Tag Archives: Private Sector

Welcome to Queueba: WITH SHOP SHELVES BARE, CUBA MULLS ECONOMIC REFORMS

The government hints it may scrap its dotty dual-currency system

The Economist, Oct 10th 2020

Original Article: Cuba Mulls Economic Reforms

LONG QUEUES and empty shelves are old news in Cuba. Recently, though, the queues have become longer and the shelves emptier. Food is scarcer than it has been since the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, which supported the island’s communist regime. Now shoppers queue twice: once for a number that gives them a time slot (often on the next day). They line up again to enter the store.

Once inside, they may find little worth buying. Basic goods are rationed (for sardines, the limit is four tins per customer). Shops use Portero (Doorman), an app created by the government, to scan customers’ identity cards. This ensures that they do not shop in one outlet too often. Eileen Sosin recently tried but failed to buy shampoo and hot dogs at a grocery store near her home in Havana. She was told that she could not return for a week.

Queues at grocery stores are short compared with those outside banks. They are a sign that, under pressure from food shortages and the pandemic, the government is moving closer towards enacting a reform that it has been contemplating for nearly two decades: the abolition of one of its two currencies. In July state media began telling Cubans that change was imminent. Cubans are eager to convert CUC, a convertible currency pegged to the American dollar, into pesos, which are expected to be the surviving currency. If they do not make the switch now, Cubans fear, they will get far fewer than 24 pesos per CUC, the official exchange rate for households and the self employed.

Cuba introduced the CUC in 1994, when it was reeling from the abrupt end of Soviet subsidies. The government hoped that it would curb a flight into dollars from pesos, whose worth plunged as prices rose.

The system created distortions that have become deeply entrenched. The two currencies are linked by a bewildering variety of exchange rates. Importers of essential goods, which are all state-owned, benefit from a rate of one peso per CUC. That lets them mask their own inefficiencies and obtain scarce dollars on favourable terms. This keeps imports cheap, when they are available at all. But it also discourages the production of domestic alternatives. Foreign-owned earners of hard currency, such as hotels, do not profit from the artificial gap between revenues and costs. That is because instead of paying workers directly they must give the money to a state employment agency, which in turn pays the employees one peso for every CUC (or dollar). The rule is, in effect, a massive tax on labour and on exports.

The dual-currency regime is an obstacle to local production of food, which already faces many. Farmers must sell the bulk of their output to the Acopio (purchasing agency) at prices set by the state. It gives them seeds, fertiliser and tools, but generally not enough to produce as much as their land will yield.

A farmer from Matanzas, east of Havana, recently complained on social media that the Acopio, which required him to provide 15,000lbs (6,800kg) of pineapples, neither transported them all the way to its processing facility nor paid him. Instead, they were left to rot. When the Acopio does manage to provide lorries, it often fails to deliver boxes in which to pack farmers’ produce. They can sell their surplus to the market, but it is rarely enough to provide a decent income. No wonder Cuba imports two-thirds of its food.

It is becoming more urgent to free the economy from such burdens. Although Cuba has done a good job of controlling covid-19, the pandemic has crushed tourism, a vital source of foreign exchange. The Trump administration, which imposes sanctions on Cuba in the hope that they will force the Communist Party out of power (and, perhaps more important, that they will please Cuban-American voters in Florida), recently tightened them. In September the State Department published a “Cuba prohibited accommodations list”, which blacklists 433 hotels controlled by the regime or “well-connected insiders”. Venezuela, Cuba’s ally, has cut back shipments of subsidised oil. The economy is expected to shrink by around 8% this year.

As it often does when times are tough, Cuba is improvising. To hoover up dollars from its citizens, since last year the government has opened many more convertible-currency shops. As these usually have the best selection of goods, demand for dollars has rocketed. Banks have none left. Cubans either get them from remittances, sent by relatives abroad, or on the black market, where the price can be double the official rate of one per CUC.

