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Ordinary Cubans feel the lure of capitalist dollars

 ©By Ron Howell
 Newsday - April 29, 2001

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba -- As foreigners flock to this island to lounge on beaches, stroll through museums or look for  romance, increasing numbers of Cubans are renting rooms to the visitors, earning Yankee dollars and testing the waters of  capitalism.

"It's not going to make us rich, but we're certainly better off than we were before,'' said one experimental capitalist, Wiltse  Escalona, 37. He and his business partner -- his mother, María -- are among the relatively few Cubans who earn a living as cuenta  propistas, or, literally, ``people who work on their own account.''

Seven years after Cuban leader Fidel Castro opened new opportunities for people to work on their own, the cuenta propistas  remain at the margin of Cuba's economy, and say they labor under pressure and harassment from the authorities.

Even as Escalona and others go into the room-rental business, private restaurateurs say officials sometimes force them to close  as the government tries to eliminate competition with state-operated restaurants.

May 6, 2001

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