Tag Archives: Employment

A Major Slow-Down for the Public Sector Layoff / Private Sector Job Creation Strategy

Raul Castro and the Council of Ministers, Granma, March 1, 2011

By Arch Ritter I had been looking in vain for any concrete information on public sector redundancies and the granting of self-employment licenses since December 2010.  After some searching in the Cuban press, the foreign press and various blogs, I came up empty handed. I was starting to think that the program had been aborted. Then yesterday, Raul announced in a publicized meeting of the Council of Ministers a major slow-down of the program, noting, in the words of the journalists, that “the up-dating of our model is not the work of a day or even a year but because of its complexity, it will require not less than a five year period to unfold its implementation” (Granma, 1 de Marzo de 2011) As far as I can determine, there have in fact been virtually no lay-offs yet in the public sector, although the original March 31 target for 500,000 fired workers is close at hand. Or at least, none have been clearly reported. The latest numbers for license-granting for the end of December 2010 indicated that some 75,000 new licenses had been issued with another 8,340 still in process – a slow start towards the March 1 target date. Granma, 7 de enero de 2011 The slow-down and delay in implementation is understandable.  Although the original proposal was in the right direction, it was seriously flawed and excessively hurried. The most obvious weakness of the strategy was that it called for lay-offs first, followed by or concurrently with job creation in the micro-enterprise sector which was only slightly liberalized in October 2010. As various critics quickly observed, this was placing the “cart before the horse”. The original time frame for the lay-off process – from July 20, 2010 to March 31, 2011 – became even more condensed as months of inactivity followed months. If implemented, this approach would have amounted to a draconian type of shock therapy. The process of firing workers is not easy under any circumstances. Though the Government stressed repeatedly that those made redundant would be supported by the state, the prospects of being laid off and having to establish one’s own micro-enterprise in a policy environment that is still difficult if not hostile must be unnerving for many people. It was to be implemented during the Cuban recession – (though Cuba is now appears to be in a process of recovery, due to higher nickel prices, increased tourism including US tourism, higher remittances.) Moreover, workers have no independent Unions to defend their rights during such a process of redundancies. (It was the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba that announced the lay-off strategy.) There was a potential for irregularities and perversions in the firing process as well, with redundancy being determined by factors such as Party faithfulness, personality issues,  or friendship with the relevant officials, rather than labor effectiveness, which is usually difficult to determine in any case. Moreover, the strategy, which was to be a defining component of economic reform and structural change, was adopted before the public discussions around the Proyecto de Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución,” There had been no public input or discussion in the media or public forums before this strategywas sprung on the Cuban people. Furthermore, it was clear from the start that the liberalization of self-employment was insufficient for the necessary level of job creation. (See Perez and Vidal, Ritter and Mesa-Lago for example.) There are some measures that are supportive of micro-enterprise expansion. These include a small increase in the permitted range of activities, minor relaxation of regulations and a small modification of the tax regime. More significant and positive are the liberalization of licensing and the “de-stigmatization” of the self-employed by the media and politicians. However, a variety of policies continues to constrain the activities of micro-enterprises and will prevent it from expanding as envisioned by the Government: –        Exceedingly onerous taxation continues. –        The tax on hiring workers will discourage job creation. –        A narrow definition of legal activities will limit enterprise and job creation. –        Exclusion of virtually all high-tech and professional activities blocks development of knowledge-intensive enterprises and wastes the training of the highly educated. –        Bizarre restrictions remain (such as a 20 chair limit on restaurant chairs). –        Restrictions and prohibitions on hiring workers remain. –        Taxes and regulations result in the stunting of enterprises which prolong inefficiencies and promote the underground economy. –        Unreasonable restrictions and heavy taxes breed contempt and non-compliance for the law. Under these circumstances, the necessary expansion of Small Enterprise will be slow and in fact probably would not occur. In this case, the Government will have two basic choices: either it can abort the structural change process or it can further liberalize the micro-enterprise sector in order to permit it to generate jobs for redundant state workers. In order to establish an “enabling environment” for micro-enterprise, here are some of the types of policy modification that would be necessary:

  1. Modify the tax regime: Eliminate the tax on hiring workers and permit all costs to be deductible from gross revenues for calculating taxable income;
  2. Broaden of permitted activities, including professional and high-tech activities;
  3. Relax vexatious regulations;
  4. Liberalize hiring restrictions;
  5. Establish microcredit institutions (international assistance is available for this)
  6. Improve access to wholesale input purchase – not done yet;
  7. Legalize “intermediaries” (permitting specialization between producers and venders)
  8. Permit Advertising
  9. Establish a “Ministry for Small Enterprise”!!!


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Economic Analyses Published by Espacio Laical, CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA

Perhaps surprisingly, Espacio Laical, the journal of the CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA, has become a most interesting medium for economic and political and religious analyses and exchanges. Its circulation in digital format within Cuba via the “Intranet” is unclear. However, it has produced a variety of works by some of Cuba’s leading economic analysts including those in the main Research Institute focusing on the on the domestic Cuban economy, namely the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana, (CEEC), ttp://www.ceec.uh.cu/. Many of the analysts in CEEC publish their work in Espacio Laical or other sources outside their own institution, which unfortunately has a rather minimalist web site at this time, .

Here is an Index of Economic Articles that have appeared in Espacio Laical, with most of them  hyperlinked to the original source.

