Lobster and Ground Meat to Calm Tensions in Havana

A line of customers outside a fish store on San Lazaro Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, July 27, 2021 — On Tuesday a rare scene unfolded on the corner of San Lazaro and Soledad streets in Central Havana. The fish market on that corner, which had been poorly stocked for months, suddenly had items which generated expressions of astonishment and long lines. Customers saw lobster, ground beef, snapper and processed ham listed for sale on the store’s chalkboard.

“They have so many things,” says a delighted Marcelo, a retiree who lives across the street from the store. “Normally, all they have are some really bad fish croquettes with a lot a flour but very little fish. It’s been a long time since they had anything worthwhile,” he observes while noting the prohibitive prices: “The lobster is more than 219 pesos a kilo.”

“The lobster was not good quality but they’ve already sold out because demand is so high. It flew out of there,” says Marcelo.

“This is all an attempt to calm people down,” speculates Aurora, a resident of Cayo Hueso, who got in line early, hoping for a little ground beef. “Lately, we’ve been seeing products we haven’t seen in a long time so, of course, everyone continue reading

is wondering, if all this was in the warehouses, why they weren’t selling it; if people had to take to the streets to get them to release it.”

After widespread protests on July 11, government officials announced ration card holders would be entitled to an extra two pounds of rice per person. Farmers markets were also set up in Havana neighborhoods where demand has been high, such as La Lisa, El Cotorro and El Cerro. Unlike other occasions when the government tried to tamp down discontent, however, selections are few and supplies are limited.

“I remember one time there were power outages for several days in my neighborhood. After people started painting placards and throwing bottles off their balconies, they sold us canned meat, pastas, candies and even beer. That was when Hugo Chavez was sending over a lot of petroleum but times are harder now,” observes a neighbor of the San Lazaro fish market.

Nevertheless, in spite of the high prices and limited selection, the shortage of recent months has spurred dozens of local residents to join the line outside the store. “They’ll supply us with something this one time, then forget about us again,” observes a customer. “I am definitely going to buy some lobster, even if it costs me a week’s pension, because I want to experience the taste of seafood again before I die.”

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Balcony Collapses in Central Havana

The collapse occurred in a building on Calle San Nicolás and San Lázaro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 June 2021 — The owners of an apartment located in a building on San Nicolás and San Lázaro streets, in Centro Habana, saw the balcony of their home collapse on Tuesday when they were carrying out repair work.

“They tied up the scaffolding on the balcony and a good part of it fell,” a neighbor told 14ymedio while the residents of the building collected the debris that fell on the street without causing material damage or injuring passersby.

The neoclassical building, built in the first half of the 20th century, is in an advanced state of disrepair due to lack of maintenance and erosion caused by saltpeter. To this are added the successive internal transformations, such as horizontal divisions — the building of raised platforms (popularly called ‘barbecues’) within a room — that seek to expand the space. continue reading

Centro Habana, without the colonial beauty of Old Havana or the modern buildings of El Vedado, has for decades been a municipality characterized by the high presence of tenements, infrastructure problems, overcrowding and a high population density. The successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent collapses.

In recent months, several collapses have been reported in the municipality. One of the most recent occurred in April on the Malecon, when two buildings collapsed and part of a third collapsed, and a man was seriously injured.

The fall of a balcony caused in January 2020 the tragic death of three girls in Old Havana, between Vives and Revillagigedo streets, in the Jesús María neighborhood. The structure, deteriorated by the years and the lack of maintenance, collapsed around four-thirty in the afternoon, when the young girls were on the sidewalk rehearsing for the events to celebrate the birth of José Martí.

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Cuban Government Repeats a 1980s Scam, This Time with Dollars

Long lines began forming in the early hours of Friday morning in front of bank branches. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, June 11, 2021 — “I deposited everything I had: eighty dollars.” Reinaldo waited in line early Friday morning outside the Banco Metroplitano on Infanta Street in Old Havana to hand over his modest hard-currency fortune that he has been saving for emergencies.

Thousands of Cubans like him woke up worried, after learning the night before that the government would suspend cash deposits of dollars on June 21. “What’s the use of having this money if I can’t use it after that date?” a young man in the doorway of the bank asks.

“The bank really planned ahead,” he notes. “Normally there are only two or three tellers available but today everyone was there, ready to take people’s deposits.” continue reading

On the TV news/interview program Roundtable, officials described the decision as a necessary step to deal with obstacles created by the U.S. embargo. But the official explanation has failed to convince either ordinary citizens or economists, who expressed astonishment the day after the announcement.

At the end of May, the government suspended currency exchange services at the country’s international airports, claiming it had run out of cash. It indicated that, despite a “significant shortage” of hard currency, it had been able to continue operating within established limits but that a “lack of liquidity” had made those operations unsustainable.

Long lines formed again on Friday outside stores that only accept freely convertible foreign currency, especially those selling home appliances. Outside the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall in Central Havana, dozens of people were already in line by 5:00 AM, when the pandemic curfew ends, eager to spend their dollars on a refrigerator, air-conditioning system or rice cooker.

“People are going crazy because they’re afraid they’ll be hit with more measures like this in a few days,” says one young man waiting in line to buy clothing at a foreign currency store in the capital’s biggest shopping center. “What this has done is create more doubt and given people the impression that the those at the top don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lines outside hard-currency stores were especially long after the announcement that banks would not be accepting deposits of U.S. banknotes for the foreseeable future. (14ymedio)

For many the situation has brought back memories of the so-called Houses of Gold and Silver. In the 1980s the government operated stores known as “Houses of Diego Velazquez” — a reference to early Spanish explorers who traded tiny pieces of mirrored glass for gold — in which customers exchanged jewelry, gemstones and precious metal objects for vouchers which could be used to purchase clothing, footwear and household appliances.

No figures were ever released on how much gold and silver was ultimately collected but the operation lives on in the Cuban imagination as a kind of institutional scam, especially since the merchandise bought with the vouchers turned out to be shoddy and wore out quickly.