The government is now sending signals that it wants to scrap the economy-warping dual-currency regime. “We have to learn to live with fewer imports and more exports, promoting national production,” said the president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in July.

But it has signalled before that such a reform was imminent only to decide against it. That is because the change, when it comes, will be painful. Importers with artificial profits may lay off workers en masse. If they have to pay more for their dollars, imports will become more expensive, sparking a rise in inflation. Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Cali, Colombia, expects the value of Cubans’ savings to drop by 40%. The government has said that it will raise salaries and pensions after a currency reform, but it has little cash to spare. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be close to 10% of GDP. That could rise when the government is forced to recognise costs now hidden by the twin-currency system.

The government may yet wait until it has built up bigger reserves of foreign exchange to help it cushion the shock. It may hope that Joe Biden will win the White House and reverse some of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. That would boost foreign earnings.

The economic crisis makes other reforms more necessary. Under Raúl Castro, who stepped down as president in 2018 (but still heads the Communist Party), a vibrant private sector started up. It has gained more freedoms, but at a slow pace.

The government has recently promised faster action. It said it would replace lists of the activities open to cuentapropistas, as Cuba’s entrepreneurs are called, with negative lists, which specify in which sectors they cannot operate. The new rules have yet to be published. The government recently let cuentapropistas import supplies through state agencies, but prices are prohibitive. In July it opened a wholesale market, where payment is in hard currencies. Firms that use it no longer have to buy from the same bare shops as ordinary citizens.

Cuentapropistas have been lobbying since 2017 for the right to incorporate, which would enable them to sign contracts and deal normally with banks, and to import inputs directly rather than through state agencies. The government has yet to allow this. Until it frees up enterprise, Cubans will go on forming long queues outside shops with empty shelves. ■

 

Street Vendor , 2015

State Food Distributer, 2015

State Vendor, ANAP (Asociacion Nacional de Agricultores Pequenos)

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EMPRENDIMIENTO EN CUBA: ¿ENFOCADO AL DESARROLLO ECONÓMICO?

ECON. Y DESARROLLO vol.164 no.2 La Habana Jul.-dic. 2020  Epub 19-Jul-2020

Ileana Díaz Fernández1  * 

http://orcid.org/0000-0002-6310-2982

1Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana (CEEC), Universidad de La Habana, Cuba.

RESUMEN

El artículo presenta el análisis de la evolución del trabajo por cuenta propia en Cuba desde 1976 hasta la actualidad. Describe las características esenciales de cada etapa con sus avances y retrocesos. Asimismo, se inserta en el debate sobre el papel otorgado al trabajo por cuenta propia en el desarrollo económico del país, a partir del estudio de las regulaciones y los resultados de investigaciones de campo. Por último, se detiene en las normativas jurídicas puestas en vigor en diciembre de 2018 y las insuficiencias de las mismas.

Palabras clave: desarrollo económico; emprendimiento; políticas públicas; trabajo por cuenta propia

INTRODUCCIÓN

En el mundo actual es imposible hablar de desarrollo sin mencionar la innovación y el emprendimiento. Si bien estas dos categorías no significan lo mismo y de alguna manera el emprendimiento es, a nivel de ciencia, el hermano menor de la innovación, no deja de ser cierto que se relacionan, sobre todo cuando se habla de emprendimientos dinámicos.

El estudio del emprendimiento y su debate científico en la literatura es bastante reciente, de finales del siglo pasado e inicios de este. La discusión sobre el tema pasó del análisis del espíritu emprendedor individual al de proceso, que incluye el contexto. Así, emprender es convertir una oportunidad en un negocio, en un entorno, momento y lugar determinado. No hay recetas, solo enfoques conceptuales generales y mucha experiencia práctica.

Cuba, un país que busca el desarrollo, ha elegido diversas vías para ello -en general malogradas- sin enfatizar con la fuerza necesaria en la innovación y mucho menos en el emprendimiento, visto vinculado al enriquecimiento individual y no en su amplio sentido que incluye el intraemprendimiento en empresas existentes. La apertura al trabajo por cuenta propia muestra el espíritu emprendedor de parte de la población, que bien pudiera aprovecharse dentro de las empresas estatales.

