While the idea of flying into Havana and bingeing on rum, cubanos, and ropa vieja sounds pretty satisfying, a long dive by the New York Times into the new situation down there points out there are actually consequences when so many tourists, many of them Americans, arrive en masse on a tiny communist island whose resources are already scarce:
Tourists are quite literally eating Cuba’s lunch. Thanks in part to the United States embargo, but also to poor planning by the island’s government, goods that Cubans have long relied on are going to well-heeled tourists and the hundreds of private restaurants that cater to them, leading to soaring prices and empty shelves.
Without supplies to match the increased appetite, some foods have become so expensive that even basic staples are becoming unaffordable for regular Cubans.
Things like green peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic, and even lettuce mostly exist in the country’s state-run markets right now as “promises,” the Times reports. It quotes locals who call trying to buy tomatoes “an insult,” and say they “have to be magicians” to cook a decent meal these days. It’s a complicated deal because, besides the government’s shortsightedness (not realizing, for one, that 11 million mouths to feed was going to morph into 14 million when the border opened), Cuba’s private-restaurant scene also just exploded — from 100 spots in 2011 to more than 1,600 today, the result of widely celebrated free-market reforms. But that’s upped demand, and many of these places apparently still face a variety of additional barriers, like laggard state recognition that makes it hard for them to buy in bulk or import ingredients from abroad. “It’s true, the prices keep going up and up,” one local restaurateur argues. “But that’s not just the fault of the private sector. There is generally a lot of chaos and disorder in the market.”