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‘All-Included’ Deals at Cuban Hotels Do Not Apply to Domestic Tourism

Dozens of customers wait in long lines at the Cubatur office located on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Lorey Saman, Havana/Mexico City, 20 May 2021. Since 7 am, dozens of customers have been lining up for more than two hours at the Cubatur office on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel to get in on a summer getaway deal advertised by the state-run agencies. Faced with the downturn in international tourism, the government has bet on Cuban nationals to fill its hotels.

“People come here with gigantic bundles of money, like this one young guy who just took out his wallet…it’s tremendous!” exclaims a smiling woman, who on Thursday morning made it over to the central office of Cubatur in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood.

Indeed, one needs a good sum of cash to pay for these “all-included” hotel packages — among the offers that most attract Cubans’ attention. Prices range from 984 pesos ($40 USD in exchange) per person, per night — not counting transportation, which is paid separately and generally comes out to about 600 pesos. continue reading

“The more economical offers are sold out, leaving the most expensive ones,” asserts another customer who, after checking with the tour operators, decided to get in line. “The minimum reservation one can make is for two days, with a money-back guarantee should the offer be cancelled due to the pandemic.”

The agency announced that the Islazul hotel chain prices were going down, therefore “they removed the signs outside that listed the costs,” according to customers who had arrived quite early.

The tourism packages can only be reserved in pesos, at the state-run offices within the country. No option to purchase from abroad exists should a relative or friend wish to gift a vacation to a resident of the Island.

The package prices run from 984 pesos to more than 3,000 per person, per night. (14ymedio)

“Somebody who goes to these things a lot told me that right now those hotels are like voluntary work camps — I don’t know how true that is, we’ll have to wait and hear what people have to say when they come back,” suggests another customer.

Along with the pool and the beach, the principal attraction of stay at the country’s hotels continues being access to a more varied menu than can be found in private homes, which are very affected by food shortages. Even so, various reports gathered by this newspaper warn of stricter regulations governing these “all-included” packages.

“They’re only allowing one heavy meal at lunch and dinner, while only a part of breakfast is included as a buffet item — the rest has to be ordered à la carte, such as cheese, egg dishes, sausages, and yogurt,” shared a Matanzas resident, speaking with 14ymedio after purchasing two nights at a Gaviota hotel in Varadero.

The woman, who claims to take such a trip annually (“except for 2020, because of the pandemic”), says that the hotel guests “act crazy” in the dining room. “When the servers bring out beer, the people stampede to get in line like they do at stores.” In her view, the food shortages affecting the country are evident “because the menu offerings are more limited and the amounts are smaller.” In any case, she observes, the getaway is still “enjoyable after so many months of being cooped up.”

In other parts of the country, such as Matanzas, since early May only residents of that province have been allowed to purchase packages for various hotels in Varadero*. At that tourist hub, the Island currently welcomes thousands of Russian vacationers, thanks to connections re-established in mid-April between Russia and Cuba, including seven weekly flights.

Meanwhile, some Matanzas businesses have offered discounts to Cuban customers who book before 31 May. Similar offers are available from Havanatur in Holguín, with a 10% discount for the Playa Costa Verde hotel, if the package is purchased by 30 June for stays between 1 July and 15 September.

In Mexico, the Vagamundos agency, which works with the Viva Aerobus airline, as of 7 May began promoting tourism packages to Varadero. A few hotels included in this promotion are also ones in the summer domestic tourism campaigns in Cuba, such as Kawama, Villa Tortuga, and Los Delfines.

Although no specific departure city is identified, tourists could book between four and six nights between 1 June and 31 December, 2021. Rates for four nights run from 784 to 1,186 dollars, with Tuesday and Saturday departures.

The packages include proof of Covid-19 vaccination three days prior to departure from Mexico, a health-check fee, ground transportation to the hotel, and travel insurance. The packages are available to “tourists or Cuban residents of other countries, and they may not depart from the tourist hub,” according to the agency. In addition, “family members will be allowed in the hotel as of the second day” as long as they show proof of a prior negative Covid-19 test and have booked their stay in advance.

In early March, Taíno Tours — a subsidiary of Havanatur — also offered tours departing from Mexico of between 200 and 400 dollars per week at Varadero hotels. These are “therapeutic” packages designed to “prevent diseases and health problems,” with treatments that include Interferon, PrevenHo-Vir, and Biomodulin-T — pharmaceutical products promoted by the Cuban authorities since the start of the pandemic to prevent coronavirus and other infections. However, according to independent analyses, these products have no proven scientific consistency.

*Translator’s Note: Varadero is in Matanzas province.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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Long Lines at Havana Bus Stops Due to Lack of Fuel

Along with the food supply, transportation is one of the main headaches for residents of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 May 2021– Mondays are the most difficult days for public transport in Havana and today is proving especially difficult. Mobility in the Cuban capital has been reduced since May 17 due to the fuel deficit, a cut that has caused long lines at bus stops and widespread annoyance.

Along with the food supply, transportation is one of the main headaches for the residents of this city with more than two million inhabitants, where for decades moving from one place to another has been a problem, either due to lack of fuel, the deterioration of vehicles or, lately, the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“I went out to try to get to work but finally I had to call to say that I was not going to be able to come,” Luisa María, 65, a worker in a state canteen near the Capitol, explains to this newspaper. The employee resides in Alamar, a neighborhood in eastern Havana that has traditionally suffered from transportation deficiencies. Considered a dormitory city, Monday has been a particularly difficult day for the area.

“I work in a prioritized sector, because we cook for many old people who come for lunch in our dining room and have no other place to eat, but today two co-workers and myself, we have not been able to get there due to the transport issue,” explains Luisa María. “The other option was to take an almendrón*, but at this point in the month there is no money left for that.” continue reading

In the municipality of Diez de Octubre, the crowds at the stops were greater than days ago. “The driver of the private taxi in which I finally had to travel said that several customers he had picked up this morning were people who got frustrated waiting for the bus and in the end had to end up in private cars.”

“So it is very difficult to maintain the passenger limits that have been established during the pandemic,” complains the driver of Route 54, which goes from Old Havana to Lawton. “People do not understand, I tell them that they can’t get in because this is what we are ordered to do, but they prefer to take risks. I am a driver, not a police officer.”

