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Cuban struggling entrepreneurs look to Biden with hope

HAVANA (AP) – Business was booming for a trendy small clothing store in the heart of Old Havana called Clandestina, one of thousands of new private businesses emerging in an almost entirely socialist economy.

Tourists flocked to the doors to pick up bags, jackets, camisols, and hats, at least until the Trump administration turned off the taps that were opened just a few years ago by then-President Barack Obama.

Today those glass-wood doors open less often. Tourism is being stifled by both US and Cuban government sanctions, an epidemic that is destroying tourism almost everywhere.

The owners of Clandestine, Idania Del Rio և Layer Fernandez, are living with the turmoil of their business, hoping that the new US President Biden will remove at least some of the restrictions imposed by his predecessor.

“If Biden allows him to travel to Cuba, he sees Cuba as a friendly country. It is a radical change for entrepreneurs’ cash registers,” Fernandez, 44, told the Associated Press.

In 2010, in an effort to revitalize the island’s sluggish economy, then-President Raul Castro spurred an unprecedented opening to the private sector, allowing hundreds of small businesses, including restaurants, shoe repairmen, small clothing workshops, and more. – which have grown to employ around 600,000 people.

Some of the most successful targeted large numbers of tourists, as part of another government opening aimed at saving the economy.

Tourism boomed in late 2014 when Obama announced a historic thaw in relations with Cuba, arguing that five decades of US sanctions against communist governments had failed and that more active ties would increase the Caribbean nation.

Clandestina launched in 2015 about five blocks from the state Capitol building, modeled on the Washington building, to wind its sails just in time from the opening of the United States.

“The store was small, we barely had anything, a lot of people started showing up,” Del Rio, 39, told the Associated Press. “Many Americans came, deals were made.”

The store quickly ended up with a lot of shirts bought by dirty foreigners.

Due to the high level of US interest in Cuba, Clandestine clothing quickly became a hit, even appearing at New York fashion shows.

It even went on sale online, something unprecedented in a country where Internet access is limited even today.

“It was a very radical thing. “Suddenly a 100% Cuban brand in New York, sold to North Americans, tourists, everyone,” said Del Rio.

In November 2018, Google, based in the USA, introduced the company to the outdoor “Building the Earth” exhibition, showing rustic shirts, leather shoes and overalls, which were stamped with the symbol “Wi-Fi” in the courtyard of the Havana Museum. Fine arts

But the party was over. The Trump administration has begun a series of measures that ban most American travel and limit remittances to the island. It reduced the number of US diplomats, banned cruise ships, and punished companies based on Venezuelan oil supplies to the Cuban economy.

The piecemeal restrictions have not weakened government control, but they have tightened the budgets of both it and ordinary Cubans. The government blames US sanctions on food and fuel shortages, saying they cost Cuba about $ 5.5 billion.

“Four very difficult years have passed since Obama,” said Fernandez, a Spaniard who’s a partner in Del Rio. He said that after the initial restrictions on Trump’s travel, Clandestine lost 50% of her income.

And they are not alone. A survey of 126 2019 business owners by local business consultant Auge found that 80 percent said they were influenced by Trump’s actions.

Biden has long said he would restore at least some of Obama’s policy toward Cuba. His advisers spoke about the removal of restrictions on remittances sent by Cubans to the United States during the Trump era.

It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.

Hopefully, he’s 44-year-old Raimel Delgado, who worked in US productions such as Fast-Furious and Transformers, which were allowed to be filmed in Cuba in 2016 before Trump shut them down.

“We were directly affected,” he said of Trump’s arrival. “There were many projects that were in progress, others that were planned, they stopped. “Some have disappeared and others are waiting. We will see what happens now.”

Cuban authorities say Trump has used more than 200 measures against Cuba, accusing the island government of using US-Canadian diplomats responsible for human rights abuses and democracy.

“Biden is hope for everyone,” said Rigoberto Romero, the owner of the four-horse chariot that once provided food for travelers, and now waits at home to care for his pets.

The Cuban leadership has experienced a series of openings – closures imposed by US leaders when sanctions were first imposed about 60 years ago – tightened as Fidel Castro allied with the Soviet bloc. Cuban leaders want the US Congress to repeal key laws that give presidents broad powers to impose such sanctions, although analysts say this is unlikely under Biden.

For Cuban economist Omar Everlen Perez, who often criticizes the government, a policy that allows for local business connections “with the United States” “can only be protected by greater economic interconnectedness, that is, more trade and investment.”

Returning to the Clandestina store in Old Havana, the partners try to lift their spirits.

“We survived the siege,” Fernandez said.

“The energy is a little low, but it is coming back,” he said. The small business is already planning to present a collection of T-shirts in New York this month. An almost completely systematic measure of WhatsApp, which began to expand after the government upgraded Internet services in 2018.


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