Yailenis Mulet Concepción

Third World Quarterly

Volume 37, 2016 – Issue 9



This article discusses the phenomenon of self-employment in Cuba from three perspectives: its conceptualisation, its links with informality and the challenges to its growth. First, it reviews the characteristics of self-employment in Cuba, in comparison with available theory and with various studies of informality carried out in other countries. Second, it documents the dimensions of informality and Cuba’s black market economy through the study of a specific sector of the independent labour force: shoe producers. Third, it considers the main challenges for the growth of self-employment in Cuba, as illustrated by the case of Cuban shoemakers, and draws some lessons that should improve the situation of this sector, taking into account different international studies.

zz Cuba-Nov-2008-0482Cuenta Propista artisan and vendor, party supplieszz Mercado-Artesanal-on-the-MaleconMercado Artesanal, on the Malecon, photos by Arch Ritter


The growth of self-employment is a significant feature within the reforms currently reshaping the Cuban economy. After the crisis of the 1990s the centrally planned economy failed to satisfy many needs for goods and services, so these were met through economic activities driven by the imperative of survival (some of them not allowed, and others not well accepted, within the socialist development model).

Today activities that were discouraged or even forbidden by the government have been incorporated into the economic strategy of the current government.1 Self-employment has ceased to be viewed as ‘a necessary evil’, as it was in the early 1990s. Today it is viewed by authorities as a valid solution within Cuban Socialism, and is also expected to contribute to the economic development of the nation.

Before 2010, as Ritter and Henken point out, serious studies of this sector were largely discouraged and considered taboo. From 2010 onwards self-employment became the object of scholarly analysis within Cuba and abroad by authors such as Villanueva and Vidal, González, Arredondo, Centeno and Portes, Dámaso, Díaz and Piñeiro, González-Corzo, Morales, Triana, Feinberg, and in the most recent work of Ritter and Henken.2 On the one hand, the deepest and most revealing publications are by foreign researchers, with limited diffusion in Cuba. In addition, ethnography and field studies are methods used by few Cuban researchers. On the other hand, research into self-employment, in the specific case of Cuba, largely centres on two aspects: (1) the characteristics and limitations of the private sector in Cuba; and (2) the impact of the emerging private sector on Cuban civil partnership, the political regime and Cuban socialism.

Despite these problems, the study of self-employment in Cuba is valuable for what it reveals about the functioning of markets in their distorted versions of informal performance, especially when seen in an international context, mainly that of informality in Latin America. Also, this study may help generate public policies to improve the situation of this sector in Cuba, drawing both from the conceptual analysis and the case study.

Currently half a million Cubans – 10% of the total workforce – are registered as self-employed.3 However, access to statistics on this sector is still limited. Besides, most of those engaged in this activity try to conceal the real dimension of their operations; it is centred on the circulation and recirculation of goods and services, with a strong tendency towards non-legal growth and very strong links with the so-called submerged economy. For this reason this article examines the emergence and development of a specific sector of self-employment, namely the shoe manufacturing chain, which combines the ‘formality’ of registered worker with the ‘illegality’ inherent to the buying of tools on the black market.

The production of footwear by public companies has been disadvantaged since the crisis of the 1990s, contributing on average only two million pairs of shoes annually. In 2015 the production of footwear by public companies increased by 53%; however, 50.76% of this increase corresponds to the production of footwear for work and orthopaedic shoes. As demonstrated below, the lack of selection of footwear is largely satisfied by means of the independent labour force, which produces close to eight million pairs of shoes a year. Although there are no official numbers on the consumption of footwear in Cuba, the fact that the independent labour force produces more than public companies arouses interest.



In general, advances in the process of formalisation of self-employment in Cuba are dependent, in part, on new behaviours from self-employed workers and on their ability to make their businesses transparent. At the same time the main obstacles to the formalisation of private enterprises in Cuba are the concepts and culture still ruling in the establishment and political system.