El presente trabajo tiene la intención de analizar la evolución del llamado «trabajo por cuenta propia» desde su resurgimiento en los años setenta hasta la actualidad y de interpretar, a partir de la legislación, el papel que se le ha otorgado a este tipo de trabajo en la economía cubana. Para este empeño se estudió la legislación desde 1976 hasta la actualidad, los resultados de investigaciones de campo actuales y sus antecedentes y la estadística disponible.

Continuacion:  EMPRENDIMIENTO EN CUBA

CONCLUSIONES

Una mirada contextualizada de las regulaciones sobre el trabajo por cuenta propia nos indica que, de todas las etapas analizadas, la de los años setenta no direcciona el trabajo por cuenta propia por derroteros coyunturales ni por exceso de población en edad laboral ni por la economía sumergida, sino como parte del sistema de dirección de la economía, como complemento necesario para un desarrollo ulterior. Esto no está expresamente declarado ni en la plataforma programática ni en las tesis y resoluciones del Primer Congreso del PCC; no obstante, el hecho de establecer este tipo de trabajo desde el experimento del Poder Popular en Matanzas pudiera indicar la intención de concebirlo como alguna de las vías necesarias para hacer crecer la economía.

Al analizar la etapa de los noventa el trabajo por cuenta propia es la típica medida para paliar la crisis, por vez primera se concibe como forma de empleo ante el cierre parcial o total de empresas estatales. Ciertamente esta medida junto a otras conocidas como la apertura a la inversión extranjera, el desarrollo del turismo, la descentralización del comercio exterior y la despenalización del dólar, permitieron que creciera la economía. Sin embargo, justo a partir de esos crecimientos comienza a endurecerse la legislación y el descenso en el trabajo por cuenta propia. En todos esos años el enfoque de este tipo de trabajo es coyuntural, para solucionar problemas derivados de la crisis, por lo que no se toman acciones legislativas e institucionales para permitir el su desenvolvimiento a largo plazo.

En la segunda década de los 2000 el trabajo por cuenta propia parece llegar para quedarse y derivar en las pequeñas y medianas empresas privadas defendidas tanto en la conceptualización como la constitución. Pero la ausencia de coherencia, estabilidad y transparencia en la política hacia este tipo de trabajo en esos años y especialmente en las últimas normativas jurídicas de 2018, expresan una intencionalidad ajena a concebirlo como emprendimiento dinámico, que pueda ser el germen de las empresas privadas que se desempeñen en vínculo con las empresas estatales.

La historia del trabajo por cuenta propia muestra que nunca se ha concebido como un actor más con todos sus derechos y deberes como cualquier otra empresa y que, por tanto, no tiene un destacado papel en el crecimiento económico del país. Si importante es hoy que el trabajo por cuenta propia haya creado medio millón de puestos de trabajo, aporte al presupuesto y participe del PIB, mucho más importante sería crearle las condiciones para su sano desarrollo, que propiciaría densidad al tejido empresarial y generaría un efecto multiplicador del cual se beneficiaría, ante todo, el pueblo. La sostenibilidad de este tipo de negocio es un reto, sobre todo en países en desarrollo por no existir la institucionalidad necesaria que incentive el desenvolvimiento hacia negocios dinámicos y de crecimiento.

 

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20 RECOMENDACIONES PARA DESTRABAR AL SECTOR PRIVADO EN CUBA

Una lista elaborada con el concurso de muchos emprendedores cubanos para sugerir al gobierno cubano pasos concretos que fortalezcan el trabajo por cuenta propia y la pequeña empresa.

Por Oniel Díaz,

en Cuba, enero 22, 2020

Respondiendo a los pronunciamientos del Presidente de la República aquí van 20 recomendaciones para destrabar todo lo que entorpece el desempeño del sector privado en Cuba.

