Adapt or die: Cuba’s private sector grapples with pandemic

HAVANA, Sep 9th (EFE)  The Covid-19 pandemic has had a disparate impact on Cuba’s fledgling but increasingly important private sector over the last 18 months,

pushing some businesses to the edge of collapse while turbo-charging growth for others.

Fidel Espinosa, the owner of the Swing Habana bar in the capital’s Vedado neighbourhood, told Efe that he is waiting “patiently” for Covid-19 to pass so he and his 13 employers can “start over from zero.”

All of the furniture remains piled in a corner of the modest space that during the three years before the arrival of the novel coronavirus provided a “healthy and respectful” environment for Cuba’s swinger community, with the added attraction of live entertainment.

Just a few kilometres away from Swing Habana is the headquarters of VeloCuba, a bicycle-rental and repair enterprise launched seven years ago by Nayvis Diaz, who has boosted inventory to cope with growing demand for bikes as an alternative to public transportation.

Many people have come to prefer travelling by bike to riding on crowded buses amid a pandemic, she told Efe.

VeloCuba, with a staff of 45, has expanded from five to eight locations in Havana and has nearly 300 bikes available.

Diaz is now looking at establishing branches in other Cuban cities and adding new lines of activity such as training bike mechanics and delivery services.

Though the number of officially licensed self-employed people in Cuba is around 600,000 from among a population of 11 million, the private sector accounts for 30 per cent of jobs.

Celia Perez, who runs a small salon offering facials, manicures and pedicures, says that her toughest challenge during the pandemic has been to secure supplies.

“We have survived these difficult times thanks to friends who have helped by bringing products,” she tells Efe. “It’s very difficult to bring them from abroad and there is nothing here.”

Shortages have also plagued Rojo, a restaurant in Havana’s Miramar area that has been limited to delivery and takeout service for all but three of the 12 months since owner Jordi Albi opened the doors in October 2020.

Albi, the Spanish host of “Cantar en la ducha” (Sing in the Shower) program on Cuban television, refers to Rojo as his “survival business.”

He says that the state-run enterprises that continue to make up the bulk of Cuba’s economy should draw on the talent and experience of entrepreneurs who have proven their mettle during the crisis.