Self-employed Cubans cannot yet be formalised as private enterprises, mainly because of the negative consequences arising from informality and the unregulated market, as well as of the multiple impediments to ownership within the current legislation. Many of those hoping to formalise their enterprises did not turn to self-employment out of preference, but out of a survival imperative. This necessity has led to creativity, sacrifice and effort to start a business, but without conditions of stability. Reform requires public policies that guarantee more secure prospects in the future.

It is not possible to fully assess the real capacities of productive growth in this sector, given the regulatory and political restrictions and conditions of informality in which it operates.

This case study shows that a great part of the activity is associated with some degree of illegality. Thus there are still many institutional and organisational changes to be managed by the state before producers can make their business transparent in matters of means of production; coordination channels; association; cooperation; or legal status of producers and vendors.60 As Douglas North states, an efficient institutional organisation is an essential condition for the development of a country.61 The correct functioning of institutions forms the basis for accomplishing a culture of legality.

International studies have shown multiple solutions to informality and, although not all of these are feasible in Cuba, they do provide important lessons to help redefine the regulatory framework and to stimulate new public policies. As Tokman points out, ‘it is not about isolating productive activities and occupations, but, on the contrary, acknowledging existing interrelations and their nature in more open and profoundly unequal economies’.

The study of self-employment in Cuba can contribute to the more general discussion about the informal sector and small and medium enterprises in Latin America. For instance, the way in which Cuba has generalised registry, taxation and access to social security may be of wider relevance. The same is true of supervision by sub-national authorities, as this contrasts with the absence of any serious regulation of informality in some other countries.

Similarly, the Cuban case provides a benchmark for the analysis of educational qualifications and innovation of the informal sector, since many of the units considered here make use of high qualifications and have generated innovations in design, services and business models. Some represent important social innovations.

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Original Essay Here: Cuba Study Group,

Full Article Here: Yailenis Mulet Non-Agricultural Cooperatives in Cuba

Dr. C. Yailenis Mulet Concepcion

November 7, 2013:

 Starting in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power, countryside cooperatives were established as a way of increasing and developing Cuban agriculture. There are currently more than 5,000 such cooperatives, but for the first time in half a century, urban cooperatives have been authorized as part of the economic plan initiated by the adoption of the economic and social guidelines of April 2011.

The upgrading of cooperativism, which is part of a larger effort to update the Cuban economic model, seeks to enhance efficiency and productivity in the country. With this goal—of achieving greater efficiency in economic activity—the Cuban state has been forced to decentralize the operation of state enterprises and to allow new forms of non-state management. In that environment, urban cooperatives are an alternative with certain noteworthy advantages, but also unquestionable weaknesses since experiences with agricultural cooperatives have so far been mixed.

Urban cooperativism is part of a government program aimed at bringing the non-state sector to “contribute” close to 45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of a five-year period, something that is somewhat doubtful in light of the enormous sluggishness of the program. Approvals for private activity and cooperatives across the country need to be accelerated.

The first non-agricultural cooperatives launched operations just a few months ago. It would be premature to speculate on this new form of management and its role within the updating of the Cuban economic model. Nevertheless, some important aspects can be underlined:

Urban cooperativism is part of a government program aimed at bringing the non-State sector to “contribute” close to 45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of a five-year period.

The establishment of urban cooperatives is a special response to the following guidelines for economic and social policy adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party:

Guideline 02: “The management model recognizes and encourages socialist state-owned enterprises, which are the primary structure of the national economy, but also the foreign investment entities stipulated by law (e.g., joint ventures and international association contracts), cooperatives, small farming, usufruct, franchising, self-employment and other economic entities that may altogether contribute to increased efficiency.”

Guideline 25:“Grade 1 cooperatives shall be established as a socialist form of joint ownership in various sectors. A cooperative is a business organization that owns its estate and represents a distinct legal entity. Its members are individuals who contribute assets or labor, and its purpose is to supply useful goods and services to society, and its costs are covered with its own income.”

Cooperatives may be established by natural persons, self-employed or salaried workers, and state-run organizations which decide to change the management structure of their entity to that of a cooperative.

The aim is to improve management structures in sectors that directly impact the population and that have been inefficient for years. At the same time, the State can gradually shed activities that are non-essential to economic development or that have been plagued by productive inefficiency been inefficient for years. At the same time, the State can gradually shed activities that are non-essential to economic development or that have been plagued by productive inefficiencies.

