Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pool owners in Viñales rebel against bureaucracy

Pool owners in Viñales rebel against bureaucracy

The tables are ready, the glasses shine on the tablecloths and the bar
displays a wide variety of drinks. However, the restaurant is closed.

Just a few months ago, the spacious dining room of Casa Nenita, in
Viñales, was packed with tourists, but the building of a pool by the
owner resulted in the government cancellation of a license to rent rooms
and sell food.

It is a quiet fight, barely noticed by visitors, spreading across
Viñales' rolling hills, caves and tobacco fields. For the past five
years, tourism has flourished in the region, and the cuentapropistas
(self-employed) who rent rooms took a step further at providing comforts
to by building their own pools.

Local authorities have forced these entrepreneurs to demolish what has
been built or to fill the pools with earth and turn them into huge
flower beds.

Earlier this year, without notice, the Municipal Administration Council
ordered the suspension of all licenses and canceled the leases of those
who resisted to obey. Local authorities used satellite imagery to detect
the striking blue circles or rectangles in the backyards serving as pools.

"They say it's because of the water shortage," says Roque, 38, a private
taxi driver. "But in recent months there have been a lot of downpours
here and the pool of the [state-owned] Los Jazmines hotel is always full."

The owners of private rooms-for-rent pay the Tax Administration Office
(ONAT) about $35 a month for each room that they rent. In addition, they
must also pay 10 percent of their income and social security fees.

The pool trend began with plastic wading pools bought in stores like
Plaza Carlos III in Havana for a price ranging between $600 and $1,800.

Gradually, the pools became permanent fixtures constructed into the
ground. Glitzy designs replaced the plastic and some of the more
elaborate pools feature mini-islands with coconut trees and
sophisticated pumping systems. Construction costs for many of the pools
exceed $8,000.

The rentals with pools took the lead in Viñales' lodging industry, where
911 homes have licenses to rent a room. More than 80 percent of the
tourists coming to the province of Pinar del Río stay in Viñales.
Offering a swim in the garden was a plus for attracting customers.

In Cuban stores it is almost impossible to find chlorine compounds,
disinfectants or cleaning products for pools. But a thriving informal
network provides everything needed for maintenance. In most cases, the
products are imported by people visiting the island or diverted from the

The cuentapropistas in Viñales had to overcome all these obstacles, and
they say that they didn't receive any notice from the government warning
them not to continue with their renovations, a detail they are now
presenting to try to stop the governmental onslaught.

The government withdrew 32 licenses and only the homeowners who complied
with the order to demolish their pools or fill them with land were able
to keep their licenses. Those who denounced the government action have
been deemed as "counterrevolutionaries" and say they are under increased
surveillance by authorities.

"Here, the government invests little and demands a lot," said an
employee of the restaurant El Olivo, located on Viñales' main street.
"We, the entrepreneurs, have raised this place, because 20 years ago
everything here was half dead and today this is one of the most
important tourist destinations in the country."

In September 2014, the resolution number 54 of Cuba's Physical Planning
Institute made it clear that it would not grant new licenses for the
construction of swimming pools. But most of the 28 pools in dispute were
built before that date. In January, the new government rules introduced
new tariffs for pools in the private sector.

A letter addressed to Raúl Castro this summer by a group of tenants
affected by the ban remains unanswered.

A defiant Emilia Diaz Serrat, owner of Casa Nenita, has vowed to keep
her swimming hole even as her place remains empty while tourists huddle
outside in search of a place to rest. .

"I will not drain the pool," she said.


Source: Building a pool in Viñales results in cancellation of license to
rent rooms | In Cuba Today -
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