Tag Archives: Cuenta-Propistas

Book Review Essay: THE EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR IN CUBA’S ECONOMY

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, University of Pittsburgh,

Latin American Research Review, July 2017  https://doi.org/10.25222/larr.2

This essay reviews the following works:

Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy. By Richard E. Feinberg. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016. Pp. vii + 264. $22.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780815727675.

Miradas a la economía cubana: Análisis del sector no estatal. Edited by Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva and Ricardo Torres. La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2015. Pp. 163. $5, paper. ISBN: 9789593031080.

Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape. By Archibald R. M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken. Boulder, CO: First Forum Press, 2015. Pp. xiv + 374. $79.95 cloth. ISBN: 9781626371637.

Retos para la equidad social en el proceso de actualización del modelo económico cubano. Edited by María del Carmen Zavala et al. La Habana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 2015. Pp. vi + 362. $20 paper. ISBN: 9789590616105.

Soon after current president of the State Council Raúl Castro took over power in Cuba from his brother Fidel in 2006, he started structural reforms to cope with the serious socioeconomic problems accumulated in the previous forty-five years. Some authors, including a few in this review, argue that Cuba is in transition to a mixed economy. Despite the importance of these changes, however, the official view is that central planning will predominate over the market, and state property over private property.1 A main reform goal was to fire 1.8 million unneeded workers in the state sector, which demanded an expansion of the “non-state sector” (NSS) to provide jobs to those dismissed. The four books I review are commendable additions to the growing literature on the NSS (inside and outside Cuba), as they fill some of its existing gaps, to be identified below.2 A few authors rely on surveys to gather data, but surveys are not easy to take in Cuba; hence the majority used interviews of different size and representativeness, as well as in-depth conversations.

Within the NSS, the most dynamic four groups are self-employed workers (507,342), usufruct farmers (312,296), and members of new nonagricultural and service co-ops, NASCs (only 7,700 so far). Altogether these make up 17 percent of the labor force, out of a total 29 percent in the entire NSS.3 Except for the most recent NASCs, the other three forms were legalized during the severe crisis of the 1990s but did not take off until much later. Selling and buying of private dwellings, banned in 1960 and reauthorized in 2011, involve at least 200,000 transactions but still only 5 percent of the total housing stock. The books reviewed in this essay mainly concentrate on self-employment and to a much lesser extent on NASCs.

The main gaps treated by the books are the NSS’s history; size and personal profiles; relations with the state; progress achieved and obstacles faced; the role of variables—age, gender (most treated), race, educa­tion, and location—on growing inequalities; particular issues such as access to raw materials, capital and credit, competition, and taxes; and NSS perspectives. This review discusses the data, method, and evidence that each researcher uses and the major issues and findings, arguing that the size of the NSS remains questionable.

In Entrepreneurial Cuba, Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken combine their economic and sociological exper­tise to produce an encyclopedic, balanced, and laudable volume on the development of the NSS in Cuba. Targeted on self-employment and, to a lesser extent, on NASCs, the book also tackles broader topics like the “underground” economy. It starts with an examination of small enterprises in general, internationally, and its lessons for Cuba. Based on historical and comparative approaches, Ritter and Henken discuss the evolution of self-employment throughout Cuban contemporary history. In the socialist period, they com­pare Cuban policies with those of the USSR and Eastern Europe; furthermore they contrast Fidel’s hostility to the NSS (except for reluctant support in times of economic crisis) with Raúl’s more pragmatic and posi­tive style, which does not exempt the sector from tight controls, restrictions, and taxes. Largely based on my cycles approach,4 the history of self-employment under socialism is divided in three periods (each one covered in a chapter): 1959–1990, trajectories and strategic shifts; 1990–2006, the “Special Period”; and 2006–2014, Raúl’s reforms.

Ritter and Henken conclude that the NSS has grown and achieved substantial progress: for instance, increase in authorized activities and licenses, broadened legal markets, deduction of part of the expenses for tax purposes, micro credits and banking facilities, and rental of state facilities. Conversely they identify limi­tations, like narrow definition of legal activities, exclusion of most professional and high-tech occupations, multiple taxes and taxation at a high level, lack of wholesale markets, bureaucratic resistance, obstacles to hiring employees, and discrimination in favor of foreign firms. They provide suggestions to overcome these problems. Lack of space impedes a more profound treatment of this book, the most comprehensive and profound on self-employment so far. The structure of the book, combining historical stages and current analysis of self-employment and NASC, however, is somewhat complex and leads to a certain overlapping.

Ritter and Henken rely on three series of interviews conducted in Cuba with sixty self-employed workers in 1999–2001, half of them re-interviewed in follow-up visits in 2002 and 2009 and, finally, some revisited in April 2011 to evaluate the impact of Raúl’s reforms. The authors select the three most dynamic, lucrative, and sizeable private activities: small restaurants (paladares), taxis, and lodging. They asked their informants about three issues: (1) ambitions and expectations for the future (whether they expected to become true small- and medium-sized enterprises—SME—in the long run); (2) survival strategies in negotiating with the state (how they responded to the government regulations, licenses, and taxes); and (3) distinctions between licensed and clandestine self-employed workers.

Accompanying abundant evidence, deep analysis, statistical tables, synoptic charts, figures, and useful appendices (including a list of the 201 authorized activities for the self-employed and a timetable of the evo­lution of NSS in 1959–2014), the authors intersperse vignettes that allow the reader to better understand the daily life of the self-employed. Occasional jewels in the book brighten our knowledge, such as uncover­ing in fascinating detail the bureaucratic shutdown of El Cabildo, which was the most prosperous private, medium-sized business in Cuba.

Miradas a la economía cubana, a collection edited by well-known Cuban economists Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva and Ricardo Torres, includes twelve essays that offer a first-rate sample of scholarship on the NSS at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, the best economic think tank in Cuba. The anthology, an excellent complement to the Ritter and Henken book, includes self-employment and NASCs. In the prologue, Juan Valdés Pérez notes that “the new economic model in Cuba is moving [transita] toward a mixed economy, based on a public sector, a mix-capital sector, and a private sector, mostly SME” (14). Most contributors to the volume propose reasonable policies to help the consolidation and further expansion of the NSS.

In the opening chapter, Torres discusses the role of the private sector in a centrally planned economy such as Cuba, which generates an intrinsic conflict. Despite NSS advances, the government still sees it as a supplement to the state sector and imposes clear limits. Hence the NSS role is and will continue to be very minor, if currents trends hold. An important point, among many discussed by Torres, is that its productivity is low, despite the very highly educated labor force (ranked at the top of Latin America), and shows a declin­ing trend due to the low skills of the activities approved. He ends by suggesting, “In a scenario [Cuba] where public enterprises are predominant and mostly inefficient, wealth is not socialized and man is not liberated from alienation, just the opposite” (25). Torres believes that the solution to all existing problems is neither privatization of all public assets nor to insist on old formulas overcome by time, and urges a serious national social debate on these issues.

Pérez Villanueva analyzes and defines self-employment and SME, tracing their evolution and identifying needs such as autonomy, a wholesale market with competitive prices, facilitation of payments through the national banks, and use of highly skilled personnel; he also notes adverse effects like social inequalities (see Zavala et al., below). At the end of his chapter, he asserts that “the Cuban SME would be more viable than the actualization of our economic model and contribute more positive results, providing that the government understands its role and potential” (35).

Camila Piñeiro provides the most comprehensive and deep analysis of NASCs so far. These cooperatives grew 74 percent, from 198 to 345, in 2013–2014, but their tempo slowed to 6 percent in 2015.5 Based on diagnosis and audits done on sixty NASCs in 2014, Piñeiro identifies their achievements (increase in income and motivation, improvement in the locale and working conditions) and problems (complex and delayed creation, insufficient training, and lack of a wholesale market). The most successful NASCs are those cre­ated by the voluntary initiative of a group of persons that share the same goals and values (23 percent of all NASCs), and the least successful are those coming from former state enterprises, without negotiating with their workers so that they accept what is decided from above (77 percent).

Mariuska Sarduy, Saira Pons, and Maday Traba analyze tax evasion and underdeclaration of income among self-employed owners. They report that evasion was 12 percent of total fiscal revenue and 60 percent of registered self-employed contributors in 2013–2014. They carried out 300 interviews with self-employed workers in Havana in 2014 and found that 55 percent omitted income in their declaration for the follow­ing reasons: 95 percent due to very high taxes; 77 percent blamed the complex procedure to pay taxes; 80 percent knew that evasion or underdeclaration are toughly penalized crimes, but half believed that they were necessary to survive, and 20 percent thought that it was improbable that fiscal authorities would catch them.

Expanding her substantial work on geographic inequalities, Luisa Íñiguez uses the 2012 population census to explore the distribution of NSS enterprises in Cuban provinces and municipalities and shows their differences and contribution to social inequalities. She develops various maps of the island, displaying the location of total NSS enterprises, as well as key components such as the self-employed, usufruct farmers, and small private farmers. In addition, she calculates percentages of components of the NSS relative to the employed labor force. The NSS developed much further after 2012, but her work remains valuable and sets a solid foundation for future study.

