Cuba reins in entrepreneurs who take free enterprise too far

miami heraldA Coral Gables business consultant watched one day in June as Cuban authorities carried out chairs, tables, plates, sound systems and bottles of imported liquor from a popular private restaurant near the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

“They took everything except the drywall and loaded it into a green truck,” said Saul Cimbler, president of U.S.-Cuba Business Advisory. He happened upon the scene outside El Litoral — a stylish paladar known for its high-end cuisine and customers — just as officers from the Technical Department of Investigations were carting off its fixtures.

Neighboring business owners told him the restaurant got in hot water because of money-laundering allegations. Also problematic, they said, was that the liquor didn’t seem to come through official government channels and the restaurant was paying some of its employees off the books. El Litoral diners also noticed that the restaurant seemed to play a little loose with the rules. Servers sometimes told them: If you don’t have CUCs (Cuban convertible pesos), we’ll take dollars. Greenbacks aren’t legal tender in Cuba. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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