Wednesday, September 22, 2010

¡Ñooo! ¡Que Barato!

Near Cuba, Wary Kin Wait for Proof of a New Path

Serafin Blanco is the owner of Ñooo! ¡Que Barato!, a huge discount store in
Hialeah, Fla., where recent arrivals stock up on $1.99 flip-flops and other
items for relatives to resell in Cuba.
Photo: Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times


Here's a great article by Damien Cave in Today's Times.  It gives a good idea of the mix of hope and cynicism with which Cubans in Havana and Miami are reacting to the news of an expansion in private enterprise.  It also raises the issue of the participation of Cuban exiles in this whole process as potential investors.

Below I have selected some key passages from the article - which I think raises many key questions:

"The expatriate community in South Florida, often so vehemently at odds with the Castro government, is a natural — and perhaps necessary — source of capital for the private sector Cuba says it must expand to resuscitate its economy. A growing number of Cuban-Americans are already reconnecting with the island, making use of the Obama administration’s decision last year to abandon restrictions on their ability to travel there and send money to relatives. What many people now ask is whether Cuba is being forced by economic hardship to respond with its own halting, vague form of welcome." [...]

"But at this point, according to business owners and analysts, the government’s intentions do not appear to have led to any clear spike in money sent to the island by relatives, or of goods that might help entrepreneurs get started.  The evolutionary plan, yet to be fully outlined, has instead raised as many questions as it answers. Where will businesses buy supplies? Will an influx of capital to some, but not others, foster new class and racial tensions, since Cuban-American wealth is largely concentrated among the white exiles here? What taxes will these new businesses pay, and how much profit will be allowed before the government steps in?" [...]

"Serafin Blanco, owner of Ñooo! ¡Que Barato!, a huge discount store where recent arrivals stock up on $1.99 flip-flops and other items for relatives to resell in Cuba, said the American ban on tourist travel to the island would need to end before businesses could take off. “That is when there will be enough money circulating to support these small stores,” he said." [...]

"Maria Garcia, a bank teller in Miami, said she bought her grandmother a blender in April to help her sell fruit shakes from her patio in Cuba. Ms. Garcia, who also sends her grandmother packets of artificial sweetener for the drinks, along with toys so they can be resold, said her family was in no hurry to leave the black market. “We have to wait and see,” she said.  She added that a friend of her mother’s in Havana offered just one example of the challenge Cuba faced in experimenting with another limited dose of capitalism. The woman, named Olga, sews bras and underwear out of fabric sent to her from relatives in New Jersey. She got a government license several years ago after Cuba began to allow for more cuenta propistas, as self-employed business owners are called, but her sales to neighbors did not always cover the monthly cost of the license she needed to operate legally.

So Olga stopped getting the license — but not making the bras." [...]

"For now, those who travel back regularly are still seeing the future through the lens of past disappointment. 'It’s just something to show the world that they’re getting better,' said Ernis Rodriguez, 36, just before heading back for a visit to the country he left seven years ago. 'But it’s not true'."

Elaine De Valle contributed reporting.

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