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Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate

Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 2 June 2016 — While it is still dark outside, Nelson gets
up, turns on the light and quickly gets dressed. He then goes to the
kitchen, makes a cup of coffee and with his calculator starts balancing
his books.

Yesterday he had a bad day at work. Two months ago he opened a cafe that
sells Italian and yesterday sales were flat. “I make on average two
thousand pesos (about ninety dollars) a day. My goal is to raise all the
money I can to get my family out of Cuba,” says the fifty-two-year-old

Last fall he spent two months in Tampa, where he worked as a
construction assistant and a waiter at a on the outskirts of
the city.

“With the money I saved, I opened this business. For over twenty years I
made pizza, pasta and lasagna at state restaurants. Now my dream is to
be able to permanently emigrate with my wife and four kids. There’s
nothing for us here. In the United States my family and I will have
better opportunities,” says Nelson as he and two assistants prepare
pizza dough.

Believe me, there is no shortage of private business owners whose goal
is to make enough money to fly away. Two years ago, Yosvani opened a
cafeteria with a small adjoining bar on the front porch of his house in
the San Miguel del Padron in southeast Havana.

Things were going well for him. On average he was taking in the
equivalent of two hundred dollars a day. Once he had saved enough money,
he bought an ticket to Panama and, after a overland marathon
through several Central American countries, one night slipped through
the porous southern border of the United States. He settled in Miami and
is now waiting for his mother and two brothers to begin the odyssey that
will reunite them in Florida.

According to Osniel, the owner of a cafe that sells light meals, juice
and sandwiches, “many people hold onto the option of leaving Cuba, even
if their businesses are doing well. Running a business here is
complicated. We face financial pitfalls. And since there is no wholesale
market, we have to buy food on the black market and must constantly
bribe state inspectors. Some people prefer to use their business as a
springboard for getting to America or Europe.”

Perhaps the military government’s recognition of the situation — it
approved a new law last Tuesday authorizing small and medium size family
businesses — can change the dynamic.

But Niurka, who runs a guest house, has her doubts. “It’s a good first
step,” she says. “It was high time the government gave us legal
recognition, though it is not yet clear when they will set up a
wholesale market, or whether they will allow us to import from or
partner with foreign firms. The state is like the character Ruperto
Marcha Atrás (Rupert Backstep) in the TV program Vivir del Cuento
(Living by Your Wits): one step forward and two steps back.

Niurka has, on a couple of occasions, travelled to Mexico and Ecuador,
two countries where she often buys merchandise to resell. “But
large-scale transfers are not allowed,” she notes. “And the government
still bans the type of microcredit loans Obama proposed and
prohibits private businesses from importing goods from the United States.”

Surelis, who with two other people runs a business selling high-end
furniture, knows firsthand the limitations Cuban entrepreneurs face.

“Upholstery fabric, wood and other materials have to virtually be
smuggled into the country,” she says. “And you need lots of money to buy
off officials, which increases retail prices. You always hope
that things will improve but, if nothing changes, the only choice will
be to leave. It’s very difficult to get ahead in Cuba.”

The state puts too many obstacles in the way of new businesses. Daniel
and several colleagues want to set up a taxi cooperative similar to
Uber, controversies and protests in other countries notwithstanding.

“We did the paperwork not long ago. To get the business running, we need
a telephone exchange and other communication equipment, but the state
institutions have not given us the approval, “says Daniel.

For the past year Liuba and Yander have wanted to open a cybercafe where
people can connect online in comfort while having a soft drink or beer.
But as Liuba notes, “ has not granted us permission. They’ve
recently said they will allow private businesses to have
connections but, so far, it is only talk.”

Dagoberto, an economist, believes that “if the government does not give
private businesses more room to operate or to accumulate sufficient
capital, the number of business ’swallows’ will increase. And when
people get enough money together, they will emigrate.”

This is Nelson’s dream. “The state still views us with suspicion. As
long as these guys are in still power, Cuba won’t change.” And every
night he counts his money, balances his books and figures out how much
he still needs to get on a plane.

Source: Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate /
Iván García – Translating Cuba –

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