  1. Crear de una comisión integrada por el gobierno, académicos y trabajadores por cuenta propia para revisar las regulaciones vigentes publicadas en la Gaceta Oficial Nº 85 Ordinaria del 6 de noviembre de 2019. Identificar los problemas que lastran el aporte del sector a la economía nacional y elaborar una propuesta de medidas que los solucionen.
  2. Proceder a elaborar, con la participación de cuentapropistas, cooperativistas, empresarios estatales, académicos, juristas y funcionarios, las normas jurídicas que reconocerán las pequeñas y medianas empresas (PYMES) y les definirán deberes y derechos en la economía nacional. 
  3. Retomar la constitución de Cooperativas No Agropecuarias (CNA), en especial, en actividades que puedan ser propuestas por los ciudadanos y no solamente en las que son de interés de las autoridades. Someter a revisión las normas aprobadas para perfeccionar el sistema de gestión de las CNA publicadas en la Gaceta Oficial Ordinaria Nº 63 del 2019.
  4. Eliminar el listado de actividades autorizadas para ejercer el trabajo por cuenta propia y establecer un listado de actividades prohibidas. 
  5. Autorizar la prestación de servicios profesionales de forma individual como cuentapropistas y agrupados en CNA o PYMES en actividades como arquitectura, diseño de interiores, diseño gráfico, contabilidad, abogacía, consultorías, comunicación, publicidad, economía, desarrollador de software, marketing, producción audiovisual, entre otras.
  6. Fomentar y apoyar especialmente los emprendimientos asociados al turismo internacional, la agricultura, el desarrollo de software y otras actividades que puedan tener un impacto en las exportaciones o la sustitución de importaciones. 
  7. Reconocer a los TCP y a las PYMES como sujetos de la ley vigente para la inversión extranjera. Autorizar la participación legal, segura y ordenada de capital foráneo y de los cubanos residentes en el extranjero en los negocios privados. 
  8. Crear mecanismos de abastecimiento mayorista los cuales pueden ser gestionados por empresas estatales, por empresas extranjeras o por entidades mixtas. 
  9. Facilitar los créditos bancarios mediante los bancos comerciales estatales y también dando acceso a plataformas de microcréditos de instituciones y empresas extranjeras. 
  10. Ofertar la contratación de servicios de telecomunicación (telefonía fija, móvil e Internet) especialmente diseñados para cuentapropistas y las PYMES que ofrezcan precios ventajosos y un paquete de servicios a la medida de sus necesidades. 
  11. Facultar a los TCP para importar con carácter comercial, ya sea directamente o a través de empresas estatales autorizadas para tales efectos, materias primas, servicios, tecnología y equipamientos. 
  12. Facultar a los TCP que estén interesados o dispongan de las condiciones adecuadas para exportar sus productos y servicios, ya sea de manera directa o a través de empresas estatales autorizadas para tales efectos. 
  13. Modificar la política fiscal que se le aplica al TCP de manera tal que sea más flexible y ajustada a la realidad y particularidades de los tipos de negocios existentes. Entre otras cuestiones, se deberá permitir la deducción del 100% de los gastos obtenidos, gravar las utilidades en lugar del ingreso total y cambiar establecer una escala progresiva más justa y razonable para la determinación de los impuestos a pagar. 
  14. Eliminar el impuesto sobre uso de la fuerza de trabajo de manera tal que este impuesto no constituya un desestimulo a la formalización de los empleos en el sector y al pago disciplinado de los impuestos. 
  15. Crear una institución estatal que centralice los recursos y esfuerzos gubernamentales para fomentar, regular y apoyar el crecimiento e incorporación ordenada del sector privado a la economía nacional. 
  16. Autorizar la constitución de una asociación de empresarios privados y cuentapropistas que les permita canalizar sus intereses y dialogar con el gobierno de forma ordenada y ser tenidos en cuenta en los procesos de toma de decisiones en lo que a ellos respecta. 
  17. Permitir que los TCP y las PYMES por crear se afilien a la Cámara de Comercio de la República de Cuba, de manera tal que tengan acceso a los beneficios que ello implica y puedan participar en las ferias, eventos, misiones comerciales y delegaciones que ella organiza. 
  18. Establecer mecanismos de licitación transparentes, auditables y confiables en los que los TCP y las PYMES puedan concursar para prestar sus servicios a entidades e instituciones públicas. Transparentar y licitar de manera pública la entrega de locales estatales a TCP y CNA para el desarrollo de sus actividades. 
  19. Eliminar el papel intermediario que juegan algunas instituciones estatales en el caso de artistas, creadores, diseñadores y comunicadores. No constituir nuevas entidades de este tipo para otras actividades que en el futuro de vayan aprobando. A todos, una vez autorizados para realizar sus actividades de manera legal, se les permitirá contratar sus servicios directamente, y sin mediación de terceros, con empresas estatales, extranjeras y con personas naturales, hechos por los que solamente deberán pagar los impuestos correspondientes. 
  20. Crear un mecanismo para denunciar a los funcionarios corruptos que interpretan y aplican las regulaciones vigentes para el ejercicio del TCP con el objetivo de obtener sobornos o coimas. 

