Arab Today, arab today cuban businesses freer to advertise
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Arab Today, arab today
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Cuban businesses freer to advertise

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Cuban businesses freer to advertise

Havana - AFP

Small businesses, freer to tout services after President Raul Castro's economic reforms, are hanging advertisements in Cuban cities that vie for attention with patriotic communist slogans. The number of neon business signs in a city like Havana, population 2.2 million, is still small compared to other Latin American cities, and light years away from, say, New York's Time Square. However until recently the only legal advertisements were stern calls for Cubans to "Give All For The Revolution," and the president's slogan, "Work, Discipline, Rigor." "Advertising was associated with capitalism, but this is not capitalism -- just look at China and other socialist countries," said Javier Acosta, who in January opened a small private restaurant named "Parthenon." For a neon sign featuring an ancient Greek temple that measures 90 centimeters (three feet) in diameter, Acosta needed government permission and pays $25 a month in taxes. "These are small businesses, and we are creating jobs, working hard and struggling," Acosta told AFP. Arnel, a waiter at the Decameron, a competing 'paladar' (palate) -- the local name for private restaurants -- says that advertisements are essential. "There used to be few of us, but now there is fierce competition and it's necessary to advertise," Arnel told AFP. "This used to be the only 'paladar' around here, but now there are around eight," he said. The Decameron went into business first during a brief economic "mini-opening" in the mid-1990s following the collapse of Cuba's long-time patron, the Soviet Union. But by the end of the decade, then-president Fidel Castro reversed course and cracked down on ads and on private businesses. At the time state-run media complained about the "anarchy" of commercial ads, complaining they were a troubling sign of a growing market economy. The Decameron discreetly stayed open, and to this day the front door still has a small window that lets the owners screen out anyone they deem suspicious. Until recently the only way to find this restaurant -- or to a private hairdresser, or cobbler or seamstress -- was through 'radio bemba', or word of mouth. To get around taxes and regulations on ads, some entrepreneurs have turned to paper flyers. Others have turned to clever strategies like attaching keys or scissors to their doors, a sign that a locksmith or hairdresser is present. President Raul Castro, 80, introduced a series of reforms in April that loosened government rules to encourage small private businesses. He also eliminated many subsidies, and slashed the size of Cuba's Soviet-style centralized bureaucracy. The reforms allowed many underground businesses like the Decameron to legalize, and in a few months the number of private-sector workers jumped from nearly 150,000 to 350,000. "In Cuba advertisements are still not allowed in the media, so colorful, well-lit signs are essential," said Gisel Nicolas, with a recently opened 'paladar' called "The Gallery." "A lot of people come here because of the sign," she said. Acosta is proud of his restaurant and his sign, but he's convinced that it's not enough. "As all Cubans, I know well that the best advertisement is done by word of mouth," he said.

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