 Continue Reading: Yailenis Mulet Cooperatives Cuba


  Yailenis Mulet is Doctor of Economic Studies at the Center of the Cuban Economy of the University of Havana. She is also Assistant Professor at the University of Havana and holds a Bachelors in Economics from the University of Holguin (2004). She has given several lectures at various institutions, both in Cuba and abroad, including the United States, Spain, Brazil and Norway.

She has completed approximately 32 professional projects related to assessments, consulting and applications in the business sector, with an emphasis on business intelligence services.Ms. Mulet has served as an advisor for 41 theses and seven master’s theses. Currently she advises five PhD theses related to the topics of Decentralization and Territorial Development. She has published over 25 articles in renowned sources in both Cuba and abroad. She has also taught graduate courses in the business sector, which emphasize managerial training on issues related to business intelligence.

Ms. Mulet has directed several business projects related to the implementation and development of business intelligence surveillance systems and management of cooperatives. Since 2010, she has focused her research on “Decentralization and Territorial Policies” and is currently involved in several research projects related to this topic.


The 2015 Taxi Rutero Cooperative

New-Picture-6The 1959s Bus Cooperative.

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Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana; Presentations from Seminar on the Cuban Economy, 2013

New Picture (16).bm AAaThe CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS DE LA ECONOMIA CUBANA  has recently redone its web site. It has also published the Power Point presentations from its 2013 Seminar.  Here is a list of the presentaions, hyper-linked on the author’s name.




Ricardo Torres Pérez, El desarrollo industrial cubano en un nuevo contexto

Juan Triana Cordoví, Cuba:un balance de la transformación.

Betsy Anaya Cruz , Cadenas productivas con impacto económico y social: el caso de los cítricos en Cuba

Aleida Gonzalez-Cueto, La Innovación y la administración de riesgos en las empresas cubanas en la actualidad

Orlando Gutiérrez Castillo, Reflexiones sobre los ambientes de innovación en las empresas cubanas

Anicia García y Betsy Anaya, Gastos básicos de una familia cubana urbana en 2011. Situación de las familias “estado dependientes”

Omar Everleny, Luisa Íñigues y Janet Rojas, Las escalas subnacionales de la macroeconomia cubana (pp.1-45)

Yailenis Mulet Concepción y Alejandro Louro, Las reformas económicas en los territories cubanos. Reflexiones para el diseño de políticas.

Jorge Ricardo Ramírez, Empresa cubana: Innovación, mejora continua de la calidad e  integración

Dayma Echevarría León, Innovación social: experiencias desde un proyecto interasociativo en Camagüey


Ileana Díaz Fernández, Desafios de la innovacion empresarial en Cuba


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Non-agricultural cooperatives in Cuba: A new way to unleash the forces of production?


NOVEMBER 7, 2013 Original essay here: Non-Agricultural Coops; WWW.FROMTHEISLAND.ORG


The first non-agricultural cooperatives started operating just a few months ago, so it is premature to derive conclusions on their progress.

However, it should be stressed that obstacles that have prevented the functioning of the state sector until now must be taken into account if these models are to increase production and untie the knots holding back productive forces. Thus, the capacity needed for the import and export—or for the production of—goods should be analyzed in view of the lack of a wholesale market of inputs.

The capacity to purchase means of transportation or production equipment to increase labor productivity should also be analyzed, including alliances with foreign capital that are so essential to bridging Cuba’s development gap.

A challenge for economic authorities is to make the cooperative sector function through the transformation of state enterprises and not by the will of a group of people. Furthermore, the new urban cooperatives should promote solidarity and social responsibility. One important thing: important synergies between cooperatives and the rest of the existing means of production in the country must emerge, not the same stagnant behaviors of the past.

Access to supplies via wholesale trade is insufficient. The State must continue to work on improving the supply of basic resources needed by these cooperatives to operate. Thus, the capacity needed for the import and export—or for the production of—goods should be analyzed in view of the lack of a wholesale market of inputs.

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