Saturday, December 26, 2009

Requiem for La Guarida: Strawberry, Chocolate, and the (In)famous Cuban Paladar (Part 1/5)

Photo of "Rocco," the nickname of the Diego's old faithful Frigidaire refrigerator, being laid to rest at an art show in Havana in 2006 during the revolucion energetica.  Rocco was the only "American" character in the 1994 Cuban film "Strawberry and Chocolate".
The famed Cuban restaurant, La Guarida, inspired by the even more famous film "Fresa y Chocolate" has closed.

While its website is still up and running as of Christmas day, it seems the famed Cuban paladar restaurant, La Guarida (The Hideout), has finally closed its doors after years of struggling against the twin forces of bureaucracy and politics. Running a private business in a socialist country must be like a fish trying to ride a bicycle...

Yesterday the blog Penultimos Dias reported the bad news:

"The emblematic Havana restaurant La Guarida closed its doors today for good. It was perhaps the last paladar that remained with a certain level of quality and attention, and doubtless the best known... La Guarida survived almost everything, but in the end the government's hachet fell and cut it to pieces, giving its owner a final chance to close it today and avoid jail and a painful bureaucratic process..."
Readers of Generacion Y will remember Yoani Sanchez's post, "La envidia de fiesta" (Feast envy), from earlier this year about the similar forced closing of another famed Havana paladar, "El Hurón Azul."  Deeply embarrased by a system that criminalizes such entrepreneurship, Sanchez wrote:

"As if it wouldn’t be much easier to authorize the sale of those creatures with antennae who live in our sea [lobsters], to congratulate Juan Carlos for his work in promoting culture, and to allow each paladar to have whatever number of chairs and employees they decide. But no, to authorize all that would set off too strong a competition with the inefficient restaurants and cultural centers of the State...

"Above all, I think about the old gentleman who looked after the cars at the entrance to the paladar, and the lady who washed the dishes, now left without work, and especially the children of Juan Carlos. Possibly they have understood, given the example of the Hurón Azul, that in order to prosper one must get off this Island."

Her post also embedded a truly fascinating and deeply disturbing Power Point presentatioin put together by state prosecuters of economic crimes against the owner.  It reads like the script of an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

"On December 1, 2008 the DTI received information in reference to citizen Juan Carlos Fernandez Garcia, age 47, residing at 153 Humboldt, between O and P, Vedado, who, while engaged in illegal activities as the proprietor of the private restaurant 'Huron Azul' (Blue Ferret), has obtained great sums of money which allowed him to maintian an extravagant lifestyle characterized by the acquisition of several houses, hundreds of works of art, appliances and frequent trips abroad, among other manifestations of undeserved enrichment..."
Talk about "rich"...  The criminal dossier goes on to declare, aparently without irony, "'The Blue Ferret' was, in fact, a great restaurant.

There are an amazing 192 slides in all in the presentation, which goes into minute detail (with scores of photos) describing the extent and success of Fernandez's mulitfasceted operation: unauthorized employees, more than the obligatory 12 chairs, the illicit sale of beef and seafood, multiple homes and restaurant equipment, 6 cell phones, hundreds of works of art, 200 bottles of liquor, and a total of three different restaurants, two of which were run under false names. 

Fernandez is also accused of other nefarious dealings such as "involving himself in activities not associated with the social objective of the eatery" such as "sponsoring cultural activities like an art gallery and other cultural projects" with "documented evidence of donations and contributions to different cultural entities..."  Not just "donations" but "contributions" too!  Dios mio, lock this guy up already!

It seems that Fernandez was so successful that authorities had to add an extra month to the case just to complete the confiscation of all his goods at various llocations around Cuba.  The dossier even reports that he was then in the process of opening up other restaurants in Europe.  A true menace to society!  Can you imagine the party the inspectors threw for themselves with all this loot?

With this story as a preamble and threat, one can only imagine what Enrique, the owner of La Guarida, was facing.

While researching my dissertation, "Condemned to Informality: Cuba's Experiments with Self-Employment during the Special Period," I had the opportunity to interview both Enrique (La Guarida) and Juan Carlos (El Hurón Azul) at length. 

In my next four posts, (2) "Of Hideouts...," (3) "Of Blue Ferrets...," (4) "Adiós Compañero Rocco," and (5) "Anatomy (or Autopsy?) of the Cuban Paladar" (Parts 2-5 of this 5-part series "Requiem for La Guarida"), I will share some of the details of those interviews as well as my thoughts on the fascinating world of the Cuban paladar with readers of El Yuma.

1 comment:

  1. No wonder, for the last 50 years, Cuba it's inmersed in a counter-natural-selection process: Entrepreneurs, artists, inventors... anyone with passion, intelligence and willpower must leave the country to fulfill their dreams.
    The communist pulled back that nation to a medieval, preindustrial stage on purpose, for the simple reason of keep an absolute and for life control over what they considered their private property: Cuba.