Barbería, Lorena – Remesas, pobreza y desigualdad en Cuba. (Año 4 / No.14)

Calvo, Cristina – X Semana Social Católica: Globalización y desarrollo integral inclusivo. (Año 6 / No.23)

Espacio Laical – Economía cubana (portada) (Año 4 / No.14)
Economía cubana: retos y opciones. (Año 4 / No.14)

Everleny Pérez, Omar – Se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.24)

Laborem , boletín del Movimiento de Trabajadores Cristianos (MTC)  – Sin quitarle una letra. (Año I / No.1)

La Quincena. – Textos para la reforma social. (Año I / No.4)

Mesa, Armando – Mercado y solidaridad: ¿un debate intergeneracional? (portada) (Año 4 / No.14)
Mercado y solidaridad: ¿un debate intergeneracional? (Año 4 / No.14)

Mesa-Lago, Carmelo – Posible restablecimiento de relaciones económicas entre Cuba y Estados Unidos: Ventajas y desventajas. (Año 4 / No.14)
La crisis financiera mundial y sus efectos en Cuba (Año 4 / No.16)
¿Se recupera el mundo de la crisis económica global? (Año 5 / No.20)
– X Semana Social Católica: Implicaciones sociales y económicas para el sistema de seguridad social en
El desempleo en Cuba: de oculto a visible. (Año 6 / No.24)

Monreal González, Pedro – El problema económico de Cuba. (Año 4 / No.14)

Pérez Villanueva, Omar Everleny – X Semana Social Católica: Notas recientes sobre la economía en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.23)

Robles, Reydel – X Semana Social Católica: Presentación al panel sobre economía y sociedad. (Año 6 / No.23)

Veiga González, Roberto – Propiedad privada en Cuba: una percepción de futuro. (Año I / No.4)

Vidal Alejandro Pavel – Redimensionando la dualidad monetaria (Año 3 / No.11)
Los salarios, los precios y la dualidad monetaria. (Año 4 / No.14)
El PIB cubano en 2009 y la crisis global. (Año 5 / No.18)
Los cambios estructurales e institucionales. (Año 6 / No.21)
– X Semana Social Católica: La actual crisis bancaria cubana. (Año 6 / No.23)
Se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.24)

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CARMELO MESA-LAGO and PAVEL VIDAL-ALEJANDRO, “The Impact of the Global Crisis on Cuba’s Economy and Social Welfare”

Journal of Latin American Studies. 42, 689–717,  Cambridge University Press, 2010

Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Pavel Vidal have teamed up to produce a fine analysis of the impacts of the world recession of 2009-201o on Cuba,  its macro-economy and its social sectors.  It is certainly encouraging to see such cooperation in the economics discipline! The article can be found here: Pavel Vidal and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuba economic social impact crisis-JLAS-11 (2)

Abstract.The mechanisms by which the world economic crisis has been transmitted from developed to developing economies are conditioned by domestic factors that may attenuate or accentuate external economic shocks and their adverse social effects. Cuba is a special case : it is an open economy and hence vulnerable to trade growth transmission mechanisms, but at the same time, it is a socialist economy with universal social services. This article reviews the literature, summarises Cuba’s domestic socio-economic strengths and weaknesses prior to the crisis, evaluates the effects of the crisis on the macro-economic and social services indicators, assesses the government response and suggests alternative socio-economic policies.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago


Pavel Vidal

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Micro-enterprise Tax Reform, 2010: The Right Direction but Still Onerous and Stultifying

By Arch Ritter

As part of the policy reforms designed to absorb almost 1.2 million redundant state sector workers into the private sector, the Government of Cuba has modified the micro-enterprise tax regimen. Some of the modifications were positive in the sense that they will reduce the heavy tax burden on self-employment. However, the changes are modest, and the tax system will continue to limit job-creation and the expansion of micro-enterprise.

Bicitaxis, Central Havana

I. The New Tax Regime

The new taxation system, presented in the Gaceta Oficial, número 11, and Gaceta Oficial, número 12 on October 1 and 8, 2010, has five components:

1.      Sales Tax on Goods

2.      Tax on Hiring of Workers

3.      Income Tax

4.      Surtax on Services

5.      Social Security or Social insurance Payments

Taxes generally will now be payable in Moneda Nacional or “old” pesos. For purposes of tax payment, taxes owing in convertible pesos (CUCs) are to be exchanged into Moneda Nacional at the going quasi-official rate (around 22 to 26 “old” pesos per convertible peso, over the 2001-2010 period). There is a special regimen for bed-and-breakfast operations that is not considered here.

1. Sales Tax

This is a 10% tax levied on the value of sales of goods and payable by all micro-enterprises that do not qualify for the Simplified Tax Regime (See 3. below.)  While this tax in principle is reasonable and is used in most countries, the administrative cost of monitoring the value of sales and collecting the tax for the many of the smaller self-employed activities will be high.

2. Tax on the “Utilization of Labor”

This tax on the hiring of employees is set at “25% of 150%” (that is, 37.5%) of the average national wage which was 429 pesos per month in 2009 (ONE, AEC Table 7.4). The tax would thus be about 161pesos per month per employee or 1,932 pesos per year.

A “Minimum” requirement for the hiring of employees for tax determination purposes is set at two employees for paladares and one for other food vendors and a few other activities. There appears to be no exception or adjustment of the tax for part-time employees.

