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Lack of reliable power is not Artemisa restaurant owner's only challenge

Owner of 'El Paladar del Gordo' has daughter in South Florida

ARTEMISA, Cuba – At the entrance of the roadside hut that houses "El Paladar del Gordo" there is a blooming Bougainvillea bush. It's raining. The roof is leaking, and after loud thunder the power goes out. It happens often.

Teresa "Tere" Valdez, the owner of the restaurant, is used to it. But the tourists who deviate from the Autopista Este-Oeste are not. She smiles, rain is good. The restaurant is in the province of Artemisa, about a 45-minute drive west of Havana, where there was severe drought.

Valdez serves "TuKola" soda, the Cuban version of Coca-Cola, a joint venture with Spain. The menu also includes fried "croquetas," an appetizer that requires onions, milk, flour, salt, pepper, lemon juice, eggs, ground beef, bread and soy sauce. The gas stove was working. They fried the finger food until golden.

"When the thunder stops, they will turn the power back on," she said in Spanish as she tried to calm the foreigners at the table. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, an economic crisis prompted the government's 1993 economic reforms and later a relaxation of regulations in 2010 after a wave of government layoffs. Cubans can now rent a space and hire workers. Meat and lobster can be on the menu, and occupancy restrictions went up from 12 to 20.

Deregulation helped Valdez to run "El Paladar del Gordo," but it hasn't been easy. Most "paladares" have to deal with food shortages. In the province of Artemisa, territory that used to belong to La Habana province until 2011, the agricultural sector grows fruits, potatoes, sugarcane and rice.

Unreliable power is not the only challenge. To survive the complex environment of black markets and a lack of wholesale markets or opportunities for credit, Cubans entrepreneurs have to become problem-solvers. They often use the word "resolver," to solve. "Yo resuelvo" means "I will figure it out."

On the socialist island, the attitude of "yo resuelvo" helps business owners to adapt. They are now known as the "cuentapropista," short for "trabajador con cuenta propia," a worker with a proprietary account. They must pay about a 30 percent tax to the government.

Valdez said she misses her daughter who lives in Hialeah, a South Florida city in Miami-Dade County, where Cubans make up at least 74 percent of the population. Valdez said she is hopeful the U.S. Congress will lift the embargo. This could help the nearly 500,000 "cuentapropistas" gain access to competitive prices.

"I'm so happy," Valdez said about the U.S.-Cuba talks aiming to normalize relations. "I hope the outcome is good."

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Entrepreneurship increasing in Cuba