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Wealthier Cubans Enjoy Growing Social Scene

/ Source: Associated Press
Vintage American cars parked outside the Miramar Trade Center in Havana, Cuba Roberto Leon / NBC News

At privately run bars and clubs in Havana, Cuba, there is evidence of a small but growing class of relatively affluent artists, musicians and entrepreneurs on an island where many people earn about $20 a month and depend on subsidized food, housing and transport to get by.

Cubans who work for foreign companies or embassies that pay competitive hard-currency salaries and foreigners visiting and living in Cuba have long been able to afford more luxuries. Today, they’re joined by the wealthiest of the 440,000 small-business owners and employees who work independently of the state under President Raul Castro's economic reforms.

Part of it is the art-world elite - an artist who sells a single painting for a few thousand dollars or a musician who performs on an overseas tour is already earning hundreds of times what most Cubans make.

“There is a privileged class living a pretty good life in Havana," said New York visual artist Michael Dweck, author of a 2011 book "Habana Libre."

Some benefit from relatives abroad who send back an estimated $2.6 billion a year.

The bar scene and the wealthier lifestyle is still a small segment of the population, however, and a far cry from the scene along the Malecon seafront boulevard where working-class Cubans gather by the thousands on weekends to sip from 90-cent cardboard boxes of rum.

—The Associated Press