The role of women in microenterprises is examined by Ileana Díaz and Dayma Echevarría, relying on data from the 2012 population census and Ministry of Labor and Social Security in 2013, and a survey of thirty-five self-employed owners in Havana circa 2014 (63 percent women and 37 percent men). Among other gender inequalities, they find that women are more hurt than men by the lack of a state policy to foster microenterprises, and by poor access to credit as well as to legal and accounting advice. Interviewees answered key questions with a fair consensus: 50 percent noted unfair competition from state and mixed enterprises; most preferred to work as self-employed instead of for the state; public or private financing was judged insufficient; elementary-secondary school didn’t help in their activity but university did; and they noted poor access to wholesale markets, telecommunications, and vanguard technology. Virtually all inter­viewees, but a sizably lower percentage of women than men, said that their success was more than expected. Both genders agreed on the major obstacles: limited demand, excessive state bureaucracy and regulations, too much competition, absence of a wholesale market, and difficulties to get inputs.

Retos para la equidad social, edited by Maria del Carmen Zavala et al., contains twenty contributions, all but one authored by women, focused on socioeconomic inequality under Raúl’s structural reforms. Three chapters of the book deal with expanding inequalities among the self-employed by age, gender, race, educa­tion, and location, and also with their motivation, satisfaction, competition, capital access, obstacles faced, and views of the future.

The best chapter in the collection, by Daybel Pañellas, Jorge Torralbas, and Claudia Caballero, relies on a survey taken between October 2013 and March 2014 among 419 persons self-employed in fifty-seven activities and located in three districts of Old Havana. They find that age, gender, education, and location are important factors in the quality of occupation, access to capital, and earnings of the self-employed. In the sample, 76 percent worked by themselves, without employees; 13 percent were employers and 11 percent employees; 64 percent were men and 36 percent women; 48 percent were white and 52 percent nonwhite; 54 percent were middle-aged adults, 30 percent young people, and 15 percent elderly; 54 percent had precollege or university education, 31 percent had a low level of education, and 15 percent had a technical education (a highly trained labor force and NSS, also noted by Torres). Not only are women underrepresented, but their activities reproduced their roles in domestic life, such as work in cafeterias, food preparation, manicure, makeup, and as seamstresses. While women rented rooms mostly in national pesos (CUP), men rented rooms in the more advantageous convertible pesos (CUC = 24 CUP). Combining education, race, and gender, the best-educated white males had better occupations than the lowest trained nonwhite females (e.g., computer programing vis-à-vis seamstress). The self-employed were mainly attracted by these features of self-employment (not exclusive categories): better income (80 percent), easier labor journey (20 percent), and being their own bosses (15 percent). Their level of sat­isfaction ranged from so-so (53 percent), to good/very good (38 percent), to bad/very bad (9 percent)—the higher the educational level the more occupational satisfaction.6 Success in competition was attributed to the quality of product or service (56 percent), business location (24 percent), and low prices (14 percent). Access to capital was mostly by employers that receive remittances, are white, and have higher or mid­dle education, ample social networks, and good locations; conversely, investment is minimal among low-educated nonwhites. Obstacles encountered by the self-employed were lack of access to raw materials (49 percent), heavy taxes (44 percent), lack of financing (35 percent), state control and inspections (33 percent), and legal procedures (23 percent). These proportions varied in the three districts and were influenced by gender, race, and type of activity; for example, controls and inspections were mostly mentioned by workers with low education, nonwhites, and women. On their perceptions for the future, 81 percent believed that the self-employed would prosper—especially if the mentality of the state and the self-employed changes— and 10 percent didn’t think so.

Geydis Fundora expands on the growing inequalities enumerated above, based on a study of fifty-two self-employed residents of Havana Province in 2010–2013, reaching similar conclusions. Out of the 201 activities approved, 65 percent have a male profile; paladar owners mostly hire women because of their sex appeal to clients and because the work is similar to that done at home; other activities are in practice barred to the “weak sex.” Men tend to be employers and women employees, thus resulting in lower decision making and income for women. The elderly are disadvantaged because most activities require physical strength; most young people are hired as employees and in less specialized activities. There is no political will to gather statistics on race, but whites predominate over blacks and mulattoes, opposite to what Pañellas, Torralbas, and Caballero found; nonwhites have less access to capital and hence to success and higher earnings. Those that have a high initial capital—coming from savings, remittances, or hidden foreign investment—enjoy an advantage over the rest not only to establish the business but also to buy inputs, pay taxes, and bribe inspec­tors. Location in more attractive and populous zones are keys to success.

Magela Romero targets self-employed women engaged on infant care, a most-needed occupation to increase female participation in the employed labor force, which was 37 percent of the total in 2015;7 the low proportion is an outcome of resilient traditional gender roles at home and work. Based on eighteen cases in the town of Cojímar (in Havana) in 2013, the study found that all those self-employed in infant care were women, and half of them had previously been informal domestic employees. All said that their main attraction was a higher income, but all also complained of exhausting work and high responsibility with a monthly salary of 200 CUP per infant, with a maximum of five infants, equal to US$40, still three times the mean average salary in the state sector.

Open for Business by Richard E. Feinberg deals mainly with the economic events following the process of normalization between the United States and Cuba that started at the end of 2014, preceded by a summary of the previous state of the Cuban economy and Raúl’s reforms. Feinberg believes that the emerging NSS “offers the best hope for a more dynamic and efficient Cuban economy, especially if it is permitted to partner with foreign investment and with more efficient state-owned enterprises” (132). One chapter on emerging entrepreneurs is based on a monograph he published in 2013, which at that time provided substantial data and analysis on self-employment, preceding the other three books reviewed herein.8 One graph and one table are updated to mid-2015, but most of the text remains unchanged. The author and an assistant had in-depth conversations with twenty-five microentrepreneurs between March 2012 and April 2013, emphasiz­ing financial issues (averages of time open, number of employees, starting capital, and use of domestic and foreign capital). Interesting profiles of self-employed activities are given on paladares, cafeterias and cater­ing, bed and breakfasts, accounting, a shop selling handicrafts to tourists, building construction and house remodeling, electronic repairs, and renting of 1950s cars; from such profiles he extracts useful lessons.9 A stimulating innovation is the selection of twelve young Cuban “millennials” (aged 20–35), one of them the owner of a cafeteria, for appealing interviews based on ten questions.

Feinberg envisages four stages of capital accumulation of microbusinesses: primitive household accumu­lation, early-mover super-profits, growth and diversification, and strategic alliances with state enterprises and with foreign investors (not yet authorized). Like the other authors whose books I review here, he stresses the progress and achievements of self-employment, perhaps more so than other authors. But he also pin­points the many constraints the self-employed face: poor banking and meager credit, serious scarcity of inputs of all sorts (as a visible exception he gives the wholesale market “El Trigal,” temporarily closed in May 2016), shortage of commercial rental space, a very challenging business climate, and government restric­tions including persecution by government inspectors and heavy fines, as well as constraints on capital accumulation and business growth. He provides his own recommendations to alleviate these problems.

One fundamental question left unanswered is the size of the NSS. Unfortunately, there are no official data on the NSS, complete and disaggregated by components. Neither Ritter and Henken nor most Cuban authors provide such a figure (Torres estimates it as 27 percent of the labor force; p. 21). The only elaborated calculation in the four books is Feinberg’s, who states that “altogether, as many as 2 million enterprising Cubans—40 percent of total employment—and possibly even more can be counted within the private sector” and predicts that “in the next three to five years, total private employment could reach 45 to 50 percent of the active labor force” (Feinberg, 132, 139; emphasis added); this exceeds by 10 percentage points Torres’s middle-term estimate of 35 to 40 percent (24).

Feinberg overestimates the NSS’s size. First, an important semantic and substantive issue is that not all NSS participants are private, only most self-employed workers and their employees as well as small private farmers are. Usufruct farmers, NASCs, and other cooperatives’ members do not own their land or buildings; these belong to the state, which leases them to the workers. Second, several figures in Feinberg’s estimates are either questionable or not supported by specific sources; the main query is what he labels “other private activities (estimated),” such as full-time unregistered self-employment and partial self-employment done by state-sector employees, which add up to between 185,000 and 1,185,000, based on guesstimates (while it is true that some government employees work part-time as self-employed workers, it is impossible to know for how many hours, which makes it difficult to estimate average full days of work). Third is the inclusion of 353,000 members of credit and service cooperatives (CCS), because that number exceeds by 65 percent the total number of all co-op members in 2015, including agricultural production (UBPCs, Basic Units of Agricultural Production, and CPAs, Agricultural Production Co-ops), CCSs (Credit and Services Co-ops) and NASCs.10 Furthermore, many private and usufruct farmers are also members of CCSs, thus they are counted twice. Fourth, the category of “land lease farmers” (172,000) is confusing; on the one hand Feinberg does not specifically include usufruct farmers (312,296), and on the other hand the official data on land leasers (arrendatarios) is only 2,843.11 Fifth, employees of self-employed workers are counted since 2011 in the total number of the self-employed, mixed with owners, and we have shown that there is a double counting in the overall figure. In any case, the official statistics on the total NSS share in the employed labor force expanded from 17 percent in 2008, when Raúl officially became president, to 29 percent in 2015.12 In conclusion, there is no doubt that the NSS is important and growing, but certainly not as much as Feinberg estimates.

