HAVANA, Sept. 20th With the doors closed, the interior empty and a “For Sale” sign in the window, a private restaurant on Infanta Street, in Central Havana, is one of the many businesses for sale in Cuba, where the economic crisis and mass exodus have made entrepreneurship an almost impossible path.
The place, where a restaurant was planning to open, never served a single dish because its owners gave up the effort, and they now have put it up for sale for $400,000. “You can rent the whole space for $3,000 per month,” they add via WhatsApp when a potential buyer is interested.
The closure of the paladar (private restaurant), which didn’t even have a sign with its name, affects the neighbors who were waiting for its opening to see tourists and hard currency arrive in the neighborhood, the money it takes to get out of the hole in which most families have sunk, in an area that doesn’t have the glamour of El Vedado or the attractions of the historic center of Old Havana.
“They didn’t even manage to sell a frying pan, but they spent a lot on the investment, because before this was it very deteriorated,” Pocholo, who lives some doors away from the failed restaurant tells 14ymedio. “They even built a mezzanine to enlarge the space. Then came the reforms of January 2021 called the ’monetary ordering’*; tourism didn’t return as expected, and having a paladar is crazy right now.”
Getting the raw materials, paying for what a place open to the public consumes — from toilet paper to electricity — and paying employees has become a chimera for many private business owners on the Island. To this is added the fact that, given the situation in the country, the sale of any possession can help in the extended project of emigrating.
I’m selling a hair salon with everything inside,” announces Dayana, a 38-year-old Habanera who until a few months ago offered her services in a small space on San Rafael Street, near Galiano Avenue. “I know I’m not going to recover my investment, but I need the money urgently,” she tells this newspaper. “I’m selling for $25,000, and it’s worth almost twice as much.”
Dayana’s living room was equipped as a hair salon and beauty center. “Everything is new, from the bathroom tiles to the water installation. I have put in a heater, a kiwan safety system for water pressure; everything is freshly painted, and I have two floors,” she says. “I’m offering it with all the accessories needed to keep it running and with a very loyal clientele.”
Dayana says she began to transform her house into a private business five years ago. “If someone had told me at the time that I was going to end up selling all this and buying a ticket to Nicaragua, I would have laughed in their face.” But her husband took “the route of the volcanoes” a few months ago, and the rigors of the couple’s separation have been added to the crisis that Cuba is going through.
“I no longer know how much I’m going to charge people who come to remove hair or have a facial because I have to buy all the products in dollars or MLC ( freely convertible currency), but I have to charge for the services in pesos. So I can’t work.” She regrets having to shut down what she considers to be “the greatest pride” of her life.
“I’m selling a working cafeteria, located in El Vedado because I’m leaving the country,” Suselle says emphatically in an ad that she has posted on several classified sites and that she has also sent to friends and acquaintances on Telegram and WhatsApp. “The payment is in dollars to be deposited in the United States.” Since she disseminated the offer, she clarifies, that she has received only a couple of calls.
“I understand that there are few people interested because many Cubans want to leave the country, and buying a business of this type is not among their projects right now,” Suselle admits. “But it’s also a good time to invest because I’m selling this same business for a price well below what it cost.”
On the buying and selling sites, there are ads that are repeated for several weeks or months, and from time to time the price drops a little more. “Reduced to $17,500, take advantage now,” says one that has appeared again and again on the digital sites for more than half a year. “Two in one: house and business of photocopying, the printing of documents and copying of movies and series,” it adds.
“I have 24 hard drives full of audiovisuals and two Canon computers.” The salesman emphasizes what so many others say about their businesses: “it’s working and making money,” but few seem interested in the “bargain” that is advertised. “Half of the money here in dollars and the other in the United States,” the announcement ends.
Next to the premises there are also complete kitchen sets, display refrigerators, large capacity fryers, dishwashers, banknote counting devices and cash registers, all the furnishings that accompany restaurants and cafes. “I’m selling more than a business; I’m selling a dream,” says the owner of a rental house for tourists in the city of Holguín.
“Five bedrooms, five bathrooms, garden and swimming pool,” the announcement details. “I’m in a hurry so I’ll listen to proposals, but don’t call me if you don’t have dollars.” In the photos he has posted next to the ad you can see a ranch in the yard, a pool table and a spectacular view of the city. And the message concludes: “The villa is delivered with everything inside.”
*Translator’s note: A reference to elements of the ‘Tarea ordenamiento’, the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), thus leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.