Tag Archives: Small Enterprise

IN CUBA, TRUMP’S REVERSAL COULD HURT SMALL BUSINESSES

New York Times, JUNE 16, 2017,  Hannah Berkeley Cohen and Azam Ahmed

HAVANA — For Yasser González, a software developer who now makes his living as a bike tour guide in Havana, the onset of American tourism has been akin to a second Cuban revolution.  For a nine-hour tour marketed by Airbnb, Mr. González, 31, can pull down as much as $700, a princely sum in a country where the average state salary is just a little over $20 a month.  “The majority of my clients are American,” he said. “With Airbnb, I have become independent. I market and sell my own product that I have total control over.”

Such entrepreneurial dreams were precisely the sort of change that the United States government had in mind when President Barack Obama formally opened relations with the communist nation.

And now, many Cubans say, it is also the kind of economic transformation that could be threatened if President Trump follows through on his decision to reverse core elements of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policies, as Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump and White House officials outlined several major reversals to Mr. Obama’s policies, most notably scaling back the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba, which Mr. Obama had vastly expanded. Mr. Trump is also curtailing American transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban military, which largely runs the tourism industry.

Mr. Trump said the restrictions would pressure the Cuban authorities to embrace democracy and human rights by cutting off one of their most important lines of income — American dollars.  “For nearly six decades, the people of Cuba have suffered under Communist domination,” Mr. Trump said Friday in Miami after calling out the names of Cuban dissidents in the crowd. “The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime.”

But from the perspective of many Cubans, the biggest victim will not be the state. Instead, they say, the small but growing group of entrepreneurs who have ridden the wave of tourism to a prosperity unthinkable even a few years ago will feel the brunt of the restrictions.“They want to return to a failed policy,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat in Havana. “The failed policy is that by punishing Cuba and the Cuban people, they can produce a regime change in Cuba. That was the old way of thinking, and that didn’t work.”

Hundreds of thousands of American visitors have landed in Cuba over the past two years, bringing an enormous infusion of cash into an anemic economy that has long been starved of foreign currency.

Under the new policy described by the White House, Americans will be restricted from spending money at many military-controlled enterprises, like restaurants and hotels. That could represent a serious disruption for government revenue.

But Cuba’s budding private sector could take a serious hit as well. The surge of American visitors has been fed by a constellation of private restaurants, and many Americans have chosen to stay in a private residences through services like Airbnb as opposed to a state-run hotel.

In short, many Cubans believe that the Trump administration’s new policy will hurt those it is ostensibly meant to help: the average Cuban who has struggled under the weight of a battered economy for decades.

“It’s not just the people who have rental homes or who have a private business specifically targeted at an American audience like myself,” said Marla Recio, an event planner who created a business to serve the booming demand of Americans wanting to host celebrations on the island. “But there are also the people who have simple cafeterias or beauty salons whose audience is mainly Cuban, and those people are also stimulated by the flow of people who bring money to the island.”

Mr. Trump is taking aim at one of the principle changes made under Mr. Obama, who allowed Americans to organize trips to Cuba for cultural or educational purposes on their own, without special permission from the American government and without a licensed tour company.  Now, these trips, often called “people to people” exchanges, will again require a licensed tour group. That is expected to increase the costs of traveling to Cuba and significantly reduce the number of American visitors.

Policy analysts and Cuban citizens alike fear that many of the Americans traveling to Cuba — those most likely to dine at private establishments and stay in private housing — will simply stop going if they risk breaking the law by doing so.  “Trump claims to be a businessman, so he should understand that reversing the new policies would be bad business,” said Rafaelito Fiterre, 22, who is majoring in tourism at the University of Havana. “That should interest Trump.”

The issue is complicated, experts said, because it is difficult to target the military without affecting the Cuban people at large.   “While I understand and sympathize with the argument that when you travel and stay in a Cuban hotel you enrich the military, it is not a zero-sum game,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.  “Some dollars actually create political and economic space: Look at the paladares,” he said, referring to privately run restaurants, “or even the small pizza shops. They will be at risk too.”

Over all, 614,433 Americans visited in 2016, including 329,496 Cuban-Americans and 284,937 other Americans, according to Cuba’s government. While the travel restrictions are not expected to apply to Cuban-Americans, the restrictions on spending money at businesses controlled by the Cuban military are expected to apply to all Americans.