Several of the people waiting at the stop, located on a narrow sidewalk and without shelter from the sun, were carrying heavy boxes or bags this morning. Through public transport, goods are moved from one municipality to another, at a time when basic products are scarce and the shortages force people to travel more to make purchases.

Mondays are the most difficult days for public transport in Havana and today is proving especially difficult. (14ymedio)

“My chicken will defrost if the bus does not arrive in the next hour,” laments a lady with a nylon bag in which she carries a package of frozen thighs. “I marked my place in line (at the store) last night and today I was one of the first to buy, because my sister who lives in this neighborhood told me, but now I’m between a rock and a hard place with the return transport.”

Since last January and with the rebound in covid-19 cases in the Cuban capital, the authorities decided to suspend public transport between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Vehicle capacity was also regulated: passengers can occupy all seats but the limit is up to 30 standing passengers in articulated buses, 20 in rigid buses and only 10 in smaller buses.

“People complain, but what is happening in other provinces is that all public transport is suspended; Havanans are still privileged,” says the companion of a cancer patient who has had to travel to the Cuban capital to continue treatment.

“In Cienfuegos, where we are from, they have suspended all transport from today. We were lucky to be able to leave on time and now we have been at this stop for more than an hour and we have not been able to get to El Vedado, which is where we have the consultation,”  says the man from Cienfuegos waiting outside the Monaco cinema in Santo Suárez.

In Cienfuegos, which currently registers the highest number of infected people since the pandemic began, the authorities announced that as of this Monday “public transport is stopped, which includes travel between municipalities and alternative means of transportation such as motorcycle taxis, cars, pedicabs and rental ’machines’.”

Some believe that the restriction of transport in the capital, although motivated by the lack of fuel, may contribute to curbing new cases of Covid-1. “What they have to do is cancel all mobility and leave no routes in operation, only transportation vital to health and the economy,” says a passenger at the stop in front of Parque Maceo in Centro Habana.

However, these types of opinions are not well received by those who believe that a total shutdown of transport would aggravate the search for food, already complicated. “It is clear that you are not the person who cooks at your home, because if you were the one who must take care of looking for and preparing food, you would not think so,” replied a passenger to the proposal.

With the delay of the bus, for long minutes the stop became a small parliament with conflicting voices on the relevance of keeping public transport running. “And are they going to tell the bosses not to mark us tardy when we are late?” asked a young man who was trying to get to the municipality of Playa.

“My boss has the company car but I do not, I have to use public transport. You can see that this does not affect the ones at the top,” he lamented. “It seems like a joke because recently they told us that Japan had donated very modern buses but now there is no fuel to start them. When one thing is not missing, something else is missing.”

*Translator’s note: Almendrónes are privately operated fixed route taxis, with the service often provided by classic American cars; the name is derived from “almendra” —  almond — and refers to the shape of these old cars.

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A Cuban Enters a ‘Dollar Store’ For the First Time and is Frightened

The only shopping complex in the country named after a king of Spain enters the realm of dollarization. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 10 May 2021 — From the outside it still looks the same, but inside the Plaza de Carlos III a silent battle is taking place. On the one hand, the best-stocked stores that accept payment only in foreign currency, and on the other, a few stores that still sell in the national currency. For many Cubans, walking through its corridors is an immersion in the economic divide that separates the island.

“I entered the stores [that requirement payment] in MLC (freely convertible currency) in Carlos III, I had never visited them closely,” a Havanan told 14ymedio. After touring the stores that take payment only in foreign currency in this centrally located business in the Cuban capital, this Cuban did not know whether to be happy to find products that are barely seen in the other stores or to be saddened by the “monetary apartheid” that separates citizens.

“What a sadness, I have shopped in those stores for about ten years, but now all, except the food supermarket, [accept payment only] in MLC,” he laments. “Even the children’s flip-flops are being sold in dollars.” continue reading

“All the Suchel perfumes and also the imported ones, the shampoos that they sold for a lifetime there in the store for 1 CUC, are now also in dollars,” says this 41-year-old Havanan, born in the 1980s when the Soviet subsidy allowed well-stocked markets and better-stocked display windows. “It was a very strange and sad feeling.”

When he was a child, this Havanan knew the Plaza de Carlos III as a market for food and vegetables. “Dirty, but it also had a fish shop with plenty of offerings and you could buy it with the same currency with which they paid us our salaries.” In the 90s the place was reborn under the dollar and was reopened as the main commercial center of the Cuban capital.

Now, the only shopping complex in the country that bears the name of a king of Spain is entering the realm of covert dollarization that has meant opening stores in MLC where you can only pay with magnetic cards. “This reminds me of the ‘Diego Velázquez houses’,” evokes the frustrated customer.

For many Cubans, walking through the corridors of Carlos III is an immersion in the economic divide that separates the island. (14ymedio)

He was referring to the Gold and Silver Exchange Houses, opened on the island in 1987, where valuable jewels were exchanged for vouchers to buy basic necessities. “My grandmother left everything in that scam: her wedding ring, her hanging crucifix that her mother had left her and even some pieces of gold from her teeth,” explains Mabel, a neighbor of the Plaza de Carlos III who now survives by renting her doorway to a self-employed person who does business there.

“At that time it was clear that they were robbing us,” she adds. Hence the name “Diego Velázquez,” the governor whom popular legend describes as the promoter of deceiving the Cuban natives, exchanging national gold for little mirrors brought from the old continent. “That was an assault and this is a new version of the same robbery,” she says.

“Look at where they sell the james, all in MLC stores. The delivery truck has in its advertising a child and everything, how cruel!”, comments another resident of Centro Habana when he realized that they were unloading merchandise from a Stella company truck into the Panamericana Royal Palm store, on the Boulevard of Calle San Rafael. Stella is a trading company that belongs to the government’s Ministry of the Food Industry and markets chocolate products.

A truck from the Stella company delivering goods this Monday to the Panamericana Royal Palm store, on the Boulevard of San Rafael Street. (14ymedio)

“My nephews can practically never eat jams. We do not have dollars and when we buy them it is very little, because we do it on the black market and the resellers sell them at exorbitant prices,” adds the Havanan.

