Timid colored awnings spring from nowhere, under newly opened umbrellas fruit smoothies and pork rinds are sold, the doorways of some homes are turned into improvised snack bars with striking menus. All this and more grows in the streets of my city these days because of the new flexibility for self-employment. Some of my neighbors are making plans to open a shoe repair, or a place to repair fridges, while avenues and plazas are being transformed by the efforts of private initiative. The straitjacket that gripped individual initiative seems to loosen. Some remain cautious, however, waiting to see if this time the economic reforms will really take hold and not be shut down as happened in the nineties.
In just the few months since the announcement of the expansion in the number of licenses for independent work, the results are encouraging. We have begun to recover lost flavors, longed-for recipes, hidden comforts. More than 70,000 Cubans have taken out new licenses to work for themselves and at their own risk, and thousands more are seriously considering the advantages of opening a small family business. Despite the caution of many, the still excessive taxes, and the absence of wholesale markets, the brand new businesses have started to be noticed in a society marked by stagnation. You see them building their little stands, hanging colorful signs announcing their merchandise, rearranging their homes to accommodate a snack bar or to offer haircuts or manicures. Most are convinced that this time they are here to stay, because the system that so suffocated and demonized them in the past, has lost the ability to compete with them.