By Portia Siegelbaum

(CBS News) HAVANA – As Cuba attempts to retool its ,

contradictions pop up, some of them seemingly inexplicable.

Last year, the state eliminated 140,000 jobs. This year, it is slated to

eliminate another 170,000. The newly opened private sector is supposed

to provide opportunities for laid-off workers, and one of the most

popular areas for the "self-employed" is the service industry.

Private eateries range from homemade pastries and pizzas sold out of a

"businessman's" front door to upscale designer restaurants catering to

tourists and diplomats.

Many of the better restaurants, known in Spanish as "paladares," have

been opened by chefs and others who have gotten their experience in

state-owned establishments but who are finding it much more profitable

to strike out on their own under economic reforms set into place by

President .

It's also profitable for the government, which collects taxes from these

and other private businesses.

However, there seems to be an unofficial but powerful resistance to

these businesses, which are seen as creating stiff competition for the

restaurants owned and operated by the state that previously held a

monopoly on visitors to Cuba.

Americans coming on group tours to the island naturally want to try some

of the new private restaurants. To their surprise, tour drivers

refuse to take them to any , and the Havanatur agency guide

accompanying them everywhere else is not allowed to eat with them at

private places.

Alejandro Robaina, owner of the paladar La Casa, said this policy is

really hurting his business.

Open since the 1990s, La Casa is popular with American travelers and has

long been visited by groups of Jewish delegations visiting Cuba. A

majority of these Americans are senior citizens, and many of them find

it difficult to walk the five or so blocks from where the Transtur bus

company will sometimes decide to drop them off. Often the bus driver

will not even do that.

A Havanatur guide who asked not to be identified said the Ministry of

has not put anything in writing but all guides have been told

private restaurants are off limits.

The guides normally share meals with their clients at state-owned

places. The guide said the tour bus drivers have told him they were

shown a memorandum from their employers ordering them not to take

visitors to paladares.

So, on one hand, the government is issuing licenses to open private

enterprises so owners hire staff, some of whom have lost their state

jobs. On the other hand, elements in the state bureaucracy are

interfering with the progress of this non-state sector.

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