HAVANA, 20 Sepember ( AFP) The Cuban government announced plans on Friday (Sep 19) to sell nearly 9,000 state-owned restaurants to private operators, the latest step in the island’s economic reforms.
Cubans frequently complain about the country’s 8,984 state-owned restaurants, which are famous for poor quality, bad service and running out of food. Deputy Trade Minister Aida Chavez said the state would sell them off in a gradual process starting in 2015.
“Cuba will substantially change the structure of its food services in the coming years, with the gradual and orderly transfer of the industry into the hands of the non-state sector,” she said, according to the state-run National Information Agency.
Chavez said the government would rent the buildings where the restaurants are located to the new owners but sell off all other assets, from stoves to chairs to utensils. “The decision… aims to modernize a sector that today demands services with the quality and security the Cuban people, and the tourists who visit us, deserve,” she said.
Cuba currently has 1,261 private restaurants that offer better-quality food and service at a higher price than state establishments. Known as “paladares,” they were first authorized by former president Fidel Castro in the 1990s. Initially, Castro only allowed family-run restaurants with a maximum of 12 seats, but today they can seat up to 50 guests and hire staff.
That has been a key development for the country’s tourism industry, which draws nearly three million foreigners to the island each year. Cuba has begun gradually opening its economy since Castro, the 88-year-old father of the island’s communist revolution, ceded power to his younger brother Raul in 2006. But the reforms have so far failed to deliver the hoped-for boost to economic growth.