“Is the State Department going to print up a map that says where people can and can’t go?” asked John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The impact on American business could also be heavy. Airlines from the United States have scrambled to arrange daily flights. Starwood Hotels & Resorts signed on to renovate and oversee three hotels in Havana. Airbnb in particular has had a profound entry into the market, offering more than 22,000 homes across the country and hosting more than half a million visitors.

In Havana, the presence of Americans on the streets these days is palpable. Old Havana, especially, teems with visitors from the United States, many of whom say they are eager to see the nation before it changes and becomes more like any another Caribbean destination.  Older Americans, Brooklyn fashionistas and families willing to pay top dollar come to stay in one of the opulent, albeit shabby, old homes that line Havana’s boulevards. Even in the hot months of the otherwise off-season, some hotels began doubling rates, paving the way for a boom in private sector accommodations.

Even though ordinary Cubans may find themselves hurt by a change in American policy, they are, in some ways, the best equipped to adapt. Having endured various iterations of hardship over the years — including the so-called special period in the 1990s, when Soviet largess vanished and daily life became a scramble — struggle has become something of a normal state of being for many Cubans.

Alberto González, 38, a chemical engineer who is now a taxi driver, has seen benefits from the influx of Americans to his country. But he also understands the fickle nature of international politics and opportunity in Cuba.  “I used to drive a standardized route, mainly for Cubans, charging the legal rate of .50 per customer,” he said. “And now since there are more tourists, many of them American, I can drive direct routes and charge more. But I never relied on an inflated market and I never got used to that comfort. If the day after tomorrow the Americans suddenly vanish, we will be fine.”

“We Cubans are always fine,” he said.

FOUR SMALL ENTERPRISE AREAS THAT WILL BE HURT BY THE TRUMP CHANGE IN US POLICY: RESTAURANTS, BED AND BREAKFASTS, TRANSPORT, AND TOURISM

Casa Particular Symbol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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SUN, SAND AND SOCIALISM: WHAT THE TOURIST INDUSTRY REVEALS ABOUT CUBA

Stuck in the past: The revolutionary economy is neither efficient nor fun.

The Economist, April 1, 2017

Original Article: STUCK IN THE PAST

TOURISTS whizz along the Malecón, Havana’s grand seaside boulevard, in bright-red open-topped 1950s cars. Their selfie sticks wobble as they try to film themselves. They move fast, for there are no traffic jams. Cars are costly in Cuba ($50,000 for a low-range Chinese import) and most people are poor (a typical state employee makes $25 a month). So hardly anyone can afford wheels, except the tourists who hire them. And there are far fewer tourists than there ought to be.

Hotel at Vinales; apparently constructed with Mafia money as part of their major money-laundering 1950s tourism investment project. (Photo by Arch Ritter, 2015)

Few places are as naturally alluring as Cuba. The island is bathed in sunlight and lapped by warm blue waters. The people are friendly; the rum is light and crisp; the music is a delicious blend of African and Latin rhythms. And the biggest pool of free-spending holidaymakers in the western hemisphere is just a hop away. As Lucky Luciano, an American gangster, observed in 1946, “The water was just as pretty as the Bay of Naples, but it was only 90 miles from the United States.”

There is just one problem today: Cuba is a communist dictatorship in a time warp. For some, that lends it a rebellious allure. They talk of seeing old Havana before its charm is “spoiled” by visible signs of prosperity, such as Nike and Starbucks. But for other tourists, Cuba’s revolutionary economy is a drag. The big hotels, majority-owned by the state and often managed by companies controlled by the army, charge five-star prices for mediocre service. Showers are unreliable. Wi-Fi is atrocious. Lifts and rooms are ill-maintained.

Despite this, the number of visitors from the United States has jumped since Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties in 2015. So many airlines started flying to Havana that supply outstripped demand; this year some have cut back. Overall, arrivals have soared since the 1990s, when Fidel Castro, faced with the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union, decided to spruce up some beach resorts for foreigners (see chart). But Cuba still earns less than half as many tourist dollars as the Dominican Republic, a similar-sized but less famous tropical neighbour.