*Este texto fue publicado originalmente en la cuenta de Facebook del autor.

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The Cuban Economy: Private, Cooperative and Underground

Attached is a Power Point Presentation delivered at Kennesaw State University on October 24, 2019.  Kennesaw Presentation on Cuban Economy, October 24, 2019

 

 

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THE REVENGE OF THE JEALOUS BUREAUCRAT”: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF CUBA’S NEW RULES FOR CUENTA-PROPISTAS

ASCE Conference Proceedings 2018

Ted A. Henken 

Original Article: Cuba’s New Rules for Cuenta-propistas

The quantitative expansion of self-employment from150,000 to nearly 600,000 licensed cuenta-propistas between 2010 and 2018 during the presidency of Raúl Castro can be celebrated given its expansion of economic freedom, the provision of job opportunities, greater productivity and efficiency, and a markedly higher quality of goods and services for those who can afford them. However, it is also curious that the Cuban government has embraced the micro-enterprise sector historically only during times of economic crisis when it could no longer provide enough jobs, goods, or services for the people (Mesa-Lago and Pérez-López 2013).

Indeed, this is one of the mantras most commonly repeated in the official press when justifying the downsizing of the state sector and the expansion of cuenta-propismo (i.e., self-employment or literally “on-your-ownism”): The state must “lighten its load” so it can focus on the fundamental sectors of the economy.

Given such a context, Cuban workers can be forgiven for concluding that Castro’s much trumpeted economic “updating,” constant calls for greater productivity and efficiency, and sharp criticisms of Cuba’s “inflated state payrolls, bulky social spending, undue gratuities, and excessive subsidies” (2010) are simply fancy words for the state’s abandonment of its  historic commitment to them under the Revolution.

Indeed, entrepreneurship has an elastic history in revolutionary Cuba and has undergone oscillating phases of relevance, vigilance, legality, and illegitimacy.  In that context, Cuba’s successful cuenta-propistas (the island term that lumps individual freelancers, together with private business owners and their employees, without giving formal, legal recognition to Cuba’s emergent small- and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs) have often found themselves in the frustrating position of being counted on to supplement the moribund state enterprise sector by providing private employment, high quality goods and services, and economic productivity and efficiency, while simultaneously doing without any legal personality or legal standing (personalidad jurídica) as true business enterprises.

