The Cuban government has temporarily suspended the issuance of new licenses for private restaurants, popularly known as paladares, and has intensified the scrutiny of those already operating in Havana, warning owners that they must obey established regulations, Reuters reported Monday.
In the past six weeks, some owners of paladares have been summoned for meetings with municipal government representatives in Havana and warned about alleged violations being committed, such as tax evasion, buying supplies on the black market or operating illegal bars.
Some of the private entrepreneurs who have taken part in these meetings said they expect tighter controls on existing regulations and visits by inspectors and auditors.
Cuban entrepreneur Niuris Higueras, owner of the popular Atelier paladar, said she was called to a meeting at the municipal offices of Havana’s Poder Popular (People’s Power), where representatives of several state institutions, including the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and police participated. The meeting, she said, gave her peace of mind.
“I thought it was going to be very tense, but it was not,” Higueras said. “They were very communicative. They even told us that our businesses are important to the economy and that there were irregularities not only in private business, but in state-owned businesses as well. Basically it was for everyone to know that they knew there were illegal acts being committed.
“It's like they were issuing a fair warning,” she said.
According to Higueras, some of the problems mentioned in the meeting “are real.” The authorities mentioned as major issues the use of public parking to accommodate paladares customers, buying supplies on the black market, tax violation and money laundering and even prostitution rings and illegal drugs used in some places.
“These things are really happening,” Higueras said.“They are doing inspections. I know that there will be more control.”
According to Cuban law, private restaurants have a capacity limit of 50 seats and must buy supplies in state-owned stores, despite the high price of the products sold by the government.
There are hundreds of paladares operating in Havana.
Some, like La Guarida, have become famous for being frequently visited by U.S. celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, actress Natalie Portman and singer Madonna. President Barack Obama and his family had dinner at the San Cristóbal paladar during his visit to the island in March.
The tightening of government measures to regulate the paladares comes as the number of tourists visiting the island has increased exponentially. Cuba recently reported that some 3 million tourists have visited the country so far this year. The number of commercial flights to the island from the United States also has increased: The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba is expected to reach 300,000 by the end of the year.
Abel Fernández is on Twitter @abelfglez