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'The Government doesn't care about the losses Irma inflicted on the self-employed'

Entrepreneurs in the capital claim to have lost thousands of dollars, mainly due to the days the power was out.

La Habana

Reports published by Granma, the Communist Party's newspaper, calculated losses in agriculture, poultry farms, sugar cane and state enterprises due to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma. They also dwelled on the damage to the tourist sector, which the Government began to repair, with great haste. However, no official media source has estimated the economic losses in the private sector.

"Does anyone really think the government cares about our losses?" asked a worker at Joe's Bar, a private restaurant in Plaza.

"In this area we had no power for five days. We had to sell our food requiring refrigeration at half price. Otherwise, we feared, it would have all gone to waste," he explained.

"As a result, we calculate a loss in excess of 1.000 CUC, that cannot be recovered. For a private business that's a lot of money. That Granma made no mention of our losses is normal. For the Government, we are a necessary evil."

The major economic losses at private-sector cafeterias and restaurants, mainly related to products that needed constant refrigeration, were due to Hurricane Irma's effects on gas and electric services.

"I lost all the whole month's investment, about 2.000 CUC, between meat products, fish, seafood, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables," said Alain, a manager of a private restaurant in Príncipe.

"One is prepared for the power going out for a couple of days, tops. But never four. It made no sense to cook all these products because it would have been impossible to sell everything, because in the middle of the hurricane, of course, there were very few customers. That is, the result would have been the same."

Natalia, the owner of a pizzeria in the Centro Habana, estimated losses at some 1.500 CUC, and noted that "resupplying will be quite hard, and slow going."

"Its common knowledge that the self-employed do not have the same kind of access to products at warehouse prices. We have to buy at market prices, and the state markets were out of stock before Irma. Now that will get even worse, because of the hurricane's damage at the national level."

"We are extraterrestrials"

Yuri Carmenate, a tour guide in Nuevo Vedado, believes that those who run private businesses "have to plan ahead."

"What they lost, economically, is their total responsibility. Cyclones and hurricanes, and what happens after they hit, is nothing new to any Cuban. They should have secured the storage of their goods."

"And how can I prepare without the necessary resources?" said Esteban, the owner of a restaurant in Cerro that offers seafood and fish, and that, according to his accountant, suffered losses close to 5.000 CUC.

"One of the claims they leveled against the self-employed was the illicit origin of their equipment, clearly with a view to regulating the issue of imports. If it was risky before to buy a refrigerator, a state-of-the-art oven, or an air conditioner, imagine getting an electric plant," Esteban said.

The downing of trees on the electrical wiring was one of the main causes of power outages throughout and near Havana after the passage of the hurricane, according to sources in Arroyo Naranjo, Plaza and Diez de Octubre.

"And that was the responsibility of the state. Or is the pruning of trees once hurricane season begins the populations obligation too?" complained Amelia, who owns a restaurant in El Vedado. She says she lost more than 3,000 CUC in goods.

"Besides the fact that Irma was devastating and did tremendous damage to the energy infrastructure in the country, the problem in many neighborhoods is that many power lines were down because they had not pruned. There were streets in Vedado blocked by the trees for three days."

Although Raúl Castro himself has repeatedly expressed that "the interests of the self-employed should be defended, as we do with any other citizen," entrepreneurs like Lázaro Raúl, the owner of a coffee shop in Santo Suárez, believes that "the silence about what we lost says it all."

"What are we entrepreneurs? Extraterrestrials? They do not count the almost 900 CUC in spoiled merchandise I lost, which I had to sell at half price. If we are not part of the economy of this country, with our profits and losses, we are nobody."

The self-employed face a difficult situation in Irma's wake. In September the Government acknowledged a drop in the arrival of tourists, the main customers of many private businesses.

Many entrepreneurs are also worried about the United States Government having encouraged its citizens not travel to Cuba due to the mysterious episode of the "acoustic attacks" suffered by U.S. diplomats in Havana.

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