Free Enterprise Comes To Cuba's Barber Shops
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Cuba's state-run economy got a shape-up this week when all barbershops and beauty salons were handed over to the people who run them. Before this, Cubans who worked in this industry relied on a government salary of $20 a month. Now, barbers can charge what they want but are responsible for paying taxes and utilities.
Joining us to talk more about this is Juan Jacomino, the correspondent for Global Radio News in Havana. Juan, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. JUAN JACOMINO (Correspondent, Juan Global Radio News in Havana): My pleasure, Michel.
Yes. This is coming up here in Havana, this is not exactly a major economic move, you could say, but certainly having a symbolic undertone this thing of barbershops and beauty parlors and other small services being handed over to the workers in a form of a cooperative, I would say.
MARTIN: How did this come about? What this a surprise?
Mr. JACOMINO: No, it wasnt. It wasnt really. I think the government is somehow trying to create awareness about this in the paper. There were several major articles in Granma newspaper talking about the need to do this. As you mentioned earlier, this is something that was kind of going on in the sense that what is happening now is that the government is legalizing what in practice was operating on a sort of private basis.
MARTIN: What are you saying? People were working under the table privately anyway, so they were just recognizing what was already going on?
Mr. JACOMINO: Yeah. I guess you can say that. Let me give you briefly how I see it. You see in Cuba, these barbershops, beauty parlors and a few other places, repairing places where you repair your shoes or you watches and things like that, are government premises and the government used to pay salaries to the people working there and providing them with air conditioning, with lights, water.
Now it's going to be the other way around. The workers are going to be leasing those places and our going to be paying the government for the leasing of the place and for the use of the facilities and the equipment and things like that.
MARTIN: Now, just to remind people that retail establishments were nationalized in 1968, but that some self-employment has been legal since 1993, like for example, taxi drivers for example, and some other small businesses. So how are people reacting to this change? Are the barbers and the stylists happy about it and what about the customers?
Mr. JACOMINO: To be true, they're very optimistic. My beauty parlor on the corner here, they're all very happy. The place is perfectly clean, it's very lit up, they have painted up, workers are pretty happy about it and they're looking forward to it. Honestly, this is something that I think we should check back say in six months to see how they're doing because this self-employment thing includes an element of self-adjusting also. You may be very optimistic but you really need to see how it performs on a longer term. But the mood now in the workers is one of optimism.
In the part of the clients I must say, there's a little bit of concern regarding the prices that they may have to pay because now - and this is another element of this government-run places - there used to be a price that we were supposed to pay for, say, a haircut, a hair washing your hair, things like that. It was ridiculously low, like 80 cents or one Cuban peso, which is less than five cents of a U.S. dollar for a haircut.
Now, we never paid 80 cents. We always paid the barber 5 pesos, 10 pesos, 20 pesos. Some people would pay 40 pesos for a haircut to your barber whom you or you hair stylist whom you trust and was your friend, blah, blah. So now that is changing. And if you didnt have in the past 20 pesos, you could always tell you barber that, look, I only have two pesos and he would have to be happy. Now, he would set the price for you and I wonder what the general reaction of people will be. We'll have to wait and see. There's a little bit of concern about that.
MARTIN: What are you thinking about for you? Are you going to go to the same barber or you going to try something new?
Mr. JACOMINO: I'm actually growing my hair longer these days. But no, not really, I will continue to go my regular barber whom I'm very happy with.
Mr. JACOMINO: And I guess people will continue to do that. But probably they will not go as often because to be true, these places were always full. One of the things I hated about going to the barbers was that anywhere you went, whatever time of day, morning, afternoon, they were always full, always full of people. That's what you see now.
MARTIN: Which is why youre growing your hair out. Okay.
Mr. JACOMINO: A little bit.
MARTIN: A little bit? Juan Jacomino is a correspondent for Global Radio News. He joined us by phone from Havana. Juan, thank you.
Mr. JACOMINO: My pleasure, Michel.
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