Working in Havana

Raul Rodriguez lined up six black soles on a small wooden stool on his long cement and tile porch. He propped up a sign and wrote, in bold black letters, “Zapatero” – shoemaker. This is the shoemaker’s home, and his business.

From Rodriguez’s porch, strewn with toys, he can see his two small children and nephew scampering in and out of the home. The first floor is a small box room attached to a compact kitchen, with a refrigerator, three decorative silk roses taped to its door, standing prominently against a rickety spiral staircase. Few passersby walked by his modest house, set back about 10 feet from the narrow street.

Rodriguez, who lives and works in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, is a cuentapropista – a self-employed worker, licensed by Cuba’s government to operate as a private businessperson in an economy dominated by state-owned stores and services since the revolution of 1959.