By Daniel Benitez (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — A new Cuban initiative to obtain dollars mainly from Miami is up and running: Dining in Havana with dollars from family or friends from abroad.
Starting this month, state officials authorized restaurant reservations for Cubans living on the island made from abroad; people can now make invitations for lunch or dinner for their relatives or friends with all expenses paid.
The new service began on November 1 and allows purchasers to select a table and menu, only via the internet, to 43 restaurants and cafes in four provinces: Havana (13), Villa Clara (6), Camaguey (13) and Holguin (11).
The website www.bazar-virtual.ca allows those interested to choose dishes ranging in price from $13.83 dollars at the Gato Tuerto to the menu 4 at the Bodeguita del Medio for $ 28.08. Payments with Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
Contribution from Cubans Living Abroad
The service is similar to that established by the State monopoly phone company ETECSA for online payments from outside the country for telephone bills of residents on the island, in force since January.
The objective of the ETECSA and restaurant pay from abroad system seems one and the same: tap the potential of the Cuban diaspora as a source of capital for the island’s economy.
The assistance not only comes from outside in the form of shipments of food, clothing, medicine and electronics and more than $ 2.600 billion in annual family remittances, but now begins to branch out into other expenses of daily life. These include payment of phone bills, cash to finance buying houses and cars, supplies for private restaurants and even moments of relaxation and enjoyment, such as footing the bill for stays at resorts and now dinners at restaurants.
The announcement of this new type of food service is promoted by the state company Cubanacan Travel with the attractiveness that reservations may also be made at private business associated with the tourism company.
Diversifying the Offer
Oscar Mederos Mesa, manager of the Havana Cubanacan office, told the local media that the tourist agency has contracts with 27 private restaurants in Havana, Mayabeque and Artemis, but said that only five are currently visible on the new pay by Internet service.
With this new step to diversify the market for national and international tourism, and in the process attract more dollars, the company also has contracts with private owners of 33 vintage cars, 32 taxis and 13 private lodgings.
The manager said that to choose the private cars they took into account many details, giving preference to convertibles … “and the more original cars, preferably with factory engines”, all geared to please the visitor.
The fusion of government with private initiatives started in 2013.
At present, 68 percent of the country’s 11,000 food service units have state administration, although the government plans to gradually move them to the private sector.
The launching of the pay online service for dining comes on the eve of beginning preparations for year-end festivities, so the invitation to dinner can be a good gift for a family member to say goodbye to 2014 and welcome 2015.