I remember when, in 1994 they allowed licenses to open a private restaurant (paladar) or a cafeteria. Havana filled with improvised kiosks that brought back lost flavors and desired recipes. Within a couple of months all the creativity showed in hundreds of umbrellas, tables on porches and even sophisticated places to try a mamey shake or a guava pie. The pent up energies of thousands of Cubans materialized in products and services of a quality and efficiency previously unknown by my generation.
We witnessed, with astonishment and happiness, the rebirth of small private enterprises that our parents had seen drowned in the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. A stroll along the streets of my native Central Havana confirmed that the previous scarcity hadn’t been born of an innate incapacity to produce, but was caused by the ironclad State controls to private ingenuity.
To this boom in creativity and ingenuity we also had to say goodbye, the moment the “higher ups” understood that economic freedom would imply, inevitably, political autonomy. When Cuco, the owner of the most famous paladar in my neighborhood, wanted to invest his profits on a trip to Paris, a modern car and in creating a “gastronomic” magazine, he began to worry the powers-that-be. In order to counter these “middle class poses” he was deluged with high taxes, ill-intended controls and a growing list of prohibitions. He had to close his restaurant and the flavor carnival that we had rediscovered, withdrew again to the shadows.
The “small private businesses” that survived the return to centralism, reveal to us that all of those energies to produce are just waiting, crouching, for the restrictions to loosen, even one millimeter, to again conquer our streets and porches. Cuco caresses his recipe book, expanded in these years of waiting, and plans a new restaurant in the roof of his house. He already has the design for the Web page to promote his dishes, his presentation cards and the color of the napkins. He is waiting, at the starting line, to begin the race that will allow him to compete for his dream.