(Note that some 74 self-employment activities are prohibited from hiring employees and another 7 can hire one employee only.)

3. The Income Tax

There are two tax income regimes, a simplified regime for lesser self-employment activities and a more complex regime for larger activities.

The Simplified Tax Regime applies to some 91 activities. In place of the income tax, sales tax, tax on public services, they instead pay a consolidated tax, constituted by the monthly licensing fee which ranges from 40 to 150 pesos per month, payable in the first ten days of each month. (It is unclear whether overpayments would be refunded – they were not under the previous system.)

Other enterprises fall under the general tax regime, and pay all of the individual taxes discussed here. These activities pay the up-front monthly tax/license ranging from 40 to 700 pesos per month.

For the determination of the tax payment, the “tax base” is defined as total revenue less a fixed amount for deductible expenses. The maximum amounts allowed for deductible expenses range from 10% for 10 activities, 20% for room rental operations, 25% for 40 activities, 30% for 10 activities and 40% for 6 food and transport activities. (Bed and breakfast operations have their own specific regimen.)

The income tax rates rise progressively from 0% for the first 5,000 pesos, through 25% for additional income between 5,000 and 10,000, 30% for income increments from 10,000 to 20,000, 30% for 20,000 to 30,000, 40% for 30,000 to 50,000 and 50% for additional income exceeding 50,000.00 pesos. This rate is high but not unreasonable in international comparison.

4. Sales Tax on Services

A 10% additional sales tax is levied on services provided by micro-enterprise. Those enterprises qualifying for the Simplified Tax Regime are exempt from this tax.

5. Social Security Payments

These payments are destined ultimately for old age support, maternity leave, disability and death in the family. They are determined according to a scale that the self-employed worker selects, and may range from 25% of 350 to 2000 pesos per month depending on the choice of the self-employed person. This is a social insurance scheme though the payments are similar to taxes.

II. Evaluation of New Tax Arrangement

This new tax regime represents a minor improvement over the previous regime. The main improvement is that it permits the deduction as costs of production of more than a maximum of 10% of total revenues as was the case previously. This is a reasonable adjustment to the tax base as most of the self-employed activities generate costs that are higher than the maximum allowable 10% of total revenues.  This is especially beneficial for activities such as gastronomic, transport and handy-craft or artisan activities for which input costs are far beyond 10% of total revenues.

The progressive structuring of the income tax regime is reasonable though stiff.

However there are a number of flaws in the taxation regimen which will continue to stunt the development of small enterprise and will prevent the absorption of the redundant workers being displaced from the public sector.

1. The Blocking of Job-Creation

First, the tax on employment is problematic as it adds to the employer’s cost of hiring a worker. The obvious impact of this tax will be to limit hiring and job creation. Or employment will be “under the table”, unrecorded, and out of sight of officialdom.

2. Onerous Overall Tax Levels

The overall tax level is punitive. The sum of the income tax, employee hiring tax, and public service surtax is high- and as noted below can help create effective tax rates exceeding 100%, as is explained on Section III. This will continue to promote non-compliance. It will discourage underground enterprises from becoming legal. The establishment of new enterprises will be discouraged.

3. Erroneous and Unrealistic Base for the Income Tax

The most serious shortcoming of the income tax regime involves the tax base which is not “net revenues” after the deduction of input costs, but an arbitrary proportion of total revenues.

The tax regime limits the maximum for input costs deductible from total revenues to 10 to 40% depending on the type of enterprise involved. When the actual micro-enterprise input costs exceed the maximum allowable, the tax rate on true net income can become very high. In the example below, the effective tax rate (defined as the taxes payable as a percentage of true net income) can exceed 100%. Obviously this would kill the enterprise and promote cheating and non-compliance. It will discourage underground economic activities from becoming legal and block the establishment of new enterprises.

4. Continued Discrimination versus Cuban Enterprise in Favor of Foreign Enterprise

The minor reforms of the micro-enterprise tax regime do relatively little to reduce the fiscal discrimination favoring foreign enterprise. (See Table 1.) The main difference is the determination of the effective tax base which is total revenues minus costs of production for foreign firms but for micro-enterprise is gross revenue minus an arbitrary and limited allowable level of input costs. The result of this is that the effective tax rates for foreign enterprises are reasonable but can be unreasonable for Cuban microenterprises. For Cuban micro-enterprises, the effective tax rate could reach and exceed 100%.

Moreover, investment costs are deductible from future income streams for foreign firms this being the normal international convention. But on the other hand, for Cuban micro-enterprise, investment costs are deductible only within the 10 to 40% allowable cost deduction levels.

III. Example: Three Taxation Cases for a Paladar or Restaurant

To illustrate the character of the tax regime, a case of a “Paladar” is examined below. It is assumed that the total revenues or gross earnings of the Paladar are 100,000 pesos per year (Row 1) or a modest 280 CUP or about $US 10.50 per day.

It is imagined then that there are three costs of production cases: Case A, B and C where costs of production are 40%, 60 and 80% of total revenues respectively. A situation where input costs for a Paladar are 80% of total revenues is reasonable, given the required purchases of food, labor, capital expenses, rent, public utilities etc. On the other hand, the 40% maximum is unreasonably low.

