Some Cuban Barbers Unhappy With Their New Cut
Josefina Hernandez cuts a customer's hair. Cuba has begun turning over some state-run barber shops and hair salons to the employees who work in them, a pilot program that marks a loosening of the government's strict controls on the retail sector.
In Cuba, hundreds of state-run beauty salons and barber shops are getting a free-market makeover.
Under President Raul Castro, a new economic program is handing over the businesses directly to employees.
But Cuba's hair stylists aren't entirely happy with their cut.
At the Salon Soroa on O'Reilly Street, the setting is everything you would imagine in an Old Havana barber shop.
In the past, you worked, reported your hours, earned a salary and took vacations. Now you don't have any of that. You just work and work.
- Rene Navarro, salon-worker-turned-entrepreneur
A live band plays in a rundown cafe on the corner, and inside the barber shop are vintage iron-and-leather chairs with ornate footrests that read "Emil J. Paidar Company, Chicago." Three middle-aged men in white coats work quietly, snipping and
trimming, as rickety ceiling fans whirl above.
Rene Navarro has been cutting hair at the Salon Soroa for 15 years, as an employee of the Cuban government. But as of April 1, he has been working for himself.
"This is new to us, and we're still getting used to the change," Navarro says. "We don't know how it's going to work out."
Many in Cuba are watching this experiment closely. It's the first time Cuba's government has given up control over some of the small businesses that were nationalized in 1968.
Some barbers say they are thrilled with the change. But Navarro is less enthusiastic. One reason is that he now has to pay nearly $40 a month in taxes and fees. At Cuban prices, that's about 50 haircuts.
"In the past, you worked, reported your hours, earned a salary and took vacations," Navarro says. "Now you don't have any of that. You just work and work."
By Nick Miroff