In mid-October, the state newspaper Granma published an article stating that the country “will not dollarize its economy” and that the stores in MLC “are necessary but temporary.” In the article, the official organ of the Communist Party quotes Economy Minister Alejandro Gil, who assures that the monetary system “is designed” so that Cuba “works with a single currency: the Cuban peso.”

Raúl Castro himself, in his report to the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party, acknowledged that “the stores in MLC were created to encourage remittances from abroad.” But, at the same time that they collect foreign exchange, they are generating a deep malaise due to the social inequalities they make obvious.

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At Least One Serious Injury in the Collapse of Buildings on Havana’s Malecon

The two buildings that completely collapsed are on what is officially called Maceo Avenue between Águila and Crespo streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 April 2021 — At least one man was seriously injured on Thursday when two buildings completely collapsed and part of a third also fell on Havana’s Malecón. The buildings were semi-dilapidated, fenced with metal, uninhabited, and at the time of the collapse they were being demolished by construction workers.

The two buildings and the fragment of a third that collapsed are located on what is officially called Maceo Avenue between Águila and Crespo streets, very close to the Prado de La Habana. According to a nearby resident, “the workers demolishing them were using a jackhammer when what was left of the buildings fell down.”

“At least one man was seriously injured, because he was passing by on the sidewalk and the metal fence gave way with the pieces that fell. Half of his body was buried under the rubble and other people also suffered minor injuries,” detailed the neighbor, who also added: “It was a danger even for the cars passing on the street.”

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“There wasn’t any good signage telling people not to pass by,” a neighbor told this newspaper, noting that “not only were the buildings collapsing, but there were electrical cables on the sidewalk and every time I passed by I had to step off the sidewalk, but this a street with fast-moving traffic and every time you step off the sidewalk your life is at stake.”

“Everything around here is grim, the day will come when we will see the entire Malecon collapse,” laments another neighbor. “They don’t fix things here, they just paint them when an important visitor is coming, or tear them down to build hotels,” he complained. “This demolition work should not have been done without closing the block.”

“The east building has just collapsed right now, right here in front of me,” a passerby reported through a live broadcast on the social network Facebook, and who also recorded the moment when the injured man was taken from the place in a vehicle heading to a hospital. “It fell on a man,” he explained in the video.

The images show a group of people trying to rescue the injured man from under the fragments of the building. “The debris reached to the other side of the street,” explained the internet user in a transmission of slightly longer than a minute.

The collapsed building is located in the municipality of Centro Habana, one of the most populated in the capital and which for decades has been an area characterized by the high presence of tenements, with infrastructure problems and overcrowding. Many of the buildings are from the early twentieth century and have not received repairs for more than fifty years, not even painting on their facades.

In the vicinity of the Malecon, the buildings have suffered especially the effects of the salt air which, together with the lack of maintenance, have turned the housing stock in the area into one of the most damaged in the Cuban capital. The successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent collapses.

It has been three years since the Government acknowledged a deficit of almost one million homes on the island, a very serious situation that it aspired to alleviate in a period of ten years. However, the shortage of materials due to a persistent crisis exacerbates a problem that continues to leave millions of people in suspense, not knowing when they might see their roof coming down.

According to a report from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights last October, almost half of the homes in the country need repair, and 11% of families live in places at risk of collapse.

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Cuba: A Year Without New Clothes or Shoes

Clothes hang from the front porch a building that had been a successful high-end restaurant before the pandemic.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana/Miami, 10 April 2021 — This week a “venduta” [small commercial space] opened on the front porch of a building in Havana’s Vedado district. Second-hand clothing now hangs a few yards away from the entrance of what had been a successful high-end restaurant before the pandemic. It is an attempt by desperate entrepreneurs on 23rd Street to generate some income.

Among the items are evening dresses that cannot be worn for their intended purpose due to Covid-19 restrictions. Pants that might have been used for strolling down a boulevard or dancing in a nightclub are now just everyday wear. For the past year state-owned stores have been selling little more than groceries and cleaning supplies. Customers can buy household appliances in hard currency stores but, because they are not considered emergency products, clothing and footwear are not available there.

Supplies on the black market, normally the island’s steady supplier of fashionable clothing, are very depressed because the ’mules’, who get their merchandise from overseas, have been unable to travel. “You have to dress in whatever is available,” explains a woman looking at some clothes hanging at a makeshift front-porch store on the Avenue of the Presidents. “No matter how much I look, I just end up going from place to place. And you can forget about finding anything even remotely elegant,” she says.

On the sidewalk a young man hesitates, unsure whether or not to reach for the hangers. A year ago he would have been looking for brand-new clothes but now it’s this or nothing.

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Reinvention or Death: Private Businesses Try to Overcome the Crisis in Cuba

A line of people in front of a cafe in Havana’s Vedado district, which is looking for new ways to increase its clientele (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, March 31, 2021 — If the ball is yellow, the customer gets a discount. If it comes out green, he will also get a free sausage sample. The friendly roulette wheel is operated by an employee of a private cafe in Havana that offers takeout items. Faced with the restrictions of the pandemic, businesses must reinvent themselves or perish.

The young man who fills sandwich orders at El Torpedo, a place located on Calle J Street in Vedado, is halfway between a cashier and an entertainer. “Come on, try your luck and get a head start. The worst that can happen is that you don’t win anything but your options are many,” he enthusiastically explains to customers in line.

Although several yards away there are several other private businesses on the same street, the one with the roulette wheel has the longest line. “I know that anything they might give away is probably already included in the purchase price but I enjoy trying my luck,” says a young man waiting his turn. “And it shows they’re making an effort.” continue reading

The employee spins the wheel and a white ball pops out. “This means that you have the right to try your luck again,” he explains. On the second try, the customer gets 5% off her final bill. Laughter rings out and shortly thereafter a lady wins a free juice. The next buyer hits the jackpot: a package of chorizo pieces to “make some beans.”