But investment in new rooms has been slow. Cuba is cash-strapped, and foreign hotel bosses are reluctant to risk big bucks because they have no idea whether Donald Trump will try to tighten the embargo, lift it or do nothing. On the one hand, he is a protectionist, so few Cubans are optimistic about his intentions. On the other, pre-revolutionary Havana was a playground where American casino moguls hobnobbed with celebrities in raunchy nightclubs. Making Cuba glitzy again might appeal to the former casino mogul in the White House.

The other embargo is the many ways in which the Cuban state shackles entrepreneurs. The owner of a small private hotel complains of an inspector who told him to cut his sign in half because it was too big. He can’t get good furniture and fixtures in Cuba, and is not allowed to import them because imports are a state monopoly. So he makes creative use of rules that allow families who say they are returning from abroad to repatriate their personal effects (he has a lot of expat friends). “We try to fly low under the radar, and make money without making noise,” he sighs.

Cubans with spare cash (typically those who have relatives in Miami or do business with tourists) are rushing to revamp rooms and rent them out. But no one is allowed to own more than two properties, so ambitious hoteliers register extra ones in the names of relatives. This works only if there is trust. “One of my places is in my sister-in-law’s name,” says a speculator. “I’m worried about that one.”

Taxes are confiscatory. Turnover above $2,000 a year is taxed at 50%, with only some expenses deductible. A beer sold at a 100% markup therefore yields no profit. Almost no one can afford to follow the letter of the law. For many entrepreneurs, “the effective tax burden is very much a function of the veracity of their reporting of revenues,” observes Brookings, tactfully.

The currency system is, to use a technical term, bonkers. One American dollar is worth one convertible peso (CUC), which is worth 24 ordinary pesos (CUP). But in transactions involving the government, the two kinds of peso are often valued equally. Government accounts are therefore nonsensical. A few officials with access to ultra-cheap hard currency make a killing. Inefficient state firms appear to be profitable when they are not. Local workers are stiffed. Foreign firms pay an employment agency, in CUC, for the services of Cuban staff. Those workers are then paid in CUP at one to one. That is, the agency and the government take 95% of their wages. Fortunately, tourists tip in cash.

The government says it wants to promote small private businesses. The number of Cubans registered as self-employed has jumped from 144,000 in 2009 to 535,000 in 2016. Legally, all must fit into one of 201 official categories. Doctors and lawyers who offer private services do so illegally, just like hustlers selling black-market lobsters or potatoes. The largest private venture is also illicit (but tolerated): an estimated 40,000 people copy and distribute flash drives containing El Paquete, a weekly collection of films, television shows, software updates and video games pirated from the outside world. Others operate in a grey zone. One entrepreneur says she has a licence as a messenger but wants to deliver vegetables ordered online. “Is that legal?” she asks. “I don’t know.”

Cubans doubt that there will be any big reforms before February 2018, when Raúl Castro, who is 86, is expected to hand over power to Miguel Díaz-Canel, his much younger vice-president. Mr Díaz-Canel is said to favour better internet access and a bit more openness. But the kind of economic reform that Cuba needs would hurt a lot of people, both the powerful and ordinary folk. Suddenly scrapping the artificial exchange rate, for example, would make 60-70% of state-owned firms go bust, destroying 2m jobs, estimates Juan Triana, an economist. Politically, that is almost impossible. Yet without accurate price signals, Cuba cannot allocate resources efficiently. And unless the country reduces the obstacles to private investment in hotels, services and supply chains, it will struggle to provide tourists with the value for money that will keep them coming back. Unlike Cubans, they have a lot of choices.

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ALTERNATE FUTURES FOR CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE ECONOMIC SECTOR

Presented at Florida International University, Cuban Research Institute Conference: “Beyond Perpetual Antagonism: Re-imagining U.S. – Cuba Relations.”

February 24, 2017

Complete Presentation:  FIU CRI 2017 Presentation


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“CUBA 2017: SLOW MOTION ECONOMIC REFORMS PLUS POLITICAL STASIS”

Attached here is a Power Point Presentation on Cuba’s current economic and political situation.  The complete presentation is attached here:  Cuba 2017: Slow Motion Reforms. January 4, 2017

By Arch Ritter

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DONALD TRUMP HAS A CHOICE TO MAKE ON CUBA

CNBC.com

Ted Henken,  November 14, 2016

zzazaOne example of freer markets in Cuba isthe