In summary, the most studied NSS group is the self-employed; NASCs are briefly discussed by Ritter and Henkel and in Piñeiro’s chapter in Zavala et al. Largely excluded from the discussion are usufruct farmers, and totally omitted is the selling/buying of private homes. The historical approach is followed most inten­sively by Ritter and Henken, although several Cuban authors provide summaries of the evolution in their respective topics. The preferred methodology is interviews or conversations combined with research. There is a consensus that the NSS (mostly self-employment) has been successful despite considerable obstacles. We lack a reliable estimate of the NSS’s size.

Missing in the four volumes is an evaluation of the NSS’s macroeconomic effects.13 Ritter and Henken refer to some results of self-employment, such as job creation, noting the nonfulfillment of the official target of dismissing more than one million unneeded state employees. None of the books discuss the impact of usufruct farming on agricultural output, where NASC members are still minute and their impact is even more difficult to assess. It is true that the scarcity of available data hinder the task, but still some estimation could have been done on the NSS’s effect on produce sales, fiscal revenue, and GDP.14

Feinberg and Ritter and Henken are the only authors who explore the future of the NSS. Feinberg provides three broad overall scenarios, which are thought-provoking but touch little on the NSS: (1) “inertia” with little change, without citing potential precedents and projecting self-employment to 750,000, 48 percent higher than the March 2016 official figure of 507,342; (2) “botched transition and decay,” the most pessimistic, similar to former states of the USSR, but with self-employment expanding to 1 million, twice its 2016 size, as some restraints are removed; and (3) “soft landing” in 2030, the most optimistic, under market socialism as in Vietnam, where self-employment really takes off and reaches 2 million employees and 40 percent of the labor force—this is somewhat confusing because he refers to the private sector and had previously predicted, for the entire NSS, 45 to 50 percent in 2019–2021 (203–222).

Ritter and Henken offer three possible alternative routes for the NSS, without predicting its size: (1) reversal to Fidel’s hostile approach, which they judge very improbable because it is totally unfeasible and discredited (“unlikely to be reversed” for Feinberg, 131); (2) stabilization of Raúl’s current (2014) and cautious reform package to self-employment and NASCs, which would remain in place for the rest of his presidency, but with a significant expansion of both and the potential of creating a “mixed cooperative market economy”; and (3) acceleration of the reform and rebalancing among public, private, and cooperative sectors, with medium and large private enterprises advancing at the expense of co-ops and smaller private enterprises; the viabil­ity of this scenario, they say, could be helped by a “serious relaxation of US policy toward Cuba” that could “encourage the Cuban government pro-market openings” (311).

Cuba is always unpredictable, and none of the three scenarios by the above authors completely fit the situ­ation in August 31, 2016, when this review essay was finished. Ritter and Henken’s book was concluded in October 2014, thus this reviewer has the unfair advantage of almost two years that have brought significant changes, such as the evolution of US-Cuba rapprochement in 2014–2016 and the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party held in April 2016.15 In light of those events, their first and third alternatives are implau­sible, at least in the medium and long run; the second might be conceivable if the emphasis is placed on “stability” instead of significant expansion. By August 2016, however, rapprochement, rather than helping the reforms, appeared to have the opposite effect due to dread in the leadership caused by Obama’s visit and it effects, reflected in the results of the Seventh Party Congress. The number of self-employed workers peaked at 504,613 in May 2015, declined to 496,400 in December, and climbed again to 507,342 in March 2016, an increase of 0.7 percent in ten months, substantially lower that the expansion rate in 2014 and 2015 (14 and 3 percent, respectively). Furthermore, at the Congress, Raúl warned that although NSS forms are not antisocialist, “powerful external forces” try to “empower” them as agents of change, and could risk further “concentration of wealth and property” (the latter was not among the agreements of the Sixth Congress in 2011), making it necessary to impose “well-defined limits” on them.16 The Seventh Congress also recom­mended to halt the creation of new NASCs because of their deficiencies, and to concentrate on the existing ones instead.17 Finally, the only existing wholesale market was temporarily closed in May 2016. Feinberg’s book ended in early 2016, much later than Ritter and Henken’s, but his scenarios and predictions don’t cor­relate well with the facts explained above: “inertia” looks optimistic and even more so “decay”—both appear to be short- or middle-term effects—whereas the 2030 “soft landing” would require the drastic changes detailed by him, which are difficult to visualize now.

1 These basic principles of the reforms were set in the Sixth Communist Party Congress of 2011 and ratified in the Seventh Congress of 2016.

2 The pioneer book in the field is Jorge F. Pérez-López, Cuba’s Second Economy: From Behind the Scenes to Center Stage (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995).

3 Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información (ONEI), Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015 (La Habana, 2016).

4 Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance; Chile, Cuba, and Costa Rica (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000).

5 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

6 A series of interviews conducted by five authors in 2014–2015, in a much wider part of Havana City, agreed with the predominance of men over women, the highest participation of middle-aged adults, and the important role of education, but found a prevalence of whites and a higher level of satisfaction. Carmelo Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano: Cuentapropis­tas, usufructuarios, socios de cooperativas y compraventa de viviendas (Madrid: Editorial Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2016).

7 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

8 Richard E. Feinberg, Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2013).

9 These cases are more varied than those discussed by Ritter and Henken, but the latter provided the most comprehensive and profound analysis of paladares.

10 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

11 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2014 (La Habana, 2015).

12 Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano; ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

13 Valdés notes in the prologue to Pérez Villanueva and Torres’s book the absence of a macroeconomic essay to place all NSS forms in the proper context.

14 The percentage of GDP generated only by self-employment has been estimated as 5 percent by Saira Pons, Tax Law Dilemmas for Self-Employed Workers (La Habana, CEEE), but by 12 percent by Torres (in Pérez Villanueva and Torres, p. 24), a significant gap. For an assessment of some NSS effects see Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano.

15 After this essay was finished, the guidelines (lineamientos) for 2016–2021 were published; a rapid browse indicates no significant changes from the guidelines of 2011.

16 Raúl Castro Ruz, “Informe central al Séptimo Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,” Granma, April 17, 2016 (emphasis added), 1–3. Mauricio Murillo mentioned, as examples of the limits to be imposed, the establishment of limits on the number of hectares that somebody may have (“Intervención en el VII Período Ordinario de la Asamblea Nacional,” Granma, July 9, 2016).

17 Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “El lento avance de la reforma en Cuba,” Política Exterior 30, no. 171 (2016): 94–104.155

 

 

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CUBAN ENTREPRENEURS START FIRST PRIVATE BUSINESS GROUP

A handful of entrepreneurs have quietly formed communist Cuba’s first private small business association, testing the government’s willingness to allow Cubans to organize outside the strict bounds of state control.

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press. June 1, 2017

HAVANA (AP) — A handful of entrepreneurs have quietly formed communist Cuba’s first private small business association, testing the government’s willingness to allow Cubans to organize outside the strict bounds of state control.

More than a half million Cubans officially work in the private sector, with tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more working off the books. Cuba’s legal system and centrally planned state economy have changed little since the Cold War, however, and private business people are officially recognized only as “self-employed,” a status with few legal protections and no access to wholesale goods or the ability to import and export.

The government is expected to take an incremental step toward changing that Thursday when Cuba’s National Assembly approves a series of documents updating the country’s economic reform plan and laying out long-term goals through 2030. Those goals include the first official recognition of private enterprise and small- and medium-size businesses, although it could be years before any actual changes are felt on the ground in the country.

The Havana-based Association of Businessmen is trying to move ahead faster, organizing dozens of entrepreneurs into a group that will provide help, advice, training and representation to members of the private sector. The group applied in February for government recognition. While the official deadline for a response has passed, the group has yet to receive either an OK or negative attention from authorities, leaving it in the peculiar status known in Cuba as “alegal” or a-legal, operating unmolested but vulnerable to a crackdown at any time.

“People have approached with a lot of interest but they don’t want to join until we’re officially approved,” said Edilio Hernandez, one of the association’s founders. Trained as a lawyer, Hernandez also works as a self-employed taxi driver.

“Many people really understand that entrepreneurs need a guiding light, someone who helps them,” he said.

Another founder, Rodolfo Marino, has a construction license and has worked privately and under contract to state agencies. He said organizers of the association have gone door-to-door trying to recruit members by convincing them they need independent representation.

The group says roughly 90 entrepreneurs have signed up. Without legal recognition, the group is not yet charging membership fees, the organizers say. Until then, they meet occasionally in Marino’s Havana home to plan their path forward, which includes legal appeals for government recognition.

“We hope to push the country’s economic development forward,” he said.

The number of officially self-employed Cubans has grown by a factor of five, to 535,000 in a country of 11 million, since President Raul Castro launched limited market-based reforms in 2010. The government currently allows 200 types of private work, from language teacher to furniture maker. In reality, many officially self-employed people have become owners of small business, some with dozens of employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue — big number for a country where the monthly state salary is about $25.