Games of chance were outlawed on the island decades ago, so any element of coincidence in the buying process provokes smiles, knowing glances and a certain queasiness in customers who feel like they are “in a casino,” as the experience is described by a woman who is here on Tuesday to buy a Cuban sandwich. “It’s like the bolita [lottery] but legal,” she explains.

A few yards further down, towards the sea, a privately owned ice cream parlor advertises “a free scoop for the price of two.” The upper floor of a big house near the water advertises “a shave and scalp massage with relaxing music.” More emphatic posters with exclamation points appear on doors of several of these businesses, which are now operating at only half capacity because of the coronavirus.

“All our takeout bags are recyclable,” announces one restaurant that makes home deliveries. “We don’t generate any plastic waste so every dish that you buy from us helps save the environment,” reads an ad published on several classified ad sites.

“Back when we were waiting on tables, we knew how to get people to stay longer, order more dishes and have a good time at the restaurant. Now everything is done through a window,” says a worker at El Toke, a place located on Infanta Street in central Havana. “We have less opportunities and have to take advantage of the few seconds we spend with a customer.”

Threatened by a steep decline in tourism, a rise in the cost of raw materials and the economic crisis, Cuban entrepreneurs are getting creative. They are relying on theatrics, informational videos and an endless search for anything that will give them a leg up on the competition. Having an electric scooter helps but knowing something about social networks is even better.

“I never thought I would be able to sell plants without people coming here to see them,” says Roxana, a 41-year-old businesswoman who manages a small garden where she sells succulents. “Buying a plant to keep for your house is something very personal. People come here and spend a lot of time thinking about an orchid or deciding if they should get a ficus.”

After pandemic restrictions were imposed, Roxana and her husband had to restructure their business. “We put together a catalog which you can browse on WhatsApp. If a customer chooses a plant, we send him a short video showing the specimen from several angles. We also provide care instructions. After the sale is made, we deliver it to his living room.”

One carpenter is selling furniture that promises to make people “confortable during the pandemic.” Using a mobile app, customers can choose items “à la carte.” Choices might include a sofa, a bed and mattress, or some wooden armchairs for the patio. “We deliver to people’s homes and anyone who buys a dining table and at least six chairs gets a set of dominoes for free,” he announces.

“We help keep people entertained while they are cooped up at home,” adds the friendly carpenter. If you buy a big bed from me, we’ll give you the sheets. And if you decide on some patio furniture, it will come with some ferns planted in a beautiful pot decorated with colored tiles.” The combinations are endless, seemingly as infinite as the creativity of the self-employed and the long days of the pandemic.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Electric Tricycles Sell Like Crazy for Dollars in Cuba

The motorcycles will begin to be sold in the coming days in the network of state stores. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 March 2021 — Those who visited the store that sells in hard currency (MLC) on Infanta Street, in Centro Habana, on Monday, could not believe it: for sale were the first electric vehicles for private sale in more than half a century. Two models of electric cargo tricycles were on display, at prices that were also astonishing: one, at $3,895, and another, with more capacity, at $6,900.

The vehicles will begin to be sold in the coming days in the network of state stores, although for weeks they have been marketed on government digital platforms.

“I believe that these tarecos don’t cost that anywhere in the world, they are bandits,” lamented a curious man who came to see the tricycles, which must be paid for in a single transaction and with a magnetic card in foreign currency.

The prices of the motorcycles are unattainable for most workers, much less in foreign currency. Among them, the farmers, a sector that cannot raise its head in an agricultural country, need this type of transport but do not have access to dollars. continue reading

“They are very expensive and there are no payment plans, so there is no one who can buy that,” complains Gerardo Cabrera, a farmer from the Guanes area, in Pinar del Río, who assures that “such a tricycle is essential for what we do on this farm, but between the costs of electricity, fertilizers, bureaucratic payments and other costs, it is impossible.”

However, despite the prices, these types of vehicle sell like crazy. This is confirmed by the vendors in the shop on Calle Infanta. “These don’t last at all here, people have their ways of finding out [they’re going on sale] and they line up. The tricycles that we have sold don’t last 24 hours on display and the problem is that the demand is high; this type of thing hasn’t been for sale for a long time,” he explains, and specifies that the fact that they are electric does not matter to the customer: the main attraction is that “it is a light vehicle.”

“They are prices for rich people, but at least there is that option. Before you used to die with old bills in your pockets and you couldn’t buy anything that rolled, but we don’t even have horses left because they were stolen to eat them,” says the farmer  Cabrera by telephone. “I would feel like Alain Delon on one of those tricycles, but I wake up and realize that I’m not even Panfilo.”

Tricycles are also widely used by private couriers to transport products, especially fruits, vegetables and meats, but so far most of those that perform this function are pedal powered. In less than a year these electric vehicles in private hands have begun to be seen circulating on the streets of Havana.

Outside the Luna restaurant in the town of Guanabo, curious people stop to look at a blue convertible tricycle belonging to a nearby self-employed person. Boastful of his vehicle, the man tells 14ymedio that his brother bought it from abroad through one of the most popular sales portals the sends products to the island.

A tricycle similar to the one owned by the self-employed man from Guanabo, without a dumping mechanism. (porlalivre.com)

“The good thing about having these types of tricycles in Cuban stores is that you save yourself from depending on an emigrated relative to do you the favor of buying it for you and that you do not have to wait the whole bureaucratic process for it to be delivered to you once its bought, which in my case took more than six weeks,” explains the man, who is self-employed.

“Those for sale now are more multipurpose, because they have a cab and you can put a good cover over the back, so they can be used for more things, but still very few arrive,” he explains. “People line up for weeks and it’s not easy to buy them.”

The $3,895 model is assembled on the island by the company Vehicles Eléctricos del Caribe (Vedca), which began operating last year in the Mariel Special Development Zone. It is one of the most promoted brands in recent months both on social networks and on other digital platforms.

According to the administrator of Vedca’s Facebook page, who calls himself Ray Motos [motorbikes], the vehicle has a “strong and resistant chassis, giving the vehicle a load capacity of one ton.”

