Some Cuban Barbers Unhappy With Their New Cut Hundreds of state-run Cuban beauty salons and barber shops are getting a free-market makeover. Economic reforms under President Raul Castro are transferring the businesses directly to employees. But some of the new entrepreneurs are worried about high taxes and other burdens.
NPR logo

Some Cuban Barbers Unhappy With Their New Cut

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126311701/126468765" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Some Cuban Barbers Unhappy With Their New Cut

Some Cuban Barbers Unhappy With Their New Cut

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126311701/126468765" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Hundreds of state-run beauty salons in Cuba, as well as barber shops, are getting a free-market makeover. The government is handing over management of these salons to employees who've been drawing paychecks from the state for decades. But as Nick Miroff reports from Havana, Cuba's hairstylists are not entirely happy with their cut of the profits.

NICK MIROFF: The Salon Soroa on O'Reilly Street is everything you'd imagine in an Old Havana barber shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MIROFF: There's a live band playing in a rundown cafe on the corner, and inside the barber shop are vintage, iron-and-leather chairs with ornate footrests that read Emil J. Paidar Company, Chicago. Three middle-aged men in white coats work quietly, snipping and trimming, as rickety ceiling fans whirl above.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCISSORS CLIPPING)

MIROFF: Rene Navarro has been cutting hair here for 15 years as an employee of the Cuban government. But as of April 1st, he's been working for himself.

MIROFF: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Some barbers say they're thrilled with the change. But Navarro is less enthusiastic. One reason is that he now has to pay nearly $40 a month in taxes and fees. At Cuban prices, that's about 50 haircuts.

MIROFF: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: In the past, Navarro said, you worked, reported your hours, earned a salary and took vacations. Now you don't have any of that, he said. You just work and work.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR DRYER)

MIROFF: If it sounds like Cuba is moving toward capitalism, keep in mind that the government still controls about 90 percent of the island's economy. And it will continue to own the barber shops and beauty parlors, even if it allows the workers to run them. That drains some of the incentive to fix them up, so their retro, pre-revolution look is probably safe for now.

MIROFF: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Havana beautician Yusemi Betancourt is another newly minted but uneasy Cuban entrepreneur. She says she and her co-workers don't have any money saved to fix up their shop or invest in new equipment. The taxes are high, so she's raised prices. But that's driving customers away, she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MIROFF: This recent government rally in Havana was held to mark the 49th anniversary of the day when Fidel Castro first publicly declared the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution.

INSKEEP: (Spanish spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MIROFF: Ricardo Torres is a graduate student in economics.

MIROFF: For me, and I think for many people in Cuba, socialism is opportunities - the ability of a society to provide opportunity for all of its citizens. Socialism is also social justice. So we need to change. It's not easy because there's not,like, model to follow. We have to build our own model.

MIROFF: For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff in Havana.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.