HAVANA – Cuba’s private restaurants, better known as “paladares” (palates), are being watched closely these days by the Castro government, which has temporarily suspended the concession of licenses because of alleged rule violations in a booming sector that perfectly represents the island’s new economy.
“There has been powerful growth in a very short time and for the government, it’s gotten out of hand,” the owner of a famous Havana restaurant told EFE, adding that like other eatery owners he awaits a feared inspection by the authorities sometime during the coming weeks.
In Cuba, where lacking official confirmation, rumors are readily accepted, the alarm spread over the past few days among private restaurants, and soon afterwards their owners were called to meet with government officials.
There they were told that no new licenses will be issued for private restaurants in the capital, after which a series of strict inspections began to see which of those in business were obeying the rules: seating for no more than 50 diners, staying open only during the established hours, and the use of only those products purchased and billed by state suppliers.
“The situation is very clear,” the owner of one of the first “paladares” told EFE, while asking to remain anonymous.
The entrepreneurs of gastronomy, waiting for the feared inspections, spiraled into a paranoia that included hiding any products not acquired through official channels and revising their menus to include only dishes for whose ingredients they possessed an invoice.
Bottles of premium liquors brought in a suitcase to Cuba, exotic ingredients and the famous lobsters, almost impossible to purchase legally and usually bought directly from fishermen, these days are kept under lock and key until things hopefully get back to normal.
The current licenses issued only for restaurants and cafeterias have led to nighttime bars being slipped into these categories.
Some of these have already been shut down, though no government source has yet confirmed this.