The $ 6,900 model is from the Ming Hong brand, based in the Chinese city of Suining. Although they have not been as publicized by the Government as the Vedca, Cuba’s official press published a few months ago that three motorcycles of this brand were on tour in the Cienfuegos municipality of Abreu, donated, incidentally, by the United Nations Development Program to the 26th of July Farmers’ Cooperative.

On the island, the Ángel Villareal Bravo Industrial Company of Villa Clara, known as Ciclos Minerva, has produced this type of tricycle since 2019. It currently has another five models for heavy cargo and passengers in the testing phase and is studying the incorporation of two quadricycles, according to a story in the local press published this Monday. The new tricycles could be commercialized before the end of 2021.

Since the end of last year, electric tricycles have been incorporated into public transport in the capital, and according to official newspaper Granma, by 2021 the Government plans to manufacture new vehicles in the country with the same objective.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Even the Stores Selling in Dollars are in Crisis in Cuba

A line this Monday outside the MLC store on Boyeros and Camagüey streets, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 15 March 2021 — Not a year has passed since their opening and the stores that sell food and cleaning products in foreign currency are already going through a crisis. Little supply and very long lines mark the days in the most criticized shops in the country, the only ones, however, that still have more than a dozen products on their shelves.

“It is not worth coming here, among the resellers and the shortage of supplies, this looks like a bodega,” as the ration stores are called, a customer told 14ymedio, this Monday, while waiting on the outskirts of the market that sells in freely convertible currency (MLC) on San Rafael Street in Havana. “I arrived at 5:15 in the morning and the line was was doubled back. Where were so many people going out to if the curfew is until five?”

The markets in MLC have become the new modus vivendi of thousands of Cubans who have a magnetic card with foreign currency. They buy grains, meat products, dairy products and preserves that they then resell in the informal market. Eager customers pay others to wait for them in the long lines, to avoid contagion by Covid-19 and also because they don’t have access to hard currency. continue reading

“They are out of stock, but if you compare them with the stores that sell in Cuban pesos, they seem luxurious,” a customer reflects on the outskirts of the Boyeros and Camagüey markets. “Everyone who has gone out today, the only thing they have is peas and malt, but I’m here because I need to buy yogurt and flour,” he says. “A few years ago I didn’t have to stand in a line for beef, but now you have to stand in line even for bouillon cubes.”

The resellers do not use the official exchange rate for the dollar, set at 1 in 24, but instead are guided by the price of the fulas [dollars] in the informal market. “People complain that the merchandise is expensive but I’m selling this large can of concentrated tomato puree for 800 pesos because it costs me about 18 dollars, plus a whole morning. I put the dollar at 47 CUP [Cuban pesos] so I’m almost giving away the merchandise.”

Currency stores have caused deep discontent among broad social sectors. Faced with the avalanche of popular complaints about the social differences that these markets deepen, the Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil, tried to calm things down last December and assured that the opening of foreign currency stores for the sale of food and cleaning products was “a decision of social justice and socialism.”

“An undersupplied market does not attract foreign currency,” the minister explained then, referring to what many Cubans have classified as a “monetary apartheid” that divides society between those who have dollars to buy products in these shops and those who must meet their needs in the network of stores that sell in national currency.

However, to the same extent that a large part of Cuban society criticizes the opening of these shops, others have seen their resources grow, serving as a bridge between merchandise in dollars and anxious customers who cannot find these products in the stores that sell in Cuban pesos or convertible pesos.

“Call me for more details on what I’m getting tomorrow. Top-notch merchandise from the dollar stores,” reads an ad. “Leave the Line to me and avoid leaving the house, from the market to your table,” adds the classified. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” specifies the short text that invites you to follow “the offers on WhatsApp.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

La Epoca Opens its Doors for Dollars on March 8th With a Very Long Line Waiting

On the corner of Galiano and Neptuno, in the centre, the place has been typical of a location with the most shops per square metre in all of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, March 8th, 2021 – For weeks now, it has been known that the shop La Epoca, in Havana, was going to open its doors this Monday, and in dollars. And everybody has known that to be able to get in there you would have to join the line several days beforehand. This time the International Woman’s Day gift will arrive wrapped in greenbacks.

The morning of March 8th arrived, cold and humid, and with strong gusts of wind in the Cuban capital. But, in spite of the bad weather, and before the clock struck seven, the line to get in La Epoca was already nearly 1,000 feet long. Most of the people had spent days getting themselves organised to enter one of the most emblematic shopping centres  in the city.

At that time, the police got the shoppers to go three blocks back from the main entrance of the place, to avoid crowd build-ups outside of the markets. But the distance and the fact that they could not see the entrance door, increased their anxiety and their fear of possible irregularities, and gatecrashers. continue reading

Situated on the downtown corner of Galiano and Neptuno, the shopping centre has symbolised one the areas with more shops per metre than anywhere in Cuba. With its breathtaking window displays, now hidden by metal shutters, its escalators which haven’t worked for years, and its several floors which used to be full of merchandise, La Epoca lived up to its name and became a symbol of business effort in the city.

But today’s La Epoca has little resemblance to its previous glamour. Two workmen up on a scaffold were still touching up the facade while the line was getting longer on Monday, the police keeping a close eye on the line and, at nine in the morning, the business still had not been able to open, producing protests and frayed nerves in the line. The agitation led to several trucks with black-capped troops arriving at 10 am to try to control the chaos.

The police make those waiting in line move three blocks back from the main entrance to the shop (14ymedio)

Many of the people waiting outside were women. “I came to see if I could get some cheese and yogurt for my kids, because the price of these things on the black market is more than I am prepared to pay,” 14ymedio was told by Yamile, a 42 year old woman from Havana. “But, to tell the truth, if I had thought about all the time I was going to waste here, it wasn’t worth it.”

Aymara is another one who spent days standing in line. The worst part has been hiding from the police patrolling the area in the early morning to enforce the strict curfew imposed by the city because of the pandemic. Between nine at night and five  in the morning, you are not supposed to be out in the streets, so they had to look for other ways to avoid losing their place in line.