The differing true input cost situations (Rows 2 and 3) generate different true net income (Row 6). The tax base however is determined by the legal maximum allowable of 40,000 (Row 4 and 5) and is 60,000 pesos in all three cases (Row 7). The income tax payable is determined by the progressively cascading scale noted above and is 19,750 in all three cases (Row 8, based on calculations not shown here). The tax on hiring the legal minimum two employees is 25% of 150% (that is, 37.5%) of the average national wage which was 429 pesos per month or 161 pesos for 12 months for two employees = 3,864 pesos per year (Row 9). A guess for the surtax on use of public services is 1,200 pesos per year (Row 10). The total taxes then are the sum of Rows 8 t0 10 and are 26,614 per year (Row 11).

The effective tax rate is then calculated as Tax Payment as a percentage of Actual Net Income (Row 11 divided by Row 6). For the third case where true costs of production are 80% of total revenues, the effective tax rate turns out to be well over 100% (124.1%). This is due to fixing the maximum allowable for costs in determining taxable income at an unrealistic 40% while the true costs of production were 80% of total revenues.

The chief result of this example is that effective tax rates can be much higher than the nominal tax rates for all the activities where true input costs exceed the defined maximum. In some cases, taxes owed could easily exceed authentic net income – assuming full tax compliance.  This situation likely occurs for all activities not covered by the simplified tax regime.

Such high effective rates of taxation of course could destroy the relevant microenterprise, and block the emergence of new enterprises. While under the previous policy environment for microenterprise, this was perhaps the objective of policy. However, the objective of the new policy environment is to foster and enable micro-enterprise and to create jobs.

IV. Conclusion

Can the Micro-enterprise sector generate about 500,000 new jobs by April 2011 and 1.2 million in the next year? On the positive side, there have been some measures of a non-tax nature (e.g. the stigmatization has been relaxed, licensing has been liberalized; there has been a minor increase in legal activities; prohibitions and regulations have been eased somewhat; and improved access to inputs will likely be possible.) But on the negative side, a narrow definition of legal activities will limit enterprise and job creation; the prohibition of professional activities remains; restrictions and prohibitions on hiring workers remain; and restrictions and prohibitions remain.

The timid revisions of the tax regimen will not facilitate job creation in the microenterprise sector.

  • The high level of taxes generally will limit enterprise creation and legalization.
  • The underground economy will continue to be encouraged.
  • The tax on the hiring of employees will discourage the absorption of labor into microenterprise activity.
  • Microenterprises will remain stunted by the high effective tax rates that are incurred when costs of production exceed the minimum deductible for tax determination purposes.
  • The tax discrimination favoring foreign firms in joint ventures continues.

In order for the micro-enterprise sector is to expand so as to absorb the 1.2 million redundant public sector workers in the process of being fired, further reform of the tax system is necessary.

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Cuba’s 12 to 20 Chair Reform: Can the Small Enterprise Sector Save the Cuban Economy?


The quasi-private restaurants in the Barrio Chino have enjoyed a cultural exemption from the controls placed on normal “paladars” or restaurants. They have faced no 12 chair size limitation. They emerged some time ago as dynamic, large, diverse and efficient restaurants – indeed, the best in Havana. They are a living example of what many sectors of the Cuban economy could become if the tight restrictions and toxic tax levels were all made more reasonable. This is not yet happening. (Photo by Arch Ritter  2008)

By Arch Ritter

In October 2010, Raul Castro’s Government increased the size limitation on private restaurants from 12 to 20 chairs. This was part of a broader reform package designed to shrink the state sector ultimately by about 1 million workers or 20% of the labour force and to re-absorb them into an expanding small enterprise sector. The 20 chair rule however is symbolic of the positive but timid character of the reforms undertaken so far.

This is an amazing and ironic reversal of fortune for Cuba’s private sector. Small enterprises were almost eliminated in the 1960s, were liberalized from 1993 to 1995 and then were stigmatized and contained by onerous regulations and taxation. Now they are supposed to save the economy, generating jobs, higher productivity and higher living standards than was possible under the old system. 9Raul apparently has even more faith in the small enterprise sector than I do!)

Fidel Castro’s 50-year attempt to construct his own variety of “socialism” is being repudiated and abandoned by his own brother and by the Cuban Government. This is an obvious humiliation for Fidel, even though the genuflections in the media and official documents –  including even the “Linamientos” – continue.

Firing one million state sector workers looks risky and brutal. Hoping that they will somehow be absorbed in the small enterprise sector looks like wishful thinking. In other contexts this approach would be labeled “neo-liberal”! Will the laid-off workers have the abilities and aptitudes necessary to start their own businesses?

But the biggest question is whether the small enterprise sector can create 500,000 jobs by March 30 and ultimately one million new jobs. As of  November 28, half way through period when the lay-offs are to occur, only 45,000 new self-employment licenses had been issued, with 43% going to retirees rather than those in the labor force. This process is off to a slow start but perhaps it will accelerate.

The regulatory and tax regimes under which small enterprise operated from 1995 to 2010 were designed to contain its growth, to keep enterprises tiny, and to limit the incomes of the self-employed. Now the tax and regulatory framework has been liberalized somewhat:

  • Licensing has been broadened.
  • Rental of facilities from citizens or the state is easier.
  • Sales to state entities are now possible.
  • Use of banking facilities and bank credit will be possible.
  • Permitted activities have been increased.
  • Some regulations have been eased.
  • Punishments for infractions have been eased. Virtually all of the old ‘infracciones’ continue to punished by the same fines as before. But the seizure of equipment and  the retraction of licenses have been dropped.
  • Imported inputs will become accessible for small enterprise at wholesale prices.