Without access to government-controlled imports, exports or wholesale supplies, business owners are emptying the shelves of state stores, either by snapping up items as soon as they arrive or buying them stolen on the black market. That leaves them vulnerable to crackdowns and frequent extortion from state inspectors.

The government has taken a few tentative moves toward easing the situation in recent months — opening stores where owners of some of the country’s 21,000 bed-and-breakfasts and 2,000 private restaurants can buy large quantities of goods, although still at retail prices.

The state has also promised special access to gas and car parts to taxi drivers who comply with widely flouted government caps on fares.

Along with those small steps, the future of the Association of Businessmen is a gauge of Cuba’s openness to private enterprise and its ability to move forward, the group’s founders say.

“We really hope they approve us,” said Hernandez, the lawyer and taxi driver. “If they don’t, we’ll be in the hands of a state that considers us illegal and we won’t be able to reach our goal of representing entrepreneurs. If they do, it will be a sign that things are changing.”

Some Small Enterprises and Entrepreneurs

Photos by Arch Ritter, February 2014

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THE US AND CUBA: INCREMENTALISM, REVERSAL RISK AND THE DICTATORS DILEMMA

By Cardiff Garcia                        ,

Financial Times, London, March 21, 2016

Original Article: The US and Cuba_ incrementalism reversal risk and the Dictators Dilemma _ FT Alphaville

Introduction:

To analogize the ongoing diplomatic maneuvering between the US and Cuba to a scenario of mutual hostage-taking doesn’t sound charitable, but it might be the best framework for understanding a relationship long defined by its baffling surrealism.

And it’s a useful lens through which to see not only President Obama’s visit to the island, the first by a sitting US president in almost nine decades, but also the specific actions taken by each side in the time since the intent to normalize relations was first announced on 17 December 2014.

Last week John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, described this idea to a roomful of lawyers at the US-Cuba Corporate Counsel Summit in New York. On the US side, Obama clearly wants to make the rapprochement an enduring foreign-policy legacy of his administration, and the Cuban government knows this. It can afford to test Obama on how far it needs to go in the direction of economic and political liberalization before satisfying American requirements to continue deepening the relationship.

But Cuba’s efforts to modernize its economy also depend heavily on the country’s relationship with other countries and with foreign (non-US) companies, and specifically on the potential source of foreign investment they can provide. Except these firms and countries are hesitant to provide much investment while the US embargo is in place and Cuba is locked out of most multilateral institutions.

In other words, Cuba needs the momentum towards diplomatic restoration and the end of the US embargo to continue beyond the end of Obama’s time in office. To ensure this happens, the Cuban government will have to take meaningful and credibly permanent steps towards providing greater economic and political freedoms.

The liberalizations on both sides have been made incrementally to this point. The gradual pace was partly for logistical reasons, but I’m sure it was also the result of suspicions inside of both countries about the intentions of the other side.

 Continue Reading:  The US and Cuba_ incrementalism reversal risk and the Dictators Dilemma _ FT Alphaville

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ALTERNATIVE INSTITUTIONAL FUTURES FOR CUBA’S MIXED ECONOMY

Archibald Ritter                                                                                          

February 1, 2016

Since 2010, Cuba has been implementing a redesigned institutional structure of its economy. At this time it is unclear what Cuba’s future mixed economy will look like. However, we can be sure that it will continue to evolve in the near, medium and longer term. A variety of institutional structures are possible in the future and there are a number of types of private sector that Cuba could adopt. Indeed it seems as though Cuba were moving towards a number of possibilities simultaneously.

The objective of this note is to examine a number of key institutional alternatives and weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages for each arrangement.  All alternatives include some mixture of domestic or indigenous private enterprises, cooperative and “not-for-profit” activities. foreign enterprise on a joint venture or stand-alone basis, some state enterprises (in natural monopolies for example) and a public sector.  However, the emphasis on each of these components will vary depending on the policy choices of future Cuban governments.

The possible institutional structures to be examined here include:

1. Institutional status-quo as of 2016;

2. A mixed economy with intensified “cooperativization”;

3. A mixed economy, with private foreign and domestic oligopolies replacing the state oligopolies;

4. A mixed economy with an emphasis on indigenous small and medium enterprise.

 Option 1. Institutional Status-Quo as of 2016

The institutional “status quo” is defined by the volumes of employment in the registered and unregistered segments of the small enterprise sector, the small farmer sector, the cooperative areas, the public sector, and the joint venture sector, plus independent arts and crafts and religious personnel.  The employment numbers are mainly from the Anuario Estadístico de Cuba together with a number of guesstimates, some inspired by Richard Feinberg (2013). The guesstimate for unregistered employment in the small enterprise sector may seem exaggerated. However, a large proportion of the “cuentapropistas” utilize unregistered workers and a proportion of the underground economy does not seem to have surfaced into formally registered activities.  These employment estimates by institutional area are presented in Table 1 and illustrated in Chart 1, which also serve as a “base case” for sketching the other institutional alternatives.

Table 1 z zz

The current institutional status quo has a number of advantages but also some disadvantages. On the plus side, adhering to the status quo would avoid all the uncertainties and risks of a transition.  It would maintain the possibility of “macro-flexibility,” that is the ability for the central government to reallocate resources by command in a rapid and large scale fashion. However, in view of the numerous “macro errors” made possible by a centralized command economy (the 10 million ton sugar harvest of 1970, the “New Man” endeavor, shutting down half the sugar mills), “macro-flexibility” may be a disadvantage.  There are major advantages for the Communist Party in maintaining the institutional status quo in the economy, namely enabling political control of the citizenry (a disadvantage from other perspectives) and continuing state control over most of the distribution of income (also a disadvantage from other perspectives).  The approach also helps foster good relations with North Korea (I am running out of advantages).

There are also major disadvantages. The centralized planned economy and public enterprise system generates continuing bureaucratization of production; continuing politicization of state-sector economic management and functioning; continuing lack of an effective price mechanism in the state sector and continuing perversity and dysfunctional of the incentive structure. The result of this is damage to efficiency, productivity and innovation.

 OPTION 2. Mixed Economy with Intensified “Cooperativization”

zzzA second alternative might be to promote the authentic “cooperativization” of the economy in a major way.  This would involve permitting cooperatives in all areas, including professional activities; opening up the current approval processes; encouraging grass-roots bottom-up ventures; providing import & export rights; and improving credit and wholesaling systems for coops.

 This approach has a number of advantages. First, it would strengthen the incentive structure and elicit serious work effort and creativity on the part of those in the coops.  This is because worker ownership and management provides powerful motivation to work hard and profit-sharing ensures an alignment of worker and owner interests. This approach would generate a more egalitarian distribution of income than privately-owned enterprises. Cooperatives may possess a greater degree of flexibility than state and even private firms because their income and profits payments to members can reflect market conditions. Perhaps most important, democracy in the work-place through effective and genuine coops is valuable in itself and constitutes an advantage over both state- and privately-owned enterprise.  [Workers’ ownership and control proposed in Cuba’s cooperative legislation is ironic and perhaps impossible since Cuba’s political system is characterized by a one-party monopoly.  On the other hand it may help propel political democratization.]

The “second degree cooperatives” or “cooperative coalition of cooperatives” called for in the cooperative legislation is particularly interesting as it may permit  reaping organizational economies of scale (a la Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. ) for small Cuban coops in these areas.

An emphasis on cooperatives would help to maintain ownership and diffused control and profit-sharing among local citizens, thereby promoting greater equity in income distribution.

But cooperatives also face difficulties and disadvantages.  First, are they really more efficient than state and private enterprises? Generally speaking, cooperatives have passed the “survival test” but have not made huge inroads against private enterprise in other countries over the years.  Perhaps this is because the “transactions costs” of participatory management may be significant.  Personal animosities, ideological or political differences, participatory failures and/or managerial mistakes may occur.  And for larger coops, complex governance structures may impair flexibility.

 Second, Cuba’s actual complex co-op approval process is problematic and creates the possibility of political controls and biases. Certification of professional cooperatives is unclear. Also, the hiring of contractual workers is problematic

  • The “Hire or Fire after 90 days” rule may curtail job creation;
  • The 10% limit on contractual labor also may curtail job creation;
  • Governance may be impaired if uncommitted workers have to join.

Finally, what will be the role of the Communist Party in the cooperatives?  Will it keep out of cooperative management?  Will Party control subvert workers’ democracy and deform incentives structures?

OPTION 3. Wide Open Foreign Investment Approach zzzzA third possibility would be to open up completely to foreign investment. This would involve a rapid sell-off of state oligopolistic enterprises to deep-pocket foreign buyers such as China, the United States (in due course), Europe, Brazil, or elsewhere.  The buyers might be the Walmart’s, Lowes, Subways, or Starbucks of this world, wanting to acquire major access to the Cuban market. This is a strong possibility if existing state oligopolies (e.g., CIMEX and Gaviota) were to be privatized in big chunks. The policy requirements for this approach to occur would be rapid privatization plus indiscriminate direct foreign investment and takeovers by large foreign firms.

 This approach does have some advantages.

  • It would generate large and immediate revenue receipts for the Cuban government;
  • It would lead to large and rapid transfers into Cuba of financial resources; entrepreneurship and managerial talent; physical capital (machinery and equipment and structures); most modern technology embedded in machinery and equipment; and personnel where and when necessary;
  • The results would be rapid productivity gains, higher-productivity work and rapid GDP gains.