“We used a digital line, and, although every day you have to come to confirm your place at six in the morning, the rest of the time you do it through Whatsapp and also on a physical list held by the first people in the line,” explained a young woman. “And I have made all this sacrifice because I was told there is a much greater selection of things in this shop than the others and that they are going to open up with everything.”

But Aymara says she’s tired of waiting all this time and worn out by the situation. “I told my mama not to send me not one dollar more, because instead of sending me money to spend in these shops where everything is expensive and poor quality, she should save the money there so I can get out of this country, I cant stand any more.”  The people around her agreed with her.

“And it isn’t worth going to the other dollar shops either. They have created a resellers mafia, employees who get paid to let their friends, or the coleros*, in first,” complains Luisito, who lives in nearby San Miguel Street. He tells me he started to wait in the line last Wednesday, when “a neighbour went past taking names of people who wanted to get in when the shop opened.”

“They told us early on that they were only going to open up the food market, home appliances, and perfumes”, says the man. “But nobody knows exactly because there is no notice or any detailed information on which parts of the shop are open this Monday. The blind leading the blind.”

After 11 in the morning, some employee came out and spoke to the people at the front of the line and said: “The shop isnit ready. Its going to open but we are still putting stuff on the shelves. The appliance section won’t be open today, but we’re doing everything we can to open the market”. They took the ID cards from the first people in the line.

Luisito wants to buy “detergent, some beans which have disappeared from the shelves of other shops, and a bag of milk powder”. But, from the start no-one has been clear about the new way of selling stuff in freely convertible currency. “Some people thought it was going to be a national currency. A bit naive. Been a long time since they opened any new peso shops in the city, hasn’t it?”

The shops selling in pesos are almost empty. Bottle of water, packs of dried fruits which look old, and extremely expensive bottles of tequila are all that is offered in a shop a few yards away from La Epoca. “They’ve been unloading trucks and trucks of stuff since early morning,” said an employee of the shop with nothing in it, indicating the new dollar business.

“Here they seem to have forgotten to stock up on the things that are going to these stores” complains an employee of the state store. “When customers ask, all I can tell them is to cross the street and buy things in the dollar stores.” She is interrupted by the shouting around La Epoca and she looks around to see what’s happening.

“It’s disrespectful. People are paying in a strong currency and they still think they are at liberty to hang about before they open the doors. It’s ten in the morning, and it.s cold.” “Why don’t they open up?” shouts a man who is there with his partner at the front of the line. The people up front are having a row with the police accusing them of “sneaking people in.”

In nearby Concordia the police start to separate out the first group who are going to go in, but time passes and their relieved faces change to frustration at the delay. It’s eleven in the morning and still nobody has managed to get in La Epoca.

*Translator’s note: Coleros are people paid by others to stand in line for them.

Translated by GH

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Run Over in Havana by a State Car While in Line to Buy Yogurt

The white car, with official registration, ran over a man in his 40s who was line to buy yogurt on Ayestarán street, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 March 2021 — Lines are no longer news in Cuba until they are. This Friday, a man who was waiting in a long line outside a store on Ayestarán Street, in Havana, was run over by a state vehicle. Anxiety to purchase some product in the Trimagen Complex had caused the crowd to overflow from the sidewalk around the door of the store.

The individual, in his 40s, was hit by a car with official registration and belonging to the National Archives of the Republic that was traveling in the direction of Avenida 20 de Mayo. By the time the vehicle passed the Trimagen store, a crowd of people filled the entire sidewalk and part of the street.

The shopping center, located in the municipality of El Cerro and managed by the military, opens early with hundreds of customers outside anxious to buy food. This Friday, the only things for sale were aerated soda, mayonnaise and yogurt, but the line stretched for almost two blocks. continue reading

“One minute we were all focused on the line, making sure that no one got in front of us, and a minute later it was all shouting,” a witness to the event tells 14ymedio. “The wounded man was taken to the hospital in a taxi that was behind the car that hit him and the police patrol took a long time to arrive,” he adds.

The National Archives vehicle was parked at the scene of the accident, which further complicated the organization of the queue, which was quite chaotic from the beginning. Despite the fact that only residents of the municipality can buy in these stores, due to the mobility restrictions imposed after the rebound in Covid-19 cases, the influx of customers is constant.

“Around here there are several areas that were in quarantine for more than a week and when the tapes were removed, people went out like crazy to buy anything,” says a resident. “There were many days of confinement and you have to take whatever you find.”

Others blame resellers for the crowds that are created every morning in front of the Trimagen Complex. “This place is full of coleros [people who others pay to stand in line for them] and people who come to buy as a business. They buy a bottle of a liter and a half of soda here and then sell it at three or four times its value in other neighborhoods. That is why this line is chaos,” comments another customer.

“That poor man, he went to the hospital today probably with a broken rib or clavicle and left without the product for which he had waited many hours. A real tragedy,” says a person who started the line at seven o’clock in the morning, and after noon he still had not managed to buy anything.

According to official data, in Cuba there is an accident on the public right-of-way every 55 minutes, one person dies every 15 hours and there is someone injured every 75 minutes. The accidents involving vehicles in poor condition, precariously patched together, in use as public transport are numerous and many times end with multiple deaths in a single accident.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Havana, Carlos III Plaza Closes Again Due to Covid Outbreak

The Carlos III is closed due to a Covid outbreak, according to a worker at the shopping center. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 25 February 2021 — For the second time in less than a year, the Carlos III Plaza, in Centro Habana, has closed its doors again due to a Covid-19 outbreak. The largest shopping center in the Cuban capital will not provide service “until further notice” and at least seven store workers have tested positive for the disease, an employee told 14ymedio.

“We have been told that they will open at the weekend but it has not yet been confirmed, and it seems almost certain that at first there will be no food services of any kind to avoid crowds within the premises,” adds the worker who preferred anonymity. “They are doing PCR on all of us and, at the moment, we are at home waiting for the results.”