But tight limits on self-employment remain.

  • Professional activities are prohibited.
  • Intermediaries are prohibited and each producer is supposed to be the seller of his or her output.
  • Petty restrictions such as the 20 chair rule continue.
  • Tight limits continue on the hiring of employees.
  • Advertising remains prohibited.

The tax regime has been slightly relaxed but is still problematic. Small enterprises face five taxes: a sales tax (10%), a tax on hiring employees, social security taxes, a public services usage tax, and an income tax (that rises to 50% of income above 50,000 “old” pesos or about $2,000.00 per year.) For the calculation of the income tax, deductible costs of production from total revenues are limited to 10% for simpler enterprises up to 40% for larger enterprises. This means that for a restaurant with actual costs of production of 80% of total income, the tax on actual net revenue exceeds 100%.  The tax on hiring an employee is 37.5% of the average monthly wage for Cuba.

For very small-scale activities, an up-front monthly licensing fee that constitutes a simplified tax payment is required.

This revised regime is an improvement over the previous system. It may induce some enterprises to come up from underground and may promote the establishment of some new enterprises. But, on the other hand:

  • The high effective tax rates will kill off many potential enterprises and promote continued non-compliance.
  • The 37.5% employment tax will limit hiring.
  • The numerous controls and limitations on small enterprise will continue to “stunt” them so that they remain inefficient, wasting human and material resources.

It is therefore unlikely that small enterprise will expand enough to absorb one million redundant workers. By stunting the small enterprises, the possibilities of raising productivity, real incomes and ultimately living standards will also be limited

What happens then? Perhaps the “Fidelistas” could proclaim victory and halt or reverse the reform process. This is unlikely because the old “Fidel” model is discredited by events and by Raul himself. Moreover, Raul’s appointees now dominate the Council of Ministers. His military colleagues hold many key posts in the economy.

More likely, Raul’s Government will conclude that job creation should precede the lay-offs, not vice versa and that their expectations regarding job creation in the small-enterprise sector were overly optimistic. They might then slow down the lay-offs and in time liberalize the tax and regulatory framework.

Raul Castro is finally emerging from 60 years in his elder brother’s shadow. Perhaps he is thinking of his own historical legacy. “History” will never “absolve” Fidel, but it might absolve Raul if he sets Cuba on a course towards a workable economic system – not to mention human rights and meaningful pluralistic democracy.

Since its liberalization in 1993, the production of arts and crafts, largely for the tourist market, has expanded immensely and the quality and diversity of the products has improved greatly. It is now  a major source of foreign exchange for Cuba, though statistics on this do not seem to exist. This sector  provides another living example of the improvements that could be made in the small enterprise sector generally if it was liberalized appropriately. Above, a photo of the crafts market near the Cathedral on Avenida del Puerto, by Arch Ritter, 2008.

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CARMELO MESA-LAGO, El desempleo en Cuba: de oculto a visible, in Espacio Laical Digital

Espacio Laical, the publication of the CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA , has just published an excellent analysis by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, on underemployment, unemployment and the ability of the small enterprise sector to reabsorb redundant labor to be released from the state sector. Mesa-Lago, the “Dean” of analysts of Cuban economy, has focused particularly on the labor sector in Cuba since he was an employee of the Cuba’s Ministry of Labor in the early 1960s and wrote his Ph.D. Dissertation (The Labor Force, Employment, Unemployment and Underemployment in Cuba, 1959-1970, Beverley Hills, Sage Publications, 1972).

Espacio Laical continues to consolidate its position as a leading fora for economic analysis on the Cuban economy!

The first few paragraphs are presented below. The full analysis can be found here: El desempleo en Cuba: de oculto a visible

El desempleo en Cuba: de oculto a visible: ¿Podrá emplearse el millón de trabajadores que será despedido?


Mi disertación doctoral, escrita hace 42 años, analizaba los problemas de desempleo declarado o visible, y subempleo o desempleo oculto (subutilización de mano de obra, empleo excedente) en países socialistas. Comparando a Cuba, China, la URSS y Yugoslavia, aportaba evidencia contraria a la teoría entonces en boga acerca del pleno empleo en economías socialistas de planificación centralizada. En el capítulo sobre Cuba (1970-1989) argumentaba que la reducción del desempleo visible durante la Revolución se había logrado en gran medida mediante el empleo excedente o innecesario. Por ejemplo, una fábrica, granja o entidad estatal de servicios, necesitaba 100 trabajadores, pero ocupaba a 200, así reducía el desempleo nacional visible, pero  ambién la productividad y el salario a la mitad, a más de erosionar el incentivo del esfuerzo laboral (Mesa-Lago, 1968, 1972).

Casi medio siglo después, los hechos en 2010 confirman la hipótesis.

Este artículo: 1) prueba con estadísticas oficiales y de CEPAL, así como con análisis de economistas cubanos,  que el problema no es nuevo, sino que se remonta al inicio de la  Revolución; 2) estima la magnitud del desempleo actual y sus efectos; 3) evalúa las medidas del

Gobierno para abrir empleo privado a más de un millón de trabajadores excedentes, y 4) ofrece opciones para mejorar dichas políticas (sus efectos fiscales son analizados por Vidal y Pérez Villanueva).