However, there would also be disadvantages such as:

  • Profits would flow out ad infinitum;
  • Income concentration: profits to foreign owners (e.g. the Walton family of Arkansas who practically own Walmart) and profits to oligopolistic domestic owners;
  • Oligopolistic economic structures would be damaging in the long run;
  • There would be a strengthened probability of lucrative employment and ownership for the civilian and military “Nomenclatura”;
  • Blockages or inhibitions to the development of Cuban entrepreneurship;
  • “Walmartization” of Cuban culture; dilution of Cuban uniqueness;
  • Further reduction of the potential for diversified manufacturing in Cuba (e.g. due to the  Walmart/China  mass-purchaser/mass-supplier symbiosis);
  • Probably a blockage of export diversification.

 OPTION 4: Pro-Indigenous Private Sector in a Mixed Economy

zzzzzA fourth possibility would be for Cuba to promote its own small-, medium- and larger enterprises in an open mixed economy. This would require

  • An “enabling environment” for micro, small and medium enterprise with a reasonable and fair tax regimen; an end to the discrimination against domestic Cuban enterprise (See Henken and Ritter, 2015, Chapter 7);
  •  The establishment of unified and realistic monetary and exchange rate systems;
  •  Property law and company law.

A liberalization of micro-, small and medium enterprise would also be necessary to release the creativity, energy and intelligence of Cuban citizens.  This would involve open and automatic licensing for professional enterprises;  an opening up for all areas for enterprise – not only the “201”; permission for firms to expand  to 50 + employees in all areas; creation of wholesale markets for inputs; open access to foreign exchange and imported inputs;  full legalization of “intermediaries” ; and permission for advertising.

 This approach has some major advantages:

 Oligopoly power would be more curtailed compared to Option 3;

  • The economy would be more competitively structured with all the benefits this generates;
  • It would encourage a further flourishing and evolution of Cuban entrepreneurship;
  • It would permit the development of a diversified range of manufacturing and service activities and also a greater diversification of exports;
  • It would provide a reduced role for the “Nomenclatura” of military and political personnel and their families that would otherwise gain from the rapid privatization of state enterprises;
  • It would decentralize economic and thence political power and reduce the power for government to exert political influence through economic control;
  • It would generate a more equitable distribution of income among Cuban citizens and among owners than Option 3;
  •  Profits would remain in Cuba;
  •  There would be a stronger maintenance of Cuban culture.

There would be some disadvantages with this approach.

  • There would be no massive and immediate cash infusion to Government from asset sell-offs.   Or is this an advantage?  [more effective use of in-coming revenues]
  •  Perhaps there would be a slower macroeconomic recuperation;
  • There would be slower inflows of technology, finance, managerial know-how – but more domestically controlled.

Conclusion

Most likely, Cuban policy-makers in the government of Raúl Castro, the government of his immediate successor, and future governments of a politically pluralistic character will design policies that ultimately will lead to some hybrid mixture of the above four possibilities.  I of course will have little or no say in the process. However, my personal preference would be for an economy resembling the structure in the accompanying chart, with a large “indigenous” private sector, a significant cooperative sector, of course a large public sector for the provision of public goods, a small sector of government-owned enterprises, and a significant private foreign and joint venture sector. zzzzzzSo my bottom-line recommendations for current and future governments of Cuba would be:

  1. Utilize Cuba’s abundant resource — well-educated, innovative, strongly-motivated entrepreneurship — effectively, by further liberalizing the regulatory and fiscal regime for the indigenous micro-, small and medium enterprise sector, thereby also promoting Cuba’s indigenous economic culture;
  2. Use Cooperatives and “Coops of Coops” where possible;
  3.  Avoid “Walmartization” & homogenization of Cuban economy and culture by utilizing an activist policy towards direct foreign investment.

Bibliography

Feinberg, Richard E., Cuba’s Economic Change in Comparative Perspective, Brookings Institution, 2013

Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba, 2014

Ritter, Archibald and Ted Henken, Entrepreneurial Cuba, The Changing Policy landscape, Boulder Colorado: Lynn Rienner, 2015

 

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WHY THE U.S. SHOULD EMBRACE THE RISE OF CUBA’S ENTREPRENEURS

Huffington Post 01/25/2016;

Original Article here: Cuba’s Entrepreneurs

Ted A. Henken, Former President of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) and Baruch College (CUNY) Professor

Cuentapropista (a Cuban entrepreneur) is a term that up until a few years ago would not have been used to describe a large sector of Cuba’s centralized and still heavily planned economy. But despite heavy odds, I have recently witnessed the proliferation of Cuban entrepreneurship and its positive effects on the Island. As a Yuma (a Cuban term of endearment referring to visiting Americans), I’ve seen Cuba’s “non-state” sector expand considerably, giving testimony to the entrepreneurial successes that everyday Cubans are achieving, and hunger to expand upon.

Engaging directly with Cuba’s entrepreneurial sector — while we push for an end to our pernicious trade embargo — allows us to remove the U.S. as the Cuban government’s bête noir and empower more Cubans to be the masters of their own fates. Some hardliners in the U.S. would argue that engaging any sector in Cuba is helping the monopolistic and undemocratic Cuban government consolidate its power. However, the last 50 years have shown that isolation has only aided the Cuban government in strengthening its monopolies while deflecting blame for its failing economy onto the U.S. embargo. Engagement with cuentapropistas, on the other hand, gives us the chance to begin to build relationships of trust and mutual benefit with the Cuban people.

In the face of constant economic instability and state control, cuentapropistas are the defining social and economic catalyst for Cuba’s future. They are men and women who display incredible motivation and creativity in their business ventures, and are willing to take risks, often at great personal cost. As a result, the burgeoning private sector is now one of the most productive areas of an otherwise failing economy.

In a fact sheet I recently released in partnership with Engage Cuba and the Cuba Emprende Foundation, we found that while Cuba has the most educated, low-cost labor force in the world, private sector opportunities for Cuban professionals continue to be severely limited. As a result, entrepreneurial Cubans have taken their fate into their own hands and are now estimated to be one-third of Cuba’s total workforce. The rate of self-employment has surged to new heights in the last five years, rising from just under 150,000 to over half a million cuentapropistas by mid-2015.

A surprising area of self-employment growth is in telecommunications. The chronic scarcities and bottlenecks caused by the lethal combination of state socialist planning and the U.S. embargo have resulted in the incubation of a true “maker” culture. Highly trained but underemployed computer programmers and telecom agents have started launching innovative start-ups like AlaMesa and Conoce Cuba or designing “lean” software and offline mobile apps for both a Cuban and international clientele. Aiming to encourage this dynamic phenomenon, new U.S. regulations issued by the Obama Administration during 2015 now allow the contracting of Cuba’s private sector IT and other professionals.

But don’t be fooled. There are still drastic internal barriers for motivated, business-minded Cubans. The tax structure is burdensome, the private sector is legally cut off from international trade (apart from imports and exports via “suitcase commerce”), and cuentapropistas enjoy little reliable access to wholesale goods, rental space, credit, or foreign investment. Basic infrastructure is woefully outdated, and Internet access — the driver of any modern business — is still very limited and costly. Perhaps this is why despite unprecedented growth over the past five years, the cuentapropista sector contracted for the first time in the second half of 2015, falling to 496,400 by January 2016.

There are also serious structural workforce issues. For example, every year over 4,000 information technology engineers graduate across the country, but there are a limited number of state positions available to them. Therefore, many of these graduates are forced to join the historic exodus of young professionals abroad in order to find an economic return on their educations.

The possibilities for these young entrepreneurs will be virtually limitless once the island is equipped with a modern telecommunications infrastructure — something that can be made possible with the help of American investment. But in order for U.S. telecommunication services and other businesses to help bring meaningful change in Cuba, Congress needs to lift the trade embargo.

Because while American entrepreneurs and businesses await an end to the embargo, both Americans and Cubans are missing out. It is estimated that the U.S. is currently forgoing 1.6 billion in potential sales to Cuba annually due to current policy. Americans from across political parties have duly noted this fact. According to a Pew Research Center report, 72 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans, favor ending the Cuban trade embargo.

It is ironic that many embargo supporters rightly critique the Cuban government for restricting the free market inside the Island while simultaneously supporting an embargo that unfairly restricts American businesses abroad and any benefits they could bring to Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs and its people. By allowing Americans to bring business and investment to the Island, we will grow our own economy while supporting the Cuban people, including cuentapropistas, in the process.

henkenteaching_001_jpgTed A. Henken, Ph.D., is the President Ex-Officio of the Association for Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) and co-author of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.” Henken is a member of the Policy Council of Engage Cuba, a bipartisan organization dedicated to mobilizing American businesses and non-profit groups to support the ongoing U.S.Cuba normalization process.

