HAVANA (AP) — The streets of central Havana were dark and almost silent as a young married couple climbed a chipped marble staircase to the top of an aging building.
Dubied Arce and Dayelin Perez opened a narrow door to a flood of cold air, colored light and the twang of a country-and-western video blasting from a wall-mounted TV. To their right: a private movie theater with a 200-inch screen, glossy leather armchairs and a high-definition 3D projector. In another room: a half dozen Xbox video-game consoles wired to flat-screen displays that were hand-carried by Cubans returning from trips abroad.
Cuban entrepreneurs have quietly opened dozens of backroom video salons over the last year, seizing on ambiguities in licensing laws to transform cafes and children's entertainment parlors into a new breed of private business unforeseen by recent official openings in the communist economy.
"It's a cool atmosphere," Perez, 27, said Sunday night as she munched free popcorn and waited with her husband and four other patrons for the late-night showing of the 2010 terror film "Saw 3D." ''We have some more options these days, at least."
It's increasingly clear that 3D movie and video-game salons have grown too popular for the government to ignore. Officials said Sunday that they were working on new regulations for the businesses, sparking fears the government might be on the verge of stamping out this flowering of private enterprise.
"We don't have any concrete information yet about whether they're going to allow it or not. But they haven't come out and said it's prohibited either," said the manager of the central Havana video salon, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the murky legal status of the businesses. "We just don't know."
President Raul Castro has legalized small-scale private business in nearly 200 fields since 2010 in an effort to rejuvenate Cuba's economy. The limited opening has created jobs for some 436,000 people, but is often accompanied by tighter regulations or higher taxes as private enterprise starts to compete with the government.
Video parlors aren't mentioned among the approved businesses but aren't explicitly prohibited either. Their owners usually operate under licenses for restaurants or snack bars, then add entertainment options that grow larger than the original business.
The Communist Party youth organ Juventud Rebelde published a 3,260-word article Sunday on video salons that prominently featured officials pointedly discussing the need to do something.
"What are we to do: prohibit or regulate? I believe in regulating, from a fundamental starting point: everybody complying with cultural policy," Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas told the newspaper.
The paper said Rojas believes the video salons are promoting "a lot of frivolity, mediocrity, pseudo culture and banality, which flies in the face of a policy demanding that quality comes first in Cubans' cultural consumption."
"Notwithstanding, our interest isn't in limiting these offerings, rather that they promote, I repeat, cultural products of the highest quality," he said.