Jeff Franks Reuters
3:05 p.m. EDT, May 24, 2011
HAVANA (Reuters) - The salvation of socialism in Cuba is taking some odd
turns, with words like "competition," "marketing" and "opportunity"
being heard for the first time in decades on the communist-led island.
Under reforms by President Raul Castro, a new entrepreneurial class is
developing and with it some new ways of thinking in a country that has
long resisted economic change.
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The government reported recently that 310,000 Cubans are working legally
for themselves, of whom 221,000 have received their licenses for
self-employment since last fall, when Castro announced an expansion of
the private sector.
The move was part of a broad package of reforms to modernize Cuba's
sluggish Soviet-style economy with the goal of saving socialism,
installed after the country's 1959 revolution, for future generations.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently dismissed the changes as too small,
but on the island 90 miles from the United States many Cubans welcome
them and believe they are just the first of many to come.
The reforms are "an opportunity for Cubans, they are a start," said
Giselle Nicolas at her new paladar, or private restaurant, La Galeria in
Havana's Vedado district.
"I think Cuba is already changing for the better," she said.
In Havana and elsewhere, there is no question the economic landscape is
People are setting up shop in doorways and on sidewalks, selling a
variety of items ranging from food to household goods and offering
repairs on shoes, cell phones and watches.
They are giving haircuts on their front porches and walking through
neighborhoods hawking flowers, pastries and farm products. State-run
press reported this week there are now 1,000 independent retailers of
The Council of Ministers recently expressed concern about the number of
vendors clogging sidewalks and taking away from the beauty of Cuba's
historic architecture. They may have to move off main streets and into
rented spaces now occupied by moribund state-run businesses, it said.
The government said 49,000, or 22 percent, of the new self-employment
licenses have gone to food vendors, which has touched off a boom in the
number of paladares and growing competition among them.
Alejandro Robaina, owner of La Casa, one of Havana's oldest paladares,
said the newly crowded market makes it necessary to offer new services
and do as much marketing as possible in a country where traditional
advertising is almost non-existent.
Since January, he has opened a website for his restaurant
(http://restaurantelacasacuba.com), a blog and a Facebook account to
reach out to the privileged few in Cuba with Internet access and to
He gives regular customers a discount on their meals and is offering
Cuban cooking classes to foreign tourists.
On the blog, he has a photo at La Casa of him, his mother, Led Zeppelin
guitarist Jimmy Page and British actor Clive Owen.
Other paladares are offering 24-hour service, home delivery and
frequent-diner plans -- once you've had $1,000 worth of meals, you get a
free one worth $100.
"You always have to be one step ahead so the competition doesn't catch
up to you," Robaina said. "Let the competition come."