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THIS IS CUBA’S NETFLIX, HULU, AND SPOTIFY – ALL WITHOUT THE INTERNET

How media smugglers get Taylor Swift, Game of Thrones, and the New York Times to Cubans every week. VOX; Original article here: CUBA’S NETFLIX, HULU, AND SPOTIFY By Johnny Harris on September 21, 2015

In Cuba there is barely any internet. Anything but the state-run TV channels is prohibited. Publications are limited to the state-approved newspapers and magazines. This is the law. But in typical Cuban fashion, the law doesn’t stop a vast underground system of entertainment and news media distributors and consumers.

“El Paquete Semanal” (The Weekly Package) is a weekly trove of digital content —everything from American movies to PDFs of Spanish newspapers — that is gathered, organized, and transferred by a human web of runners and dealers to the entire country. It is a prodigious and profitable operation.

I went behind the scenes in Havana to film how El Paquete works. Check out the video above to see how Cubans bypass censorship to access the media we take for granted.

There are two Paquete king-pins in Havana: Dany and Ali. These two compete to develop the best collection of weekly digital content and in the fastest turnaround time possible for their subscribers. It’s a competitive market playing out in the shadows of a tightly controlled communist economy.

Paquete subscribers pay between $1 and $3 per week to receive the collection of media. It’s either delivered to their home or transferred at a pickup station, usually in the back of a cellphone repair shop, a natural cover for this type of operation.

Dany relies on data traffickers to deliver the files, but said he didn’t know how those sources obtained the content in the first place. I gathered that most of it is being digitized via illegal satellites that are hidden in water tanks on rooftops. It’s unclear how they get ahold of the content sourced from the internet (digital news publications, YouTube videos, and pirated movies, for example). Only 5 percent of Cubans can access the uncensored World Wide Web, and when they do, the connection is horrendously slow. It’s not the type of connection that would support downloading hundreds of gigs of content every week. Instead, some speculate that content is physically brought onto the island by incomers from Miami.

I sat down with Dany in his pink-walled apartment in Havana. While I expected a mob-like character to be at the root of this extensive black market of pirated media, I found a 26-year-old guy who looked more like a stoned surf bum than the conductor of a giant black market operation.  Dany’s office shows off a lot more brawn than he does. It’s a simple room with two gigantic computers, their innards visible, tricked-out lights arbitrarily flickering. Hard drives are littered around the room, stacked and labeled. Two large screens are full of Windows file directories, and in the corner of one of the screens is a live feed from Telemundo, a popular Spanish-language station, with the words “Grabando” (recording) in the corner.

“Everybody has their responsibility,” Dany told me. “Everyone gathers a certain type of content, and they bring it to me. I organize it, edit it, and get it ready for distribution. And then we send it through our messengers.”

This is hard work. “A lot of the time is spent finding and embedding subtitles” he laments. Much of the content is pirated from American TV and movies. He and his team have scour the internet for any existing subtitle files.

The government hasn’t tried to stamp out El Paquete, and Dany works to keep it that way. “We don’t put anything in that is anti-revolutionary, subversive, obscene, or pornographic. We want it to stay about entertainment and education,” he says, and I catch a glimpse of the shrewd business behind the baby face and board shorts.  It might as well be Netflix

A look into an edition of El Paquete reveals a vast array of content ranging from movies that are in US theaters right now to iPhone applications. Havana-based artist Junior showed me around. He’s a pensive and gentle 34-year-old who is remarkably talented, judging by the stunning art pieces that hang from the wall. Junior paints and tattoos full time but he used to be a Paquete dealer. He’s now just a consumer. He takes me through the 934GB of data he has recently transferred from his provider.

I’m immediately struck by how polished the Paquete system is. As Junior files through the meticulously organized files, I realize it mirrors the consumption of a typical internet user. He opens the movie folder, and we browse through dozens of movies, many still in US theaters. All of them come in HD and with subtitles and poster art as the thumbnail of the file. The videos are high-quality with accurate subtitles. I have to remind myself that we are not browsing Netflix, but instead looking at an offline computer that is displaying content that has physically traveled to get here. The methods couldn’t be more different, but the result is strangely similar.

He moves on to TV shows. “So do you think they have—” I start, but am interrupted. “They have everything,” Junior says emphatically. Sure enough, the show I was thinking of, Suits, was there, with the latest episodes ready to watch.

zzzzzzzDany

We continue to browse and look into some of the more routine but most interesting parts of El Paquete: There are folders dedicated to antivirus software that can be updated weekly to the latest versions. “But there’s no internet, so there can’t be viruses,” I say. “Most of this stuff has touched the internet in some way. This software protects against anything that has snuck its way on into the content,” Junior says.

Junior clicks over to the “Apps” folder and shows me a smorgasbord of iOS and Android apps. Many are gaming apps with updates that can be loaded in every week. But there is another called “A la mesa,” a Yelp-type app that helps connect clients to restaurants in Cuba using maps, reviews, and in-app menus. Then there’s the PDF folder, which holds newspapers, magazines, and screenshot material from dozens of online publications, everything from tech news to sports. It’s the internet in a box.

In addition to the subscription fees, revenue for El Paquete comes from a classifieds section called “Revolico.” Within El Paquete, you click a file that opens Revolico in your browser. But it’s an offline version that runs from a file structure on your local computer. There, you can click around as if you were browsing Craigslist, looking at thousands of listings of everything from house rentals to big-screen TVs to car tires.

Sellers pay to list their items, and you can get a premium listing if you pay more. Revolico is the cash cow of El Paquete. It also happens to be one of the first semblances of an advertising market for Cubans who have lived in a world of central planning and price control.

The depth and breadth of El Paquete is astounding, so much so that I, an American who lives and works on the uncensored internet, feel a twinge of envy that I don’t have El Paquete delivered to my house every week for $2.

When I asked Dany if he is afraid that the internet will wipe out his operation, without missing a beat, he replied, “Nah. We offer a product that is like one giant webpage where you can see all the content you want for a very low price. The internet might take over some clients, but we offer something different and very effective.”

“Speed is key to beating the competition,” Dany said. When asked how quickly he can get a movie or TV show after it airs in the US he says, “The next day.” Last year, Dany started sending a hard drive on a plane to the far corners of the island.

After spending a week in Cuba, it was refreshing to talk to someone with the appetite to grow an enterprise. Most people I spoke to in Cuba work for the state and have zero incentive to deliver anything above the bare minimum. They get paid the same either way. Even the private restaurants lack the fervor of a competitive business, since the economic environment they work in is still completely controlled even if they themselves are private.

But in Dany’s office, I felt the thrill of cunning innovation and strategy at work. I got the sense that something big is happening. And indeed, I wasn’t just standing in some dingy apartment, but rather in what may be largest media distribution company in the history of Cuba.

 zzzzzzzz

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NUMBER OF SELF-EMPLOYED IN CUBA EXCEEDS HALF A MILLION

14ymedio, Havana | Junio 13, 201513, 2015

Original article here: 14YMEDIO  504,613  

At the conclusion of the month of May, the number of self-employed persons in Cuba had risen to 504,613, as shown in a report from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MLSS) published Saturday. Of these, at least 17 percent combine their work in the private sector with a government job.

The document also notes that among people with a license to practice an occupation on their own, there are some 155,605 young people, a number that grew by 7,912 during the first quarter of the current year.

Moreover, some 154,756 women are self-employed, while 62,043 retired people have chosen to re-enter working life through this non-State form of employment.

The report also reveals that the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba lead the rest of the country, accounting for 66 percent of workers engaged in these occupations.

The most common activities are still making and selling food, transport of cargo and passengers, renting of housing, rooms and spaces, telecommunications agent, and contract workers, the latter associated primarily with the first two listed activities.

The expansion of the process of self-employment began in October 2010 and the promising initial growth has been overtaken in the last year by a slower increase. Self-employed people complain about the high taxes, the lack of a wholesale market, excessive restrictions on what they are allowed to do, and the lack of permits to import raw materials.

SOME PRIVATE SECTOR ACTIVITIES

Cuba April 2015 032Flamenco Music and Dancers at a State Restaurant.

Cuba April 2015 043Private Transport and Tourist Guide

Cuba April 2015 114At the Arts and Crafts Sales Center

Cuba April 2015 112Arts and Crafts Market

Cuba April 2015 120Food Vendor

Cuba April 2015 168“Cafetera”

Cuba April 2015 179Mobil Phone Repair

[photos by A. Ritter, April 2015]

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CUBA EMPRESARIAL: LA REALIDAD AHOGA A LOS BUENOS DESEOS

Nora Gámez Torres;  El Nuevo Herald, 02/21/2015

Original here: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/cuba-es/article10895450.html#storylink=cp

En los parques de pueblos en el interior de Cuba y en algunos barrios de la capital, los niños se entretienen montando carretones tirados por caballos y cabras. No es una actividad lucrativa que se asociaría inmediatamente con el término “pequeño empresario”, pero el “servicio de coche de uso infantil tirado por animales” es una de las 201 actividades que el gobierno cubano ha autorizado a ejercer “por cuenta propia”.

No es, por supuesto, lo que tienen en mente funcionarios del gobierno y congresistas estadounidenses que han visitado recientemente la isla cuando hablan de ayudar al florecimiento de los negocios en Cuba, pero quienes pasean a los niños en coches forman parte, junto a dueños de “paladares”, taxistas, fotógrafos, reparadores de todo tipo de objetos y “arrendadores de vivienda”, entre otros, de un emergente sector privado, al que la nueva política exterior de Estados Unidos ha colocado en el centro de atención.

