Cuban govt to move out of the eatery busi­ness

More than 20 restau­rants to be run by em­ploy­ees as part of wide re­forms

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By MARC FRANK in Ha­vana Reuters

More than 20 state restau­rants in Cuba are due to be­come em­ployee-run co­op­er­a­tives in Oc­to­ber, with hun­dreds more likely to fol­low if the ex­per­i­ment suc­ceeds.

All as­pects of the busi­ness, from buy­ing the food to split­ting the prof­its, will be de­cided by the em­ploy­ees, rather than the govern­ment.

A sim­i­lar process is al­ready un­der­way in other sec­tors from con­struc­tion and trans­porta­tion to farm­ers’ mar­kets and light man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The restau­rants are the first to be ceded by the state since the au­thor­i­ties took over all eater­ies in 1968.

To­day, there are close to 2,000 pri­vate restau­rants as lo­cal en­trepreneurs take ad­van­tage of mar­ket-ori­ented re­forms ini­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, who took over from his brother Fidel in 2008.

“The govern­ment is hop­ing that co­op­er­a­tive own­ers, with pride in their es­tab­lish­ments and mo­ti­vated by prof­its, will of­fer much bet­ter ser­vice and higher qual­ity goods to cus­tomers, both to tourists and fel­low Cubans,” said Richard Fein­berg, a non­res­i­dent se­nior fel­low of the Wash­ing­ton­based Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

Some of the restau­rants slated to be­come coops are off the beaten track and cater to a mainly Cuban clien­tele us­ing the lo­cal peso cur­rency.

Oth­ers — for ex­am­ple La Ca­sona de 17 and La Div­ina Pas­tora, both in Ha­vana — op­er­ate in a dol­lar equiv­a­lent, called the con­vert­ible peso or CUC, and serve mainly tourists.

The Div­ina Pas­tora, nes­tled un­der Moro Cas­tle at the nar­row en­trance to the Bay of Ha­vana, sits on some of the city’s most valu­able real es­tate.

La Ca­sona de 17 is part of the tourism min­istry’s en­ter­tain­ment and restau­rant chain, Pal­mares, which op­er­ates up­scale es­tab­lish­ments across the is­land.

“We are a pilot pro­ject, but in the fu­ture I think all Pal­mares restau­rants will be­come co­op­er­a­tives,” said Marylin Her­rera, 25, as she waited on ta­bles at La Ca­sona de 17 in the busy Vedado dis­trict.

Her­rera said it would be quite a chal­lenge for the 50- odd work­ers to run the restau­rant, but looked for­ward to hav­ing “much more flex­i­bil­ity in how we op­er­ate and what we of­fer”.

Cas­tro, speak­ing at a Com­mu­nist Party congress in 2011 where a sweep­ing plan to re­vamp the econ­omy was ap­proved, out­lined ef­forts to cre­ate a non-state sec­tor of pri­vate and co­op­er­a­tive busi­nesses.

“The growth of the non­pub­lic sec­tor of the econ­omy ... will al­low the state to fo­cus on rais­ing the ef­fi­ciency of the ba­sic means of pro­duc­tion ... while re­liev­ing it­self from those man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties that are not strate­gic for the coun­try,” he said.

Cas­tro has al­ready taken steps to dereg­u­late small pri­vate busi­nesses in the re­tail ser­vice sec­tor. Thou­sands of smaller state shops and taxis have been leased to in­di­vid­ual em­ploy­ees, and fal­low state lands have been leased to would-be small farm­ers in search of im­proved pro­duc­tion and ef­fi­ciency.

“We are in an ex­per­i­men­tal phase with a group of co­op­er­a­tives in cer­tain sec­tors of the econ­omy. This al­lows us to fol­low each pro­ject, learn­ing as we go along be­fore they be­come gen­er­al­ized,” Grisell Trista Al­basu, a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party com­mis­sion charged with im­ple­ment­ing the re­form plan for state busi­nesses, said.

The co­op­er­a­tives func­tion in­de­pen­dently of state en­ti­ties and busi­nesses, set prices ac­cord­ing to the mar­ket in most cases, and re­ceive bet­ter tax treat­ment than pri­vate busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to a de­cree pub­lished in De­cem­ber.

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