La Floradita, one of Old Havana's finest restaurants, offers a wide assortment of skillfully prepared seafoods, soups and salads. At La Bodeguita del Medio, a few blocks away, traditional pork and black beans are followed by a cup of rich Cuban coffee.
But at nearby, and comparably high-priced El Patio, the menu selection is limited and tasteless. The service is bad and often there is no bread, no butter and no coffee.
All three restaurants are owned and operated by the government. The first two are part of Cuba's network of international tourist facilities, but El Patio is a place whee foreigners seldom go and where the customary discount for hard currency is not given.
Although Cuba currently suffers severe shortages of everything from coffee to cars, few of the country's supply problems will be visible to the more than 130,000 foreign tourists expected this year.
Part of the reason is that tourists, unless they make a special effort to get away from prepackaged resort tours, see very little of daily Cuban life.
More importantly, President Fidel Castro has decreed that foreigners will have preference over Cubans in access to the goods and services required to make Cuba competitive with the high style of resort vacationing offered by other Caribbean islands.
More than 70 percent of Cuba's trade is conducted with the Soviet bloc. Hard-pressed for convertible currency to finance its ambitious development goals, Cuba, as Castro reminded delegates to the 14th Labor Congress last December, has little to sell beyond "the sea, the climate, the sun, the moon [and] the palm groves."
As the price of sugar, Cuba's main export, remains at rock bottom and export diversification programs lag, tourism, Castro said, "is simply an economic necessity for the revolution."
"We don't like tourism," Castro told the delegates as he explained why paid summer vacations in Cuba's limited number of beach resort hotel rooms -- one of the promises the revolution amde to Cuban workers -- would have to be curtailed.
"But isn't it better for us to be realistic?"
"Every Cuban should have cheap vacations," Castro said, "but if we give them to everyone, I honestly don't know where the money is going to come from."
As many as 300,000 foreigners visited Cuba each year in the 1950s. By 1961, two years after the Castro takeover the number had dropped to 3,000.
It was not until 1972, following years of near total isolation from nuch of the world, that Cuba decided to open its doors to large-scale Western tourism with what began as a trickle of Canadians.
Last year, as the country drew up new industrial development plans with goals projected until the end of the century, a Cuban tourism official said, a "crescendo" of money-making tourist facilities began.
The mojority of Cuba's noncommunist tourists still come from Canada and Latin America. In 1977, however, following the lifting of U.S. travel restrictions, more than 2,000 Americans visited here. Last year, according to Iraido Cartaya, who handles North America for the government travel company Cubatur, that number rose to 8,000.
To draw those tourists from competitors like Barbados and Jamaica, Cuba will have to integrate itself even more into the Western world, and the problems are enormous.
Aside from charters, the only Western airlines that land in Cuba are Air Canada, Iberia and Mexicana, all with limited scheduled flights. Since Cuba has no arrangements with international credit card compines, everything must be paid in cash.
While group tours are provided with buses, Cuba has no self-drive rental cars and both taxis and cars with drivers -- at the government rate of $84 per day -- are scarce.
Cuba also has no hookup to international computer reservations services, and its supply of hotel beds is extremely limited.
Thousands of hotel rooms are now under construction and negotiations are currently underway, Cartaya said, with Lufthansa, the West German airlines, and with American Express. At the same time, Cubatur is trying to purchase its own fleet of rental cars, but it may be years before deals are struck.
While the Havana Riveria Hotel, Cuba's grandest, is kept scrupulously clean and serves a sumptuous buffet -- open to hotel guests and their visitors only -- its 1950s, prerevolutionary splendor, as well as the facilities of the island's newer hotels, suffer in comparison to the lavishness of capitalist Caribbean resorts.
Perhaps the biggest problem Cuba faces is finding things for tourists to do now that most of the prerevolutionary amusements Cuba was known for -- casino gambling, prostitution, and drugs -- are outlawed. Most of the once-famous nightclubs are long since gone.
With the help of foreign advisers, Cuba has developed a series of "educationl" tours for those who want to do more than loll on the beaches. There are bird-watcher group tours, museum tours, hunting and fishing tours and even programs for special groups like attorneys, doctors and railroad workers who want to find out how their Cuban counteparts operate.