This restriction prevents them from opening bank accounts, signing contracts, importing needed inputs, or exporting their goods or services abroad. That is, while Cuba’s cuenta-propistas may be individually licensed to operate as freelancers (i.e.,personas naturales), “Cuban law does not recognize1. In some cases, the expansion of the private sector has also driven down prices. However, because of extensive subsidies and price controls in the state sector, combined with chronic material scarcity and a dual currency system where a good portion of the private sector operates in hard “convertible” currency, prices for most goods and services available in Cuba’s private sector are very high relative to the state sector.

 Continue reading.

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SIXTY YEARS AFTER THE REVOLUTION, IS A ‘NEW CUBA’ EMERGING?

World Politics Review, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019

William M. LeoGrande |

Is the Cuban Revolution reinventing itself at age 60? That was my unmistakable impression during a visit to Cuba last month. Change is in the air as the island celebrates the anniversary of the 1959 revolution.

Last year, Raul Castro stepped down as president in favor of his protégé, 58-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who promised a “new Cuba” — a government more open and responsive to people’s needs. In the ensuing months, three constituencies — the churches, the private sector and the arts community — took advantage of that promise to launch organized campaigns pushing back against government policies they opposed. And in each case, the government backed off.

Continue reading: LeoGrande, Is a New Cuba Emerging

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LETTER FROM HAVANA: THE SUDDEN CIVIL SOCIETY AWAKENING

December 17, 2018

Richard Feinberg, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution.
Original Article: Brookings Institution,  Letter from Havana

As the Castro brothers fade into history, green shoots of civil society are visibly emerging in Cuba. Make no mistake: The Cuban Communist Party retains its authoritarian hegemony. Nevertheless, and largely unnoticed in the U.S. media, various interest groups are flexing their youthful muscles—and with some remarkable albeit very partial policy successes.

These unanticipated stirrings of civil society present a serious challenge to the cautious new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who assumed office this April. In recent weeks, three significant interest groups have pushed back against newly restrictive government regulations issued in the usual way: by government fiat, with few if any opportunities for public input. The new regulations aim to reduce profit margins of independent entrepreneurs, driving some out of business altogether, and to impose new censorship rules on cultural expression.

In response to these threats, the emerging private sector—some 600,000 employers and workers, over 10 percent of the workforce by official count—pressed the authorities to retract proposed limitations on individual capital accumulation. To everyone’s great surprise, the authorities suddenly offered significant concessions. Entrepreneurs will be able to own more than one business, the government agreed, and restaurant and bar owners will no longer face occupancy ceilings of 50 customers each.

Nevertheless, other restrictive anti-business clauses remain on the books. Apprehensive entrepreneurs are waiting to see whether government bureaucrats and inspectors apply their new discretionary powers with a light or heavy hand.

For their part, Cuba’s large army of cultural workers, in music, film, theater, and the visual arts, vigorously pushed back against draft regulations requiring prior approval of public performances and threatening censorship of “unpatriotic” content. At the last minute, again the government stepped back, agreeing to consult with representatives of the arts community prior to implementation.

In yet another challenge to government authority, Havana taxi owners and drivers staged an informal strike against a complex set of new rules. The government is seeking to impose burdensome reporting of all revenues and expenditures, higher effective taxes, more rigorous safety requirements for certain vehicles, and on some routes a lower ceiling on taxi fares. In protest and despair, many taxi drivers have turned in their licenses. Moreover, public buses are running less frequently, apparently due to scarcities of gasoline and spare parts. The result: a daily transportation headache for Havana’s work force.

The government has promised to import more buses. Meanwhile, the authorities seem incapable of foreseeing the practical outcomes on daily life of bureaucratic innovations. Intent upon raising tax revenues and imposing order over Havana’s unruly transportation grid, the authorities failed to anticipate the market-driven reactions of the regulated taxi owners and drivers.

In all three cases—the disgruntled business owners, the alarmed artistic community, and the frustrated taxi drivers—the civil protests took similar forms. Brave citizens signed carefully crafted letters, respectful but firm, addressed to ministers and President Díaz-Canel. (Some signatories reported subsequent government harassment, including menacing phone calls.) Spreading social media (on-island and offshore) buzzed with sharp criticisms of government policies. In a few notable cases, intrepid protesters gathered in public spaces, provoking brief police arrests. One prominent state TV program, “Mesa Redonda” (Roundtable), gave voice to some of the popular complaints, politely challenging official guests.

