Services Reopen in Cuba and Reveal Economic Problems

HAVANA, Oct. 9th (HT)  Services reopening in Cuba just over a week ago, has stirred different reactions: some people are celebrating, including going overboard,

others fear a serious outbreak, while many are also warning about the high prices of products on sale, especially from private sellers.

With COVID-19 cases dropping since September 24th, some economic and social activities are starting up again in the provinces of Matanzas, Havana, Cienfuegos, Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Mayabeque and the Isle of Youth municipality.

The rest of the provinces need to keep a close eye on cases and deaths and will be able to reopen services as the epidemiological situation improves.

Reopening

After extending the curfew for people and public transport to circulate, restaurants and cafes reopening, as well as notary and property registration services, physical exercise outside and in gyms, including those with artificial ventilation, is allowed as of September 29th.

Meanwhile, Havana’s Malecon is coming back to life, as are beaches and swimming pools, the latter at half-capacity, one of the population’s most common complaints, which creates a deal of uncertainty.

“I know that the country has to get back up and running, but I’m afraid that the same thing that has happened in the past will happen again: after reopening, there’s a severe outbreak, because people’s risk perception drops and they no longer comply with measures,” Pedro Dominguez, from a private events organization company, said.

Up until now, restrictions on interprovincial borders remain in place.

Reopening the Cuban capital included the academic year kicking off on October 4th, for the final years of high school, masks being mandatory, as well as disinfecting hands and shoe sanitiser mats. Other hygiene measures are in places, such as physical distancing and natural ventilation.

According to a government announcement, vehicle registration applications, driving licenses and registering mopeds and electric motorbikes also resumed on Monday.

Proposals and prices

The reopening was long-awaited at the Rey&Gaby private bar/cafe, on central G. Street, in Vedado. As they are only able to serve tables outside and not in the inside dining area, seven tables have been set up to receive customers.

“While we have offered takeaway and home-delivery services at some point, we needed to reopen as we have had to rotate employees so that none of them was left unprotected without wages, but it’s not the same,” Gabriel Garcia, one of the owners, said.

They’ve updated their menu of breakfasts, pasta, pizzas, snacks, ice creams and cocktails for this new occasion. They buy their stock via contracts and purchases at wholesale stores, including those in USD, Garcia explained.

This popular restaurant is one of the 533 establishments that offer food services, both state-run and private, that have reopened in Havana during this first stage.

At one of the trendy establishments in the Cuban capital, El Paseo on 1st and 70th streets, high prices have led to a wave of comments on social media.

“An 11,000 or 15,000 peso bill to stay for three hours at a private establishment is too much,” student Daniel Romero weighed in. (The peso trades at 65-75 to one USD on the illicit market, the only one available, compared to 24-1 on the official exchange used for wages.)

This sum is the equivalent of many minimum incomes, based on the income readjustment made at the beginning of this year at 2,100 pesos.

On Facebook, user Maylen Zaldivar posted: “Paseo Maritimo was one of the best places to go out, but I’ve really become disappointed with the place because of many factors, including their prices, they think they’re in Dubai!”

Hiking up prices also has repercussions on purchases of agricultural products. This reality has become worse with the economic reforms process that began in January this year and one thing remains constant: long lines to get hold of the scarce food items available at agro markets.

Add to this the dissatisfaction of not being able to access products with USD prices on a growing commercial network, at the expense of products available in Cuban pesos.

Reviving tourism

Amidst the gradual decline of COVID-19 cases, Cuba is soon to open its doors to international travellers by opening up borders to tourism, on November 15th.

Both national hotel groups, as well as trade partners and investors in Cuba’s tourism sector, have been promoting the progressive resumption of services at different facilities in the country’s main resorts: Havana, Varadero, Holguin and the Cays to the north of the archipelago, to name a few.

Reopening borders could have many different outcomes: more international travellers with the reactivation of some 20 airlines, or just Cubans living abroad coming to visit and helping out their families.

According to official data, up until September 29th, 9,331,789 people out of the 11,200,000 inhabitants on the island, have received the first dose of Cuban vaccines, while 49% of the population have received all of the doses needed to fight COVID-19.