28 01 2011

The menu at Cafeteria Rey

One of the major changes currently under way in Cuba is a programme to reduce the number of people employed by the state and, concurrently, to lift some of the bureaucratic restrictions on people becoming self-employed, in order to encourage many of those made redundant to earn their living in the private sector. In some workplaces, the people selected for redundancy have already been informed of their fate. As can be imagined, this is causing serious concern for many people. However, for some, these changes are being seen as an opportunity. Amongst the small group of people that I know here in Santiago, two have given up their jobs in the last month or so in order to start businesses.

The first is a young guy who worked in a local hospital. He packed in his job in order to start a business selling snacks from his home. You can see what he offers in the picture above – the business is called “King”. He tells me that he opens at 6.30 am and does not close until 11pm. He is clearly prepared to put in a lot of time and effort in order to make his venture a success.

The second is a guy a bit older, in his late 30s. He worked for the municipal authority and has left his job in order to start a private restaurant (known here as a paladar). It has not yet opened, but he is in the process of health inspections etc. and is confident that it will be open in March. His house, which he shares with his mother, is not in the centre of the city, nor is it in one of the more upmarket districts, so consequently there is not much passing tourist trade. However, he intends to have the menu priced in moneda nacional and to cater primarily for Cuban clients. His house has a fourth floor roof terrace, where the tables will be situated, which offers views across the city.

A considerable amount of investment will be required, in terms of kitchen equipment etc. However, he has a brother in Switzerland, who will presumably be able to assist him. People with family residing abroad, who are already generally better off than most, will be better able to take advantage of the opportunities that are likely to arise. I have noticed quite a few new food stalls, pizza stands and ice cream sellers here in Santiago, compared to when I was last here in the summer. I noticed the same in the one day that I was in Havana last month, before travelling on to Santiago.

Yet it seems to me that there must be a limit to how many Cuban people can earn a living by selling food products to other Cuban people. Businesses like this will not make much difference to the Cuban economy as a whole, to the balance of payments for example. In order to do that, people will need to develop products or services that can either be sold overseas or can substitute for items that are currently imported. That is why I did not share some of the amusement expressed abroad when the activity of rabbit breeding was included in the list of occupations approved by the Government for people to engage in self-employment. I know that Cuban people eat rabbit, because there are rabbit dishes on the menu in two of my favourite restaurants here in Cuba (El Salon Tropical in Santiago and La Torre in Havana). If thousands of rabbits were grown and eaten instead of some of the imported meat products currently consumed (such as the turkey picadillo made from mechanically recovered meat, imported from the USA and sold in the shops here), the balance of payments would improve, along with people’s living standards and diets.

 I therefore propose a toast to the rabbit breeders of Cuba, along with Cafeteria Rey and the new paladar due to open in March.



4 responses

28 01 2011
Cathy Bostelaar

Enjoying your site. Will return.

29 01 2011
John Abbotsford

Ah but have you tried any of the offerings from Cafe. Rey?
Note the most expensive meal – the spagetti and cheese – is less than 30 cents US!

29 01 2011

No, I haven’t tried the food at El Rey yet. I have it in mind for an emergency breakfast if we have run out of food.

29 01 2011
John Abbotsford

ps meant to wite that I cook rabbit at home and several times had rabbit in CUP restaurants. Not bad (within the cofines of my usual caveat re Cuban cuisine).

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