Services Reopen in Cuba and Reveal Economic Problems

Citizens complain about the excessive spike in prices in the food service sector and agro-markets, as well as little access to products in state-run stores.  Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/ IPS

Gradually relaxing restrictions is a step that comes before reopening the country to international tourism in November.

By IPS-Cuba

HAVANA TIMES – 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 sanitizer mats. Other hygiene measures are in place, 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

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

They’ve updated their menu of breakfasts, pastas, 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.

“A 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 agromarkets.

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 travelers 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 archipielago, to name a few.

Reopening borders could have many different outcomes: more international travelers 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.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.


4 thoughts on “Services Reopen in Cuba and Reveal Economic Problems

  • October 14, 2021 at 8:58 am
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    Am eager for the reopening on 15 Nov and read how things are working out for the economy as well as for those in private business.

  • October 13, 2021 at 10:20 am
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    Based on my experience in Florida, lockdowns, curfews, closings, masking and social distancing only prolong the epidemic. Florida is wide open for business and life is back to normal. We took all those measures and saw that they did not work. We followed Swedens example, let the virus run its course and now it is over. For the last three weeks Florida has averaged 3 covid related deaths per day. With a populatio of 21.6 million people. This can be fact checked at worldometer.com.

  • October 10, 2021 at 12:52 pm
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    I am very pleased to say that I agree with every single word of Moses Patterson’s comment.
    I entirely understand and share the concerns that Mr P refers to.
    And I, just like Mr P, wish the people of Cuba the very best in these difficult times.

    I hope that the vaccines, that Cuba medical professionals have come up with, prove to be effective.

    In the face of the Covid threat, it would be wonderful if humanity would unite in order to thwart this virus. But unfortunately human beings always go back to this innate need to compete with one another and vie for control and superiority.

    T’was ever thus…….

  • October 10, 2021 at 11:56 am
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    Based upon my experience experience here in California, I fear that the reopening in Cuba will provoke a rise in COVID cases. Recognizing the economic pressures to reopen, it will be difficult to avoid returning to old social habits. Requiring half measures sounds good but in practice, social distancing at the beach is a big ask. Just the same, I wish the Cuban people the best.

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