El objetivo declarado es estimular a este sector para la mejoría económica del pueblo cubano y la promoción de una sociedad civil independiente que, eventualmente, podría promover un cambio político en la isla. Pero ¿qué dimensiones reales tiene ese sector y qué potencialidades tiene para expandirse bajo el control del gobierno de Raúl Castro?

Según las últimas cifras oficiales publicadas en el periódico estatal Trabajadores en enero, 483,396 personas laboraban “por cuenta propia” en Cuba. Una pequeña cifra todavía, en comparación con los más de cuatro millones empleados en la economía estatal.

Estos trabajadores necesitan una “licencia” u autorización gubernamental para operar en una de las 201 actividades permitidas y deben pagar mensualmente las cuotas fijadas por el Estado. En su mayoría son oficios o servicios que requieren poca capacitación e infraestructura tecnológica, como “forrador de botones”, “rellenador de fosforeras” y “cuidadores de baños públicos”. Entre los que arrojan más beneficio se encuentran la gestión de restaurantes o “paladares” y los servicios de taxi.

“Aunque Raúl ha hecho cambios significativos en cuanto a la economía y la microempresa en Cuba, no son cambios suficientes para lograr las metas del gobierno de crecimiento y de transferir a los trabajadores estatales al sector no estatal, privado o cooperativo”, explica el profesor de Baruch College, Ted Henken, autor junto al también profesor y economista Archibald Ritter, del libro Cuba empresarial: un contexto de políticas cambiantes, del cual este reporte tomó prestado el título.

“Hay un grupo de obstáculos burocráticos y de regulaciones. Por ejemplo, muchos profesionales no pueden trabajar en su profesión en el mercado laboral privado. La mayoría de los 201 oficios no son productivos, son de sobrevivencia”, apuntó.

Si las remesas son la principal fuente de inversión en los negocios privados en Cuba, como argumenta Henken, la nueva disposición anunciada por el gobierno de EEUU de eliminar restricciones a envíos destinados a “actividades de personas particulares y organizaciones no gubernamentales que promueven la actividad independiente para reforzar la sociedad civil en Cuba y el desarrollo de empresas privadas”, puede estimular la expansión de los negocios ya existentes o el surgimiento de otros. Pero la casi total ausencia de créditos nacionales es un obstáculo importante para aquellos que no tienen familiares o contactos en el extranjero.

Existe, además, “un obstáculo mayor del que todos se quejan: que no hay un mercado mayorista”, observa Henken.

Los altos impuestos es otra de las críticas a las regulaciones actuales, que establecen un impuesto progresivo sobre las utilidades hasta del 50%, más otros tributos por ventas, servicios, utilización de fuerza de trabajo, contribuciones a la Seguridad Social así como tasas por anuncios y publicidad comercial.

Los impuestos por utilidades comienzan en un 15% y llegan al 50% por ganancias superiores a $2,000 al año, lo que unido a las tasas arbitrarias de gastos deducibles, pueden generar impuestos reales que superan el 100 por ciento de lo generado en un año. “Obviamente esto podría matar a la empresa o promover el fraude”, argumentan los autores de Cuba empresarial.

En plena temporada de declaración de impuestos, algunos cuentapropistas han hecho pública su insatisfacción en cartas a medios oficiales como Granma o comentarios dejados en las páginas en internet de estas publicaciones.

La lectora Elizabeth González Aznar se quejó en Cubahora del bajo índice de deducción de gastos (hasta un 40% en dependencia del tipo de actividad) en el régimen de contribución de los cuentapropistas en condiciones en que “no existe mercado mayorista”, “los productos se adquieren en mercados minoristas y a precios muy altos”; “las tarifas eléctricas suben cada vez más” y “se abrió el cuentapropismo sin crear mecanismos elementales que mantuvieran una oferta de productos acorde a la demanda”.

González Aznar dijo verse obligada a comprar productos más caros en las tiendas de recaudación de divisas solo para poder obtener comprobantes que luego puede presentar al hacer su declaración.

Pero este no es el peor escenario. Históricamente, cada vez que el gobierno cubano ha permitido pequeños espacios para la iniciativa individual, ha perseguido duramente a quienes considera acumulan capital o se convierten en una competencia para el estado, como sucedió con la prohibición de comercializar ropa importada en 2013 o el cierre de paladares como El Hurón Azul.

La clausura de las salas de cine privadas en noviembre del 2013 ilustra, además, que el gobierno no está dispuesto a ceder en el control de espacios que considera esenciales, como la distribución de información y productos culturales, zonas que, por ahora, están vedadas a los negocios privados, al menos legalmente.

Que los emprendedores hayan reaccionado con la creación de “los paquetes”, un compendio de programas extranjeros distribuido informalmente en dispositivos portátiles de almacenamiento, ilustra que las autoridades solo pueden desplazar—pero ya no controlar—estas actividades hacia el mercado informal, que sigue interesado en este tipo de oferta.

Una última limitación impide la expansión de capital nacional en inversiones de mediano y gran alcance. La Ley 188, de inversión extranjera aprobada por el parlamento en marzo del 2014, regula las inversiones en Cuba de “personas naturales” y “jurídicas extranjeras”, así como las llamadas empresas “mixtas” con capital del estado cubano, pero no menciona que los cubanos, residentes o no en la isla, tengan el derecho de invertir en Cuba.

Para estimular las inversiones, el gobierno otorgó una excepción de ocho años a las empresas extranjeras que abran negocios en Cuba, entre otras facilidades, a las que no tienen derechos los pequeños empresarios cubanos, lo que constituye “un tipo sorprendente de discriminación en contra de los ciudadanos cubanos”, según escriben Henken y Ritter.

Cuba Mar 2014 040 Cuba Mar 2014 056 Cuba Mar 2014 059 Cuba Mar 2014 096

 

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LAS TRD MAL ADMINISTRADAS POR LOS MILITARES

PRIMAVERA DIGITAL, febrero 18, 2015

Ensayo original aquí: Las TRD Mal Administradas por los Militares,

Por Osmar Laffita

Cuba actualidad, Capdevila, La Habana, (PD)

 A los dos años de ejercer Raúl Castro como presidente, enviaba señales de que su política económica se desmarcaba del estatismo que aplicaba su predecesor, Fidel Castro, quien prácticamente había liquidado la actividad privada a pesar de que por ley estaba autorizada.

Como muestra de que su gobierno no iba en esa dirección, la primera medida del gobierno de Raúl Castro dirigida a reactivar los pequeños negocios privados fue la puesta en vigor de la Resolución No. 32 de 7 de octubre de 2010 del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (MTSS), en la que se autorizaba nuevamente el ejercicio de178 actividades para ejercer las cuales se podía sacar licencias. Entre ellas estaba la no. 71, de modista y sastre.

El gobierno de Raúl Castro vio inicialmente la ampliación de la actividad privada como una vía para generar empleo para los casi 1 200 000 trabajadores que sobraban en las plantillas de las empresas estatales, resultado de la política voluntarista e irresponsable de pleno empleo que aplicó Fidel Castro.

El 6 de septiembre de 2012 el MTSS puso en vigor la Resolución No. 33, la cual ampliaba a 181 las actividades que se autorizaban a ejercer. En dicha Resolución se mantuvo la no. 71 de modista y sastre.

Tal fue el crecimiento de los pequeños negocios privados, que prácticamente en todas las ciudades y pueblos de la isla, comenzaron a funcionar cafeterías, pequeños restaurantes, pizzerías, casas destinadas al alquiler de habitaciones. En los portales de las casas, así como áreas y locales especialmente habilitados, había pequeños negocios en los que vendían ropa, calzados y bisuterías para el hogar y de uso personal. La mayor parte de estas mercancías eran traída de los Estados Unidos, Ecuador, Panamá y México. Pasaban por la aduana, eran declaradas como artículos sin carácter comercial, hasta un límite de 100 libras, y sus propietarios pagaban los impuestos correspondientes.

Tal fue el incremento de las ventas de productos importados que al finalizar el año 2012 estaban dedicados a este negocio, amparados en la licencia de sastre y modisto, cerca de 90 000 personas. Tal fue la aceptación por el pueblo de estas mercancías, principalmente por mujeres y jóvenes, que dejaron de ir a comprar en las Tiendas de Recuperación de Divisas (TRD). En estos pequeños negocios privados se encontraban mercancías variadas, más modernas y bien confeccionadas. Si bien los precios eran altos, se podía regatear con el dueño.

En las TRD muchas de esas mercancías no se ofertaban, y si tenían la suerte de encontrarlas, estaba pasada de moda, mal confeccionada y con precios muy elevados, que no se correspondían con su mala calidad. Como el dueño es el Estado, en las TRD no se puede regatear: lo tomas o lo dejas.