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Partido Comunista de Cuba, “Proyecto de Lineamientos de la Politica Economica y Social”: Viable Strategic Economic Re-Orientation and / or Wish List ?

I. “Structural Adjustment” on a Major Scale

On Tuesday, November 9, a major document appeared for sale in Cuba entitled “Proyecto de Lineamientos de La Political Economica y Social” or “Draft Guide for Economic and Social Policy.”  The purpose of the “Guide’ presumably is to spark and to shape public discussion and education on the economic matters that will be the focus of the long-postponed Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party to take place in April, 2011. It also provides the essentials of the new approach that will likely be adopted at the Sixth Congress.

It can be found in its entirety, courtesy of the Blog Caf Fuerte. (http://cafefuerte.com/

, here: Projecto de Lineamientos de la Politica Economica y Social,

The “Guide” is a broad-reaching and comprehensive document that puts forward 291 propositions for the improvement of the functioning of the Cuban economy. It signals a break in the four years of near inaction that the Cuban economy endured since Raul Castro took over as acting and then actual President – and the ten years of paralysis from about 1995 to 2006 under President Fidel.  It amounts to a major process of “structural adjustment” of the sort that was begun in 1992-1994, but was then stalled when the Cuban economy appeared to rebound after 1994.  The document is also a contradiction and maybe a “slap-in-the-face” for Fidel Castro, as it indeed indicates that the Fidelista-style Cuban model – his life’s work – is not working. (See “Fidel’s No-Good Very Bad Day” and The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did.)

II. General Character of the Proposals

The Table of Contents provides a quick idea of the scope of the document:


Contours of Economic and Social Policy

I           Economic Management Model

II          Macroeconomic Policies

III        External Economic Policies

IV        Investment Policy

V         Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

VI        Social Policy

VII       Agroindustrial Policy

VIII     Industrial and Energy Policy ix

IX        Tourism Policy

X           Transport Policy

XI         Construction, Housing, and Hydraulic Resource Policy

xii        Commercial Policy.

The Introduction summarizes the basic objectives required to overcome the principal problems of the economy. These include putting into productive use the unused lands constituting almost 50% of total, raising agricultural yields, developing new mechanisms to reverse the process of industrial and infrastructural de-capitalization, eliminating excess and redundant employment, raising labor productivity, recovery of export capacity in traditional exports, undertake studies in order to eliminate monetary dualism, and provide improved capacities for more decentralized regional development.

The “Contour” section then states that “…only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and the implementation of the economic model prioritizes planification and not the market”. However, the next paragraph states “…socialism is equality of rights and equality of opportunity for all citizens, not egalitarianism.” The latter sounds less like “socialism” and more like “social democrat” if not the common approach of most Western countries. The latter quotation makes the former somewhat hard to interpret if not meaningless.

The document then goes on to list the 291 propositions under the 12 different headings. A few of the more interesting propositions are summarized below:

  • Wholesale markets for supplying state, cooperative and self-employment enterprises will be established. (9)
  • State enterprises will decide themselves how to allocate their investment funds, and normally will not receive budgetary support for this. (13)
  • Insolvent enterprises will face liquidation. (16)
  • Workers incomes in state enterprises will be linked to enterprise performance (# 19)
  • Monetary and exchange rate unification will be “advanced” (54)
  • The taxation system will be advanced in terms of progressivity and coverage, and will be based on generality and equity of its structure. (56 and 57)
  • The centralized character of the determination of the planned level and structure of prices will be maintained. (62)
  • Recover the place of work as the fundamental means of contributing to the development of society and the satisfaction of personal and family needs. (130)
  • Modify the structure of employment, reducing inflated staffing and increasing employment in the non-state sector (158-159)
  • Eliminate the ration book as a means of distributing products. (162)
  • Improve agriculture so that Cuba is no longer a net importer of food, prioritizing import substituting activities, reviving citrus fruit production, augmenting sugar production. (166, 174, 179, 194.)
  • Promote export-oriented industry (197)
  • Develop a range of new industries such as tires, construction materials and metallurgy (213, 215, 216)
  • Restructuring of domestic retailing and wholesaling. (283-291)

III. Preliminary Evaluation

This document will receive a great deal of attention inside and outside Cuba. It provides fodder – along with the recent legislation on self-employment – for analysts and observers of Cuba, who have had little of hard substance on which to base their analyses of Cuban policy under the “Raulista” Presidency for some time.

In some senses, this document is remarkable. It sets out an ambitious reform program for much of the Cuban economy. It may indeed constitute a “Wish List” of all the types of policy improvements and changes that would be nice to have. The question is “can and will they be implemented?”

This document also is a major risk for the Raul Castro Administration. It provides a check-list of tasks that will be difficult to achieve. If future implementation and economic performance is far below the expectations that are now being raised to high levels, there could well be a serious fall-out for the Government and the Party.

The document is also broad and ambitious but does not set any clear priorities and does not propose a sequence of actions. Everything can’t be done at once. How should the policy changes be phased or sequenced?

Some observers are skeptical and perhaps cynical regarding the “Guide” – for good historical reasons. In her Blog Entry entitled The Art of Speaking Without Speaking (http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy/?p=2088) Yoani Sanchez states:

When you grow up decoding each line that appears in the newspapers, you manage to find, among the rhetoric, the nugget of information that motivates, the hidden shreds of the news. We Cubans have become detectives of the unexpressed, experts in discarding the chatter and discovering — deep down — what is really driving things. The Draft Guidelines for the Communist Party’s VI Congress is a good exercise to sharpen our senses, a model example to evaluate the practice of speaking without speaking, which is what state discourse is here.

