Sitting with two friends in front of glasses of ice cream this Friday, something she has wanted very much for the last nine months, Himilcie Ruiz shows her best smile: “We are very happy about the reopening” of the restaurants in Havana.
“With these new measures we can enjoy a little more, always with caution, taking care of ourselves, with a nasobuco (chinstrap), keeping our distance”, tells the AFP agency Himilcie, 22, a dental student, who wears medical gowns like her friends white.
On Thursday night and almost by surprise, the Cuban authorities announced the “gradual” opening of restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, as well as legal and notarial services in eight of the 15 provinces of the island.
The decision is based on the “successful vaccination process that is being carried out”, according to the Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz, but also by “the need we have for the opening and economic revival” of the country, admitted the governor from Havana, Reynaldo García Zapata.
At the end of Thursday, Cuba, which has been facing a strong outbreak of infections for two months, accumulates 839,981 cases and 7,695 deaths. But it has already immunized 42.8% of its 11.2 million inhabitants with its own anticovid vaccines.
After 18 months of pandemic, Cuba suffered a series of closures and openings of its services and public shows, but the restrictions in force since January 14, including curfew, lasted nine months.
The opening “show” was offered by the central Coppelia ice cream parlor, the most famous in the country, where customers went from waiting in long lines to buy ice cream to take away to be served at the tables starting this Friday.
Opening with protocols
To get a table you have to book by phone, a measure questioned by many, since Coppelia is the improvised meeting place for students from the nearby University of Havana, cinemas on the 23rd street circuit, and walkers from the central Rampa.
The services authorized to operate are subject to a prior health inspection, they must work with 50% of their capacity, and also comply with strict measures of social distancing, two meters between tables. The use of chinstraps will be mandatory.
At the state restaurant “Mi Jardín”, employees clean, set up and prepare for the opening. Eduardo Carbonel (49) – the maitre d ‘- explains to the employees how the center will work, the sanitary measures, “the new prices.”
The economic crisis
Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 1993, as its economy collapsed 11% last year, no tourists have arrived and the Joe Biden government maintains maximum pressure on the embargo, applied by his predecessor in the White House, Donald Trump.
The island was forced to sharply reduce its imports, thus aggravating the food and medicine shortages. To this is added a monetary reform that unleashed an inflationary process that still hits the family economy very hard.
“Everything here is difficult due to the situation in the country, but we are trying to cope as far as we can”, says Yurisbel Paneque (40), one of the people in charge of the private restaurant Rey & Gaby, where future dentists they have ice cream.
“We have tried to search by all means, contracts that we have made with Cuban (state) companies that provide us with some of the products,” he says between distant tables, but full of clients.
On Monday the new laws came into force authorizing micro, small and medium enterprises, public and private, and many of these self-employed restaurants, known as “paladares”, will become companies for which they must present notarial papers.
At the 23 y J notary’s office, the largest and most popular in Havana, “the influx has already begun” of the public, Alexis Sánchez, 51, administrator of the place, tells AFP.
“Here we provide all notarial services: testament, special powers, house purchase, sale of cars, affidavits”, something that was paralyzed for months.
But everything is controlled: “The distance measure is being taken, at a distance of more or less than 1 meter, the foot steps (cleaning shoe soles), chlorine the tables when finished with each client, try to sanitize the bureau, “he adds.
That opening is a step prior to reopening the country to tourism, scheduled from November 15.