The line to buy potatoes on Jesús Peregrino street in Havana. (14ymedio)

Outside the premises, on the centrally located Carlos III street, several uniformed members of the Prevention Troops, with their red berets, guard the area, but do not give customers details about the epidemiological situation. “Closed until further notice,” one of the soldiers repeated this morning to an elderly woman who was inquiring about the reasons for the suspension of service. continue reading

On one side of the building, which occupies an entire block, a military vehicle, a van, is located from the early hours of the morning just where, until a few days ago, the long line began to enter the supermarket located on the ground floor of the Plaza. Last week the place was abuzz with people waiting, but today it is deserted.

“Better not even ask, because if you start to investigate a lot they will look at you with a frown, as if they were expecting to buy” some chicken and a little oil. “A few minutes later, a radio placed in a nearby doorway could be heard playing this Thursday’s update with the Covid-19 figures on the Island.

Of the total of 670 new positive cases announced on Thursday, 364 are in Havana, which continues to be the epicenter of the current upturn in the pandemic on the island. According to Deputy Prime Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda, “from the explosion of cases” positive for Covid-19 in recent months, the territory “no longer has the capacity to isolate all the contacts” of the infected.

Quarantine zones and closures of markets or public institutions contrast with long lines to buy food, which have become even longer as shortages increase.

Black market potatoes sell for 120 pesos for five pounds. (14ymedio)

This same Thursday, on Jesús Peregrino Street, a few yards from the Plaza de Carlos III, dozens of people waited to buy the potatoes from the rationed market that have begun to be distributed in the neighborhood at three pesos a pound. With two pounds per capita, the arrival of the tuber has become an event due to the fall in the supply of other products such as rice and bread.

“You have to have something to put with the little you can put on the plate,” complained Amarilys, a 79-year-old retiree who started the line before “the sun came up.” Despite the authorities’ calls for the most vulnerable people not to go out in the streets, most of those waiting were elderly and there were also some people with disabilities.

Others, however, have not had to line up to get some potatoes. “It hit the black market first,” says a young man from a balcony. In the same area yesterday, five-pound bags of potatoes began to be sold at 120 pesos. The price can go up if the customer wants the purchase delivered to an area closed by confinement, as is the case of the Aramburo block between Zanja and San Martín, which has been closed with metal quarantine fences.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Barbers Rebel Against Price Controls

Barbers complain that government mandated prices will not cover their expenses. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, February 11, 2020 — A few months ago it was farmers, then independent taxi drivers, and now it’s the barbers’ turn. The government’s attempts to impose price caps on the “scissors sector” has met with fierce resistance from self-employed workers.

An article in the official press criticizing the rise in prices at barbershops that began at the end of last year has unleashed a torrent of criticism, both from hair professionals and from customers who say they cannot afford their services.

“I am a barber. I live in Ciego de Alvila and have to pay 1,500 pesos for a packet of one-hundred razaor blades,” says Alejandro, a self-employed worker on the outskirts of the city. “My clients inisist I use a new blade each time, so that means I have to spend fifteen pesos on each customer.” continue reading

From time to time Alejandro pays 250 pesos for a bottle of cologne to refresh the skin and send his customers off smelling like lavender. He pays 40 pesos for a box of talcum powder. The hairspray he uses on those who want to look impeccable hours after they leave his shop costs him between 375 and 500 pesos.

“It doesn’t stop there,” he says. “A single jar of wax costs me 250 pesos. Every month I have spend around 4,000 pesos just to stay in business. That’s after paying for my business license, social security and the supplies I need. And that’s not in Havana.”

In addition to the costs for “the here and now” Alejandro’s initial investment was almost 94,000 pesos, raised with help from his domestic partner, mother and emigré brother. “The government does not take this into account but everyone knows that the businesses that are respected here are financed with money from overseas.

Invisible investments of capital from abroad are very common. It is rare to find a successful business that has not received an infusion of dollars from the owner’s relative, friend or third party who lives abroad. Though there are no official statistics to confirm it, many believe that, without this foreign oxygen, most Cuban entrepreneurs would not survive.

For the barber from Ciego de Avila having a clientele means serving customers who come to his salon.”It’s a small city. You don’t have a lot of options. If they force me to cap my prices, I will have to give up my license,” he says.”But this is an art. We’re not factory workers. Every person who sits in that chair wants something different, something personal.”

Given the city’s wide internet coverage and a booming market for in-home services, some Havana entrepreneurs are trying to avoid heavy fines by making clandestine visits to their clients’ homes or practicing their craft on the black market, places beyond the reach of government guidelines and decrees.

“I still have options so let’s see how things turn out. For now, I pay my taxes, go to my customers’ houses for 100 pesos apiece and that’s that,” said a barber on Monday morning while working on one customer’s beard. When he was done, the man paid him the price he had been quoted, without complaint

“Fighting with the barber is like fighting with the cook. He can make your head look like a pile of cockroaches or spit in your food,” acknowledges Lárazo Miguel, a young man who agreed to pay 75 pesos for a quick haircut after much haggling with a barber on Marquez Gonzalez Street in Central Habana.

One of the barbers at the salon where Lazaro Miguel was getting his hair cut voiced a common complaint: “They want us to charge 25 pesos for a haircut but there are people who sit down in that chair and expect miracles. It’s not fair to expect us to charge the same for a once-in-a-liftime haircut as for a basic cut.”

“I know what my services are worth. The son of two doctors, who together earn more than 12,000 pesos a month, comes in, sits down in my chair and asks for a special cut. He wants me to use electric shears on one side of his head and scissors on the other. But I have to charge him 20 or 50 pesos for that. It doesn’t make sense for me, for him or for his parents,” as a self-employed hair stylist.

“A shave with cream, lotion and a facial massage is 100 pesos. A beard trim is another 50. I cannot do it for less than that,” adds Reynaldo, a self-employed barber. “What more do they want?” he wonders. “This is more than a barber shop. It’s a parliament,” says the owner of a salon on Neptuno Street.

“Everyone who comes here spends stays for at least an hour. They don’t just want to look good; they want to feel good. Customers come in, they sit down, they have some water, charge their phones, and even use the bathroom and toilet paper. Who is paying for all that?” one of them asks.

Fighting with the barber is not like complaining to a chef. At a restaurant, they just take the plate away but a few misplaced snips to your hair can stay with you for days.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.