The Guide undoubtedly could be seen as an economic rescue program designed to rescue also the Communist party of Cuba, which faces steady de-legitimation as the economy deteriorates – even as the official GDP statistics appear to rise steadily.

What is missing from the “Guide”? Here is a first brief listing. Further analysis will be incorporated here later.

1.      Nothing is said regarding labor rights. A vital part of the reform approach if labor is to be used effectively would be freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike. In the absence of these, pressures and insights from the grass roots to improve economic policy and its effectiveness are suppressed.

2.      Nothing is said regarding freedom of expression and the right to criticize the policies and institutions openly, honestly and continuously. The absence of this right leads to economic inefficiency and corruption as argued elsewhere. ( Freedom of Expression, Economic Self-Correction and Self-Renewal)

3.      No further elaboration of how the self-employment or micro-enterprise sector is presented, suggesting that the recent reforms are the end of the journey not a first step.

4.      The dedication to centralized determination of prices is problematic. If maintained strictly, it would make the decentralized decision-making allotted to enterprises for investment, the hiring of resource inputs, etc. meaningless, and the problems of trying to run the economy from a few office towers in Havana would continue.

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New Essay by Pavel Vidal and Omar Everleny Perez on Fiscal Adjustment, Structural Change and Self-Employment

An essay entitled “Entre el ajuste fiscal y los cambios estructurales: se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba”
by Pavel Vidal Alejandro y Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva of the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana has just been published in the Digital Supplement of Espacio Laical,   the CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA, Suplemento Digital No.112 / Octubre 2010.

Here is the web address for the article:

( “Entre el ajuste fiscal y los cambios estructurales: se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba” . )

The web address for Espacio Laical is

Espacio Laical: http://espaciolaical.org. (Then if necessary go to the October 2010 edition first page.)

This essay is well worth reading, outlining the general economic situation in Cuba provoking the September 2010 liberalization of the restrictions on self-employment, summarize the regulatory changes, and present a number of comments on the policy changes, summarized below in Spanish:

1. Una gran parte de la población y especialistas coincide que la lista publicada en Granma de 178 actividades es aún demasiado precaria
y reducida para poder asimilar el medio millón de desempleados estatales. Son necesarias nuevas categorías y agilizar la creación de
las cooperativas no agrícolas.

2. Las categorías son demasiado específicas y ello frena la iniciativa individual. Sería preferible una lista de categorías generales que le
dieran espacio a los cuentapropistas y microempresarios para proponer y perfilar una oferta de bienes y servicios diversa. Esta tiene queser lo suficientemente flexible como para poder adecuarse a una demanda cambiante en el tiempo y heterogénea en lo local, y que es indescifrable para cualquiera que se lo proponga centralmente.

3. Las actividades permitidas son poco intensivas en conocimiento y no permiten aprovechar la inversión en educación que ha hecho el
país por décadas. Muchos de los desempleados estatales serán graduados universitarios que necesitarán una opción acorde con su

4. Se permite el crédito bancario, pero el sistema financiero tiene problemas de liquidez, y habría que ver cuánto del ahorro todavía está comprometido en los créditos que se dieron para la sustitución de equipos electrodomésticos dentro de la llamada Revolución
Energética. Como alternativa, se requiere agilizar y promover la colaboración internacional en el tema del microcrédito.

5. No se va a crear un mercado mayorista de insumos para las PYME´s. Hoy los mercados de insumos para las empresas estatales sufren de desabastecimiento como consecuencia de los problemas económicos y financieros del país. Por tanto, es muy difícil pensar por ahora en un apoyo estatal en este aspecto. Pero si se promueve el microcrédito con colaboración internacional, ello significaría una entrada de divisas al país que posibilitarían abrir la importación para los cuentapropistas, microempresarios y cooperativistas. En Cuba operan suficientes proveedores extranjeros que podrían abastecer un mercado de insumos para las PYME´s. Los mismos mercados mayoristas que hoy existen para las empresas estatales podrían darle entrada a las PYME´s. La doble moneda no es un problema para las PYME´s pues tiene abierta la convertibilidad del peso cubano y el peso convertible en las casas de cambio (CADECA).

6. La medida considera pocos incentivos a la legalidad. Algunas actividades, por su naturaleza, son más visibles y tendrán por obligación ue legalizarse y pagar impuestos. Pero hay otras que tienen como único incentivo la incorporación a la Seguridad Social.
Evidentemente, para los que ya reciben una jubilación, este no tiene ningún efecto. El microcrédito y el mercado de insumos, precisamente serían incentivos a la legalidad, pues se necesitaría estar registrado y pagar impuestos para acceder a ellos. Las PYME´s internacionalmente son apoyadas tributaria e  institucionalmente. La asesoría legal, económica, informativa y otras ayudas promoverían la legalidad y el desarrollo de las mismas.

7. Falta acompañar estos cambios con leyes que creen confianza para la inversión de esfuerzos y dinero en emprendimientos privados, y que garanticen, tanto al Estado como a los ciudadanos, el cumplimiento de derechos y deberes.

