The Fate of Two Cuban-American’s Businesses on the Island

Obel Martínez (pink shirt) is the main owner of the restaurant La Carreta / Facebook of the Culinary Federation of Cuba

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – Not all private businesses on the Island receive the same treatment by the Cuban Government. The La Carreta restaurant is one of the lucky ones. This Monday, a year after the iconic establishment reopened, now restored and in private hands, it has been recognized by the state Culinary Federation of Cuba for “promoting authentic Creole cuisine.”

In a Facebook post, illustrated with photographs, the institution highlighted the work of the owners of the premises, Obel Martínez and Ramón Feria, who “expressed their decision to make the restaurant a mandatory reference site for nationals and foreigners.” The text also says that “entrepreneurship” has rescued “the emblematic facility that had existed for 50 years before it deteriorated from the passage of time and abandonment,” not to mention the previous owner who ruined the place almost eight years ago: the State.

Since its reopening and with its rich gastronomic offer, La Carreta became a must, not only for foreigners, but also among the people of the emerging middle class with dollars to spend. However, the dazzling success of its main owner, Obel Martínez, raised suspicion.

Just when his company was approved in Cuba, Martínez was granted U.S. nationality, specifically in December 2022. His signature is number 5,639 in the registry of private businesses with the name of Mojito Martínez, and with it he opened the Mojito-Mojito bar, in the heart of Old Havana.

“Obel fled Castroism and now makes a living from it, enjoying at the same time all the benefits and profits of the American dream: he plays a capitalist from Havana, with the support of local authorities,” an anonymous source told this newspaper at the time, who said that Martínez was still living in Miami, Florida.

As a local development project, the same source added, he had received a loan of 10 million pesos from the municipal government, specifically the 250 branch of the Banco Metropolitano, located on Línea Street, in El Vedado. As official television confirmed in a report last September, La Carreta “was recovered thanks to the close collaboration with the government of the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución.”

Martínez is one of the Cuban businessmen who emigrated to the United States and who, stealthily, for years and with the acquiescence of the regime, carry out business in Cuba. Another of them was Frank Cuspinera Medina, owner of Diplomarket, the so-called “Cuban Costco”. The past tense of the verb indicates his recent fall from grace, which contrasts with the praise received by Martínez.

Cuspinera was allegedly arrested, along with his wife, Camila, on June 20. The Facebook page La Tijera reported that a State Security operation had arrived at the supermarket along with “two buses” carrying auditors from Gaesa (Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.), the Armed Forces conglomerate.

On June 21, in the WhatsApp group managed by Diplomarket, a message announced that they were “closed until further notice,” explaining: “We have problems operating because of the commercial license that must be renewed.” Similarly, the app, which can still be visited, presents a caption: “We are out of service – Send us an email.”

Since then, there has been no news of the businessman and his wife, but there is indeed evidence that not all private individuals are equal before the law in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy for Translating Cuba.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.