HAVANA – The Cuban government has converted a dozen Havana barbershops into cooperatives, whose employees now administer them and decide on the prices they’ll charge and the hours they’ll be open, as part of the tentative reforms announced by President Raul Castro.
The “experiment” began in two of the capital’s 15 municipalities and requires barbers to pay the state company 993 pesos ($45) in advance to rent the barbershops, people involved told Efe.
The barbers are licensees of a sort who also have to pay the electricity, water and telephone bills, plus the salary of a cleaning assistant, but they can run their shops any way they see fit.
Jorge Luis, 36, said that in his barber shop the administrator appointed by the state company left and never came back, so now he and his two colleagues take all the decisions.
“All that has changed is that we’re a little freer to work. We have to work harder and we’re a little scared, because we don’t know if this will be profitable or whether it will work at all,” the barber told Efe.
Arturo, who has been working in the sector for more than 15 years, said that the shops still under state management will continue to charge 1 peso (less than 5 cents) for a haircut, though it has become usual for customers to leave tips that are five to 10 times that “symbolic” amount.
“A lot of people are complaining, but they pay. Others just stay away,” Arturo said, adding that with the new system the client can’t pay what he likes, but has to pay the amount set by the experiment’s barbers.
Officials of the state enterprise that administers most of the barbershops in Havana told Efe that the new system operates only in small shops with two or three chairs, and was discussed previously with the workers.
Barbers who did not want to go on working in barbershops that were to be rented out had the chance to trade places with others who were interested in taking part.
“The government guarantees us a pension and health insurance, but now we don’t have a fixed salary, nor are we told what to do,” Arturo said.
After succeeding ailing older brother Fidel, Raul Castro announced “structural reforms” on the island, but only a few measures have been passed, such as allowing people to moonlight at other jobs, lending state land for individual use, and small changes such as the sale of computers and electrical appliances that was formerly banned.
The president has criticized Cubans who “get desperate” demanding “immediate changes,” without realizing the many issues he has to deal with to assure a future for the revolution led by his brother and predecessor in 1959.
Raul Castro became acting president in July 2006 when Fidel was stricken by a serious illness, and took power definitively in February 2008.
After the collapse of the Cuban economy when the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991, Cuba experienced a similarly timid opening that allowed the existence of self-employed taxi-drivers, barbers, stylists and restauranteurs. EFE