The Two Faces of Downtown Cabo Rojo

By: Cristian Soto Torres

Living difficult economic times, Alberto Rodríguez, a 73-year-old retired teacher, walks every day from his humble residence in downtown Cabo Rojo, up to the marketplace to share with his old friends, while reads the newspaper and enjoys a coffee for only ₵55. While, closely to the marketplace the mayor of Cabo Rojo, Roberto Ramirez Kurtz accompanied of his advisers, visits Cassabe restaurant  and enjoys tasty dishes which prices vary between $8 and $28; as both said in separated interviews.

These are some of the scenes that are very common in downtown Cabo Rojo, which despite being a small town it shows in a very marked way the social and economic inequality that Puerto Rico is passing by. Comparing some places like Cassabe restaurant with the “Cafetería Caraballo,” there can be seen the divisions of social classes during the day. But during the night the panorama is not different, when places as “El Kiosco de los Dulces Típicos” and “Wines & Piscolabis Bar and Tapas” are compared.

In the Barbosa Street 53, Baldorioty de Castro corner, just in front of the Cabo Rojo town hall, is  Cassabe restaurant, located in a remodeled building of old construction, so that it preserves the old style but with the specifications of modern engineering. That way, Cassabe whose motto is “The better of our roots” carry out their customers the traditional meals of the Puerto Rican culture, developed by professional chef, while enjoying an atmosphere of high class. Entering the restaurant it is possible to observe the local elegance, where the system of illumination is by a few elegant chandeliers from the ceiling, tables with tops of crystal, elegant padded chairs and a very well elaborated decoration. The food is a la carte and they prepare from salads and “mofongo” up to costly lobsters. Alberto Granel Ortiz, owner of the restaurant who has served the public for 6 years, remembers in a very special way some of the personalities that have visited his restaurant, such as the world-famous painter Antonio Martorell, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state David Bernier, as well as the player of the NBA Jose Juan Barea, among others.

While only three streets down, in the Carbonell Street 12 is a scenario that shows the opposite. The “Cafetería Caraballo,” just at the entrance of the marketplace “Doña Lolita Montalvo Cordero,” is a very humble place that provides a space usually visited by people with fewer resources. At the cafeteria, which takes approximately 23 years of service, there are the more traditional prints of Puerto Rico; from elderly people buying their products in the marketplace, the sale of traditional lottery, until a label which has a well-known phrase by small sellers: “Today we do not borrow, maybe tomorrow.” The place rustically decorated in a way that reflects the traditional Puerto Rico of some years ago, has four metal tables with their respective chairs. When entering the place its only employee can be seen, Luis Caraballo, who is also the owner of the cafeteria. “The meals are at very modest prices, ranging from sandwiches to creole food such as rice, beans and chicken,” said Luis Caraballo.

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From left to right, “Cafetería Caraballo” and Cassabe restaurant in downtown Cabo Rojo.

Opposite to the cafeteria, in the Ruiz Belvis Street 23, on one side of the public square is “Wines & Piscolabis Bar and Tapas,” a non-traditional style of bar in Puerto Rico because of its elegance. It is a family business which is operated by the owners and their sons and has been open for approximately 8 years, said its owner Manuel Torres. Upon entering the place can be seen an elegant decor, about 10 high tables with tops in mahogany, a few large-screen televisions for the enjoyment of its customers, a bar with a large variety of drinks, as well as an extensive wine cellar. Regarding the food, the specialties of the house are the rustic bruschetta and chorizos to the wine and the prices vary between $4 and $21. “Wines & Piscolabis offers the opportunity to listen to live music, while enjoying in a peaceful and elegant environment” said Manuel Torres.

But on the other side of the street, inside the public square, the panorama of the so-called “Kiosco de Dulces Típicos,” is not the same as in ‘Wines & Piscolabis,’ despite the fact that it is also a family business. The kiosk had serve through 16 years to its customers and is run by its owners, Hilton Pérez García and Myrna Lugo Torres, as Pérez García said. It is located in a small building, built of cement and wood, with roof in zinc; and in it the Pérez Lugo family prepares coffee, sandwiches and the famous typical sweets. The place is completely in the open air and it has four metal tables with their respective umbrellas and chairs, the illumination is provided by the lights of the square and it has a few horns which maintains at all times, typical Puerto Rican music. As in the marketplace, in there can be seen some very traditional Puerto Rico’s scenarios; in this case, the elderly playing dominoes in the tables of the square. “These people are mostly the regular customers of the kiosk as well as young university students,” said Pérez García.

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From left to right, “Kiosco de Dulces Típicos” and “Wines & Piscolabis Bar and Tapas” on Cabo Rojo’s public square.

The comparisons between the places, about the physical appearance of their structure, its tables and chairs, the food that they prepare and the prices, are a sample of the social inequality in which Puerto Rico is plunged, specifically downtown Cabo Rojo. In fact, based on a recent publication by Orlando Sotomayor and Eduardo Kicinski, both professors of economy at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, social inequality in Puerto Rico has had a significant rise in recent years and it is estimated that almost half of the population lives in poverty. Being it a statistic that reflects perfectly in downtown Cabo Rojo where in a comparison of four places, the two places that carry less than 10 years are aimed to the upper class, while the two places which carry more than 10 years, are directed to persons with fewer economic resources.

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