ASCE Conference Proceedings 2018
Ted A. Henken
Original Article: Cuba’s New Rules for Cuenta-propistas
The quantitative expansion of self-employment from150,000 to nearly 600,000 licensed cuenta-propistas between 2010 and 2018 during the presidency of Raúl Castro can be celebrated given its expansion of economic freedom, the provision of job opportunities, greater productivity and efficiency, and a markedly higher quality of goods and services for those who can afford them. However, it is also curious that the Cuban government has embraced the micro-enterprise sector historically only during times of economic crisis when it could no longer provide enough jobs, goods, or services for the people (Mesa-Lago and Pérez-López 2013).
Indeed, this is one of the mantras most commonly repeated in the official press when justifying the downsizing of the state sector and the expansion of cuenta-propismo (i.e., self-employment or literally “on-your-ownism”): The state must “lighten its load” so it can focus on the fundamental sectors of the economy.
Given such a context, Cuban workers can be forgiven for concluding that Castro’s much trumpeted economic “updating,” constant calls for greater productivity and efficiency, and sharp criticisms of Cuba’s “inflated state payrolls, bulky social spending, undue gratuities, and excessive subsidies” (2010) are simply fancy words for the state’s abandonment of its historic commitment to them under the Revolution.
Indeed, entrepreneurship has an elastic history in revolutionary Cuba and has undergone oscillating phases of relevance, vigilance, legality, and illegitimacy. In that context, Cuba’s successful cuenta-propistas (the island term that lumps individual freelancers, together with private business owners and their employees, without giving formal, legal recognition to Cuba’s emergent small- and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs) have often found themselves in the frustrating position of being counted on to supplement the moribund state enterprise sector by providing private employment, high quality goods and services, and economic productivity and efficiency, while simultaneously doing without any legal personality or legal standing (personalidad jurídica) as true business enterprises.
This restriction prevents them from opening bank accounts, signing contracts, importing needed inputs, or exporting their goods or services abroad. That is, while Cuba’s cuenta-propistas may be individually licensed to operate as freelancers (i.e.,personas naturales), “Cuban law does not recognize1. In some cases, the expansion of the private sector has also driven down prices. However, because of extensive subsidies and price controls in the state sector, combined with chronic material scarcity and a dual currency system where a good portion of the private sector operates in hard “convertible” currency, prices for most goods and services available in Cuba’s private sector are very high relative to the state sector.