8. El estancamiento económico que vive el país es otro de los obstáculos para la creación de nuevas PYME´s. La oferta de bienes y servicios de los cuentapropistas, las microempresas y las cooperativas necesita de una demanda. Con estancamiento económico y aumento del desempleo es muy difícil pensar en una demanda suficiente desde las familias o desde las empresas estatales. Una gran parte de la demanda ya hoy está cubierta con una oferta desde la ilegalidad

Omar Everleny Perez and Pavel Vidal

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State Sector Lay-offs then Private Sector Job Creation: Has Raul Got the Cart before the Horse?

On Monday September 13 2010, the Cuban Labour Federation announced a new government policy on lay-offs in the state sector and expansion of self-employment and cooperative sector employment.( Pronunciamiento de la Central de Trabajadores de Cuba.) As is now well known, the policy calls for the lay-off of some 500.000 workers, about 10% of Cuba’s entire labor force and their re-incorporation into self-employment activities mainly, but also some co-operative activities. This of course marks a major strategic re-orientation of Cuba’s economic structure. The economy already was a “mixed economy” though with a small self-employment sector outside of agriculture, but it will now shift further towards a “marketization.” Raul basically is asking the small and harassed self-employment to come to the rescue of the Cuban economy by generating productive employment because the state sector ostemsibly has failed to do so. Many questions can be and have been raised by outside observers as to how this new approach will be implemented. A couple of questions are noted here. I. Has Raul Got it “Bass Ackwards”? 1.      Prior to any state sector lay-offs, would it not be wise to redesign the framework within which small enterprise operates so that it will be in a position to expand and absorb the laid-off state sector workers? Firing state sector workers and hoping that they somehow will be reabsorbed somewhere sounds distinctly un-socialist. 2.      If workers’ efforts and productivity are low, is this due mainly to sloth and laziness? Or is it instead due to a dysfunctional incentive structure in which workers are paid very little in Moneda Nacional, but somehow have to acquire  “Convertible Pesos” to survive with purchase in the Hard Currency (formerly dollar) stores? As the old saying goes:  “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Maintenance Workers at the Australia Sugar Mill, November 1994; Certainly working hard, but probably laid off in 2002 when the Mill was converted to a museum;  visited with Nick Rowe who “blogs”  at “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” and Larry Willmore, who “blogs” at “Thought du Jour” (Photo by A. Ritter) 3.      Is low productivity also due to mismanagement that wastes human effort? Is inefficiency also the result of low capacity utilization in enterprises  for example, in state stores that have little to sell, in offices with little to do, or in industrial enterprises idled through poor maintenance, insufficient imported inputs, breakdowns etc.? (Note the diagram below that illustrates the reduction in non-sugar industrial output since 1989. Despite allegations of record economic growth in the late 2000s, industrial output remains around half of its 1989 level.) II.   Who will be laid off and how will it be done? 1.      Will those who are laid off be good candidates for creating their own self-employment small businesses? 2.      Will those laid-off be offered “severance packages” or “buy-outs” that would provide them with an amount of capital to begin their own small businesses? 3.      Will older workers be offered “early retirement packages” that would assist them in starting a small business or co-operative? 4.      Will workers be free to self-select – with a “severance package” – so that they can start a small business? 5.      Will those who are laid off be the truly redundant and unproductive workers, in which case they may not have the aptitude to start their own small business? 6.      If laid-off workers can self-select, will the state sector enterprises or bureaucracies then lose their more capable and industrious workers? 7.      How generous will the unemployment benefits be and how long will they last while workers look for new jobs or attempt their own job-creation? In any case, the process of laying people off will be most difficult. The anxieties generated among the population must be intense and the Workers Assemblies now discussing these issues must be acrimonious. III.   Creating an “Enabling Environment” for Micro, Small and Cooperative Enterprise Since 1995, public policy has been aimed at containing small enterprise – after liberalizing it in 1993 – by licensing limitations, tight and vexatious regulations, onerous taxation, harassment by inspectors and negative political and media stigmatization. This has not been an easy environment for the functioning of self-employed to operate. Major changes will be necessary if the small enterprise sector is to expand in order to be able to absorb the lion’s share of the displaced state workers. How can this be done? A previous Blog outlined some possible measures: Raul Castro and Policy towards Self-Employment: Promising Apertura or False Start? Here are some of the key policies that would be necessary to generate a flowering of the micro, small, and cooperative enterprise sector. Additional policies regarding advertising and vending 1. Liberalize Licensing: Let anyone and everyone open a small enterprise ( Result: competition will push prices downwards and quality upwards); 2. Permit All Types of Self-Employment, including Professional and High-Tech while maintaining state medicine and health systems intact; 3. Raise the limit on employees to 5, 10 or 20; 4. Provide legal sources for the purchase of Inputs; 5. Permit access to imported inputs (outside TRDs and at the exchange rater available for the state sector); 6. Eliminate silly and vexations restrictions; 7. Make microenterprise taxation simpler and fairer; 8. Establish micro-credit institutions; 9. Establish a “Ministry for the Promotion of Small Enterprise.” Photographer, at the Capitolio circa 1996, (Photo by A, Ritter)

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Employment, Labour, Distributional and Equity Issues

James K. Galbraith, Laura Spagnolo and Daniel Munevar, “Pay Inequality in Cuba: the Special Period and After,” ECINEQ WP 2006 – 52, The University of Texas Inequality Project, August 2006

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