Thursday, June 28, 2012

Havana's paladars grow five-fold in less than two years, says Trabajadores

My thanx to Phil Peters for sending me a link to an article in yesterday's Trabajadores newspaper entitled, "Paladares, tendencia creciente" (private home restaurants, a growing trend).

When I finished my dissertation back in 2002, which focused on self-employment and particularly on Cuba's paladares, I titled it "Condemned to Informality," with the assumption that I would never see such a headline in a Cuban newspaper.

However, as the article reports, since October of 2010 when the government announced its "new rules" for self-employment, there has been a near doubling of the number of registered micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs (now totaling 387,200), with the number of paladares in Havana increasing FIVE FOLD! between then and the end of May, 2012.

The article reports that there are now 376 such private home-based restaurants in the City of Havana (under the very bureaucratic socialist label: "los elaboradores-vendedores de alimentos y bebidas que prestan servicio gastronómico por cuenta propia") up from just 74 in 2010.

While the paladar trend is important, it is a somewhat elite phenomenon that operates with economies of scale not available to many Cubans.  Even more noteworthy is the growth of a number of other kinds of food service operation - as any visitor to Havana in the last two years can attest.

Food service enterprises that do home-based catering ("al detalle") or roving street sales have topped 10,900 in Havana, while little street corner and sidewalk cafes and cafeterias (known to Cubans as "puntos fijos") have grown to 2,567.  Many of these private ventures have come to replace the state-run workers' canteens that have been closing across the island.

Raul talks a lot about the need to change the rigid mentality that understood entrepreneurship as the equivalent to exploitation and theft (installed in the minds of many party faithful over decades by his elder brother).  Trabajadores seems to have gotten the memo.

The article describes the paladares as "excellent restaurants" which, together with the other private food services in Havana, "have become consolidated after their operators have made important investments and even done market research."  The article goes on to celebrate these private operators for their provision of "a notable variety of supply and an elevated quality of service."

The article even hints that locals and international tourists alike can turn to these restaurants as a compliment to Cuba's state-run restaurants.

***

For anyone planning such a visit to Cuba in near future, take a look at my very own "Notes from the Underground," a guide to Havana that I wrote and updated regularly between 2000 and 2006.  It includes a lengthly listing of both paladares and bed & breakfasts.  I have not found the time to update it yet after my trip to the island in April, 2011, but it will give you a brief version of the fascinating history (up to 2006) of the paladar - when it was still largely an "underground" phenomenon.

Of course, the history of the paladar post-2006 is still being written.  Let's hope Raul's legacy can at least partially absolve Fidel of his own history!

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