En el primer trimestre de 2012, con miras a ampliar el control de los militares sobre la economía, el gobierno tomó la decisión de traspasar al Grupo de Administración Empresarial(GAE), perteneciente a las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, la dirección de los diferentes grupos empresariales que se ocupaban de la venta minorista en dólares, léase CIMEX y su red de más de 2000 tiendas, gasolineras, cafeterías, servicios navales, bancarios, inmobiliarias, y CUBALSE, hoy desaparecida, que además de a las actividades que realizaba el CIMEX, también se ocupaba de los servicios al cuerpo diplomáticos y las empresas extranjeras radicadas en Cuba. Esta última actividad se la asignaron al Grupo Palco, junto con todas sus tiendas, hoteles, restaurantes, dulcerías, casas de modas y cafeterías, ahora bajo la dirección del GAE.

El grupo Palco fue liberado de la dirección del Palacio de Convenciones, PABEXPO, EXPOCUBA, el centro de reuniones “El Laguito” y las casas de protocolo, que pasaron a ser dirigidos directamente por el Consejo de Estado.

La Cadena Caracol, que era dirigida y administrada por el Ministerio de Turismo, también pasó a manos de los militares. Todas las tiendas que funcionan en los hoteles y en las diferentes instalaciones de veraneo, las agencias de renta de autos y las bases de ómnibus destinadas al servicio de los turistas nacionales y extranjeros, pasaron al GAE.

Por decisión del director ejecutivo del GAE, el general de brigada Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, los trabajadores de todas las TRD pasaron a ser trabajadores civiles de las FAR y los obligaron a integrarse al sindicato de la Defensa. En una de las tanta reuniones del GAE celebradas en los primeros meses de 2012, su dirección pudo conocer de la caída en las ventas en las TRD y del alarmante crecimiento de los inventarios de los almacenes. Al analizar las causas, detectaron que las pérdidas eran originadas por la proliferación de miles de pequeños negocios privados debidamente autorizados que vendían disimiles artículos importados.

13 23  72Para parar esto de raíz, el gobierno dio instrucciones a la titular del MTSS, Margarita González Fernández, para que sobre la base de argumentos legales, demostrara que la licencia de sastre y modista no facultaba a sus poseedores para importar y comercializar ropa, calzado, bisuterías y otros enseres, porque representaba una violación de lo establecido.

Para aniquilar el floreciente negocio de las ropas y enseres importados que habían sumido en la quiebra a las TRD, el MTSS puso en vigor la Resolución No 42 de 2013, en la que se fijaba el alcance de cada actividad autorizada. A los poseedores de mercancías importadas les dieron un plazo para liquidarlas antes del 31 de diciembre de 2013.

Ahora el GAE tiene el monopolio del mercado minorista de venta en dólares. La vicepresidenta de su principal conglomerado comercial, la corporación CIMEX, anunció que la facturación por las ventas realizadas en 2014 ascendió a una cifra muy cercana al monto total de lo recibido por el país por concepto de remesas recibidas desde el extranjero. Esto da una idea del enorme poder económico del GAE.

Un reportaje realizado por las periodistas Juanita Perdomo Larezada y Betty Beatón Ruiz, del semanario Trabajadores, bajo el título “Hay, pero no me gusta”, publicado el 9 de febrero, se refiere al desastroso estado de desabastecimiento de las TRD de Santiago de Cuba y Matanzas.

No es solo en esas ciudades. En el resto del país se repite similar situación. Cuando la población va a hacer sus compras en las TRD, chocan con un pésimo servicio y productos de la mala calidad. Pero ahora no tienen otra opción estos establecimientos, porque desaparecieron los vendedores particulares. Y los militares son administradores ineficaces e incompetentes. Para Cuba actualidad: origenesmadiba@gmail.com Foto: Osmar Laffita

osmarlaffita-150x150Osmar Laffita

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CUENTAPROPISMO EN CUBA Y LAS IMPORTACIONES DESDE EEUU PARA CUBA

By Nora Gámez Torre

elnuevoherald.com, 22 January 2015

Original here: Cuentapropismo, Importaciones, Normalizacóin

La lista que el Departamento de Estado está confeccionando con bienes y servicios ofrecidos por empresarios cubanos privados que podrán ser importados en los Estados Unidos será amplia para estimular la creatividad de los “cuentapropistas” y el interés del gobierno de la isla por ampliar sus exportaciones, dijo una fuente que ha tenido acceso al borrador del documento.

Las nuevas regulaciones que comenzaron a regir el 16 de enero prevén el apoyo a los pequeños negocios, pero el Departamento de Estado debe decidir quiénes estarán comprendidos dentro de este sector privado y cuáles serían los productos a importarse desde la isla.

Una de las mayores limitaciones de la política económica actual respecto al “cuentapropismo”, como se designa el trabajo privado en la isla, es que de las 201 actividades ahora permitidas por el gobierno de Raúl Castro, la mayoría son oficios que requieren poca capacitación e infraestructura tecnológica —“vendedor ambulante de alimentos”, “rellenador de fosforeras” y “barberos” son algunos ejemplos— y el espacio para el empleo de profesionales es mínimo.

Por eso la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald cree que el Departamento de Estado no confeccionará la lista a partir de la legislación vigente, sino que intentará “abrir la puerta lo más amplia posible, para que sea el gobierno cubano el que decida si va a eliminar los obstáculos a los empresarios y, si esto no sucede, que ellos sepan que es por culpa del bloqueo interno”.

En la lista, que iría cambiando a partir de las dinámicas en Cuba, estarían incluidos servicios profesionales de traducción, programación o de construcción que no están autorizados actualmente en Cuba, por lo que se trata de “anticiparse un poco al futuro”, agrega.

Consultado al respecto, el profesor de Sociología de Baruch College, Ted Henken, cree que este enfoque es positivo pero “la gran pregunta es si esto tendrá impacto o si el gobierno cubano permitirá este intercambio”.

El profesor de Economía de la Universidad de Carleton en Canadá, Archibald Ritter, comentó a el Nuevo Herald que uno de los principales obstáculos para que Estados Unidos pueda apoyar a la empresa privada es el monopolio que tiene el estado sobre las importaciones y las exportaciones.

En las nuevas regulaciones, también se autoriza la exportación a Cuba de materiales de la construcción, herramientas y maquinaria agrícola a los cuentapropistas, pero según Ritter “esto requiere cambios en el monopolio del estado sobre el comercio exterior”, pues actualmente no existe un mecanismo que permita que los empresarios privados puedan importar o exportar. Tampoco existe un mercado mayorista donde ellos puedan adquirir sus insumos.

En la nota de la Agencia de Información Nacional sobre las nuevas regulaciones, el único reporte que fue publicado en todos los medios nacionales, no se hace referencia a la posibilidad de exportación de productos cubanos hacia Estados Unidos, provenientes del sector privado.

También se hace notar que “se mantienen las restricciones a las exportaciones de Estados Unidos a Cuba, especialmente de productos de alta tecnología, con excepción de limitadas ventas de materiales de construcción, equipos e implementos agrícolas que se permitirán realizar a particulares, al parecer a través de empresas cubanas”.

Y según la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald, el Departamento de Estado estaría considerando utilizar a una empresa estatal cubana como intermediaria, si se ofrecen garantías de que los productos y materias primas llegarán a manos de los cuentapropistas.

Presentación de libro sobre cuentapropismo en Cuba

Ritter y Henken son expertos en el tema y publicaron una investigación sobre el cuentapropismo titulada Cuba empresarial: un contexto de políticas cambiantes, que será presentada el viernes en la libraría Books and Books a las 6:30 pm, un evento auspiciado por el Cuban Research Institute de la Universidad Internacional de la Florida.

En el libro, en el que realizan una comparación entre las políticas de Fidel y Raúl Castro sobre la empresa privada, Ritter y Henken hacen un balance del estado de esa actividad en la isla y advierten de los altos impuestos, y la “discriminación” en términos fiscales que favorece a empresas mixtas con capital extranjero.

Si la liberalización del cuentapropismo tenía como objetivo absorber el millón de trabajadores de la economía estatal que Raúl Castro consideró como “redundantes”, a los que se les llama eufemísticamente como “disponibles”, los autores del libro concluyen que esta meta no ha sido alcanzada. Más bien, argumentan, el cuentapropismo ha venido a legalizar muchas actividades que trascurrían en el mercado informal.

Aunque según estadísticas del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social hasta septiembre del 2014, el número de empleados en estas actividades aumentó a 471,085 en todo el país, cifras de la capital hasta marzo de ese mismo año indicaban que solo 63 de los cuentapropistas registrados habían perdido sus empleos (“disponibles”). El 15 por ciento de los cuentrapropistas habaneros eran también trabajadores estatales mientras que el 63 por ciento, cerca de 80,000, no tenían “vínculo laboral previo”, según publicó el portal oficial Cubadebate.

Los autores señalan que aunque en la prensa se ha comenzado a eliminar el estigma en torno a la empresa privada, el cierre de negocios exitosos, sobre todo paladares, apunta a que la acumulación de capital todavía no es bien vista por las autoridades.

Ritter y Henken concluyen que aunque la reforma de Raúl Castro ha sido significativa, “no es suficiente” para promover el desarrollo económico a gran escala y que medidas que permitan un mayor protagonismo de la diáspora así como mayores garantías y beneficios a la pequeña y mediana empresa son indispensables.

 More Cuenta Propistas

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