To access social media, most Cubans have had to locate scattered Wi-Fi hotspots. But this month the government has enabled 3G technology throughout the island. This belated entrance into the world of modern telephony may be another game changer. Cuban citizens who sport cell phones will now be empowered to upload immediately content to Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

These struggles over economic and cultural freedoms between the authorities and civil society come in the midst of a major re-write of the nation’s constitution. The Communist Party submitted a draft document for public comment in innumerable meetings convened throughout the island. Initial skepticism has given way to anticipation that the authorities may prove responsive to citizen suggestions and significantly amend the final draft, even as one-party rule and socialist planning will persist. A popular referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for late February.

Overall, the heated conversations over constitutional reform and the government’s responsiveness to civil society voices, however belated and partial, have raised hopes: Maybe post-Castro Cuba will gradually evolve toward a more responsive governance. Emboldened by cracks in government stone-walling, Cubans may seek to widen the space for civil society expression.

At the same time, while many welcome the young administration’s relative responsiveness to independent voices, some party stalwarts and ordinary Cubans accustomed to authoritarian rulers see only weakness and improvisation. Backsliding is certainly a feasible scenario. Already some anti-government skeptics see only one half-step forward, two steps backward.

Nevertheless, some Cubans harbor this aspiration: That President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who so far has championed continuity over change, will eventually gain the authority and confidence to tackle the other elephant in the room—the long-stagnant economy. For only comprehensive economic reforms could lift the economy from its deepening recession, the root cause of the government’s anxieties and the popular discontent.

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CUBA: PRIVATE, OWNED. New rules make it even harder to do business in Cuba.

The Economist, December 8, 2018

Editor’s note (December 6th, 2018):

Late on the evening of December 5th, after this piece had been edited and fact-checked but before it went to press, Margarita González Fernández, Cuba’s Minister for Work and Social Security, announced last-minute changes to new regulations governing Cuba’s private sector. Happily, the modifications address some of the more unpopular aspects of the new regulations, which were first announced in July. Of greatest significance is the change that will allow Cuban cuentapropistas, or the self-employed, to keep multiple work licences, rather than having to surrender all but one, as previously announced. (Bookshops with attached cafés will no longer be breaking the law.) The percentage of earnings that cuentapropistas must deposit into designated bank accounts has been lowered from 80% to 65% and the rule to prohibit restaurants from seating more than 50 patrons at a time has been dropped. The last-minute modifications are a sign that while the government is far from enabling the private sector to flourish, it is concerned with creating too much discontent and is, if ever so slightly, considering public opinion when making its decisions.

**************************************

EIGHT YEARS ago Cuba’s government laid off a tenth of the country’s workforce—some half a million people—and encouraged them to start their own businesses. They did, with gusto. Nearly 600,000 Cubans have become cuentapropistas, or self-employed, opening restaurants, boutiques, repair shops, beauty parlours, bakeries and bars. They have renovated and rented out spare bedrooms in their homes, turned family cars into taxis and poured their savings into design studios, creating an additional 400,000 jobs and a much-needed, if still tiny, tax base. Many now earn much more. The average state wage is 848 Cuban pesos ($33) a month; a taxi driver with a decent ride can make more than ten times that. But new regulations, which run to 129 pages and take effect on December 7th, look likely to damage the country’s nascent private sector. They come at a particularly bad time for Cuba’s economy, which is already suffering from stagnant exports, broke allies and disappointing tourist numbers.

The most devastating new rule is one that makes it illegal for individuals to hold more than one licence to engage in private business. Cuba issues licences in only 123 categories—and if a licence for a job does not exist, neither does that job, at least officially. There is little logic to the system. A single licence does the trick for any computer-related business, allowing a cuentapropista to provide everything from software to online marketing services. Separate licences for massages, manicures and braiding have been consolidated into one, to the delight of salon owners. But other categories are narrower: selling hardbacks and brewing coffee require two separate licences, effectively making bookshops with cafés illegal. Restaurants that double up as bars face the same fate.

Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security say that the new regulations are meant to discourage black-market trading and tax evasion, while also reducing inequality. The expansion of private businesses over the past few years has indeed contributed to these problems. But the government’s proposed solutions will either have no real effect—business-owners will acquire licences in the names of friends or family—or exacerbate them.

Take wholesale markets. There is only one on the island. Most businesses must rely on state-run shops, which offer a limited range of goods, or acquire products on the black market. The government’s answer is to require cuentapropistas to open bank accounts so that it can track where they spend their money. Drivers of almendrones—ride-shares that substitute for a functioning public transport system in Havana—will be given magnetic cards with which they are expected to buy a set quantity of “subsidised” petrol every month. But since subsidised fuel costs more than the black-market stuff, many drivers are simply handing in their licences.

Cubans who rent out rooms or run other small businesses, such as restaurants or repair shops, must deposit 80% of their income in a designated bank account. They are understandably loth to do so in a cash-based economy where simple transactions at the bank can take hours. They can withdraw money from this account to cover business expenses and will be given a card that entitles them to small discounts when they buy items for business. But few stores accept cards.

The state has also found a novel way to tackle the concentration of wealth: restaurants are now limited to seating only 50 patrons at a time, ostensibly to keep owners from consuming too many resources. And under a new tax scheme, any cuentapropista who wants to hire more than 20 workers must pay onerous wages for each additional employee. The government is happy for people to start businesses, so long as they do not make too much money.

A few helpful new rules have snuck in among the enterprise-throttling ones. Employers will be required to have formal contracts with their workers. They face the suspension of their licence if they are found to be discriminating on the basis of race, sexuality or disability. And business-owners no longer need to close up shop if they fall sick or have a family emergency; they can appoint an interim manager and take some time off.

Yet the overall effect of the new regulations will be to slow the budding private economy. “Being a cuentapropista is the only opportunity we have at a better life without leaving the country,” says the owner of a modest craft shop in central Havana. Her monthly taxes will triple this week; the new rules impose higher taxes on certain businesses in central Havana. “If they take that away from us, what’s left?”

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IS CUBA’S VISION OF MARKET SOCIALISM SUSTAINABLE?

William M. LeoGrande

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Just three months after Miguel Diaz-Canel took over the presidency of Cuba from Raul Castro, his government has unveiled a new Council of Ministers—essentially, Cuba’s Cabinet—along with the draft of a new constitution and sweeping new regulations on the island’s emergent private sector. While the changes announced represent continuity with the basic reform program Raul Castro laid out during his tenure, they are nevertheless significant milestones along the road to a more market-oriented socialist system.

The discussion and approval of the draft constitution was the main event of last week’s National Assembly meeting. The revised charter will now be circulated for public debate, revised, reconsidered by the National Assembly, and then submitted to voters in a referendum early next year. The avowed reason for revamping the constitution is to align it with the economic reforms spelled out in 2011 and 2016 that constitute the blueprint for Cuba’s transition to market socialism. Cuba’s 1976 constitution, adopted at the height of its adherence to a Soviet model of central planning, reflected “historical circumstances, and social and economic conditions, which have changed with the passing of time,” as Raul Castro explained two years ago. …

Continue Reading: Is Cubas Vision of Market Socialism Sustainable_

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GACETA OFICIAL NO. 35 EXTRAORDINARIA, DE 10 DE JULIO DE 2018:

New Regulations for Cuba’s Non-Agricultural Private Enterprises as of July 10, 2018

Complete Document available here:

Gaceta-Oficial-Extraordinaria, 10 de Juliode 2018, _CYMFIL20180710_0001

 

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