People, Travel

Cuba Tourist Boom Causing Food Shortages

Cuba Tourist Boom Causing Food ShortagesCuba Tourist Boom Causing Food Shortages

The warming of relations between the United States and Cuba this year has created a boom in tourism for the island country.

Cruise liners traveling from Miami began docking in Havana in May and the first commercial flight from the US to Cuba in more than 50 years landed in the island nation on November 28. But not everyone is seeing the benefits from a growing number of foreign visitors.

The New York Times reports that food in Cuba is becoming scarce and expensive—in part due to the massive growth in tourism. In a country where supplies were already scarce, Cubans are now seeing their onions, green peppers and avocados gobbled up by privately-owned restaurants catering to travelers.

State-run markets in recent weeks have reportedly been sold out of items like tomatoes, lettuce and pineapples while the more loosely regulated cooperative markets that sell to restaurants are well-stocked with vegetables, herbs and spices.

“Almost all of our buyers are paladares [private restaurants],” says cooperative vendor Ruben Martinez. “They are the ones who can afford to pay more for the quality.”

The number of privately owned restaurants has grown sharply over the last five years, thanks to free market reforms ushered in during 2011. Prior to that, restaurants were strictly state-owned and operated. Where once there were only 100 restaurants, there are now more than 1,600 on the island, reported.

Privately-owned operations are also experiencing barriers to purchasing ingredients for menus. With no wholesale purveyors or bulk-buying options in Cuba, everything must be purchased at market rate. It’s further complicated by the fact that the government does not recognize private restaurants in a way that allows owners to import ingredients or equipment from abroad.

According to the Times, the Cuban government has made moves to curb the growth of Havana’s restaurant industry by pausing the issuing of licenses in the city, though some argue that does not resolve the real problem.

“It’s true; the prices keep going up and up,” says Laura Fernandez, manager of the high-end restaurant El Cocinero. “But that’s not just the fault of the private sector. There is generally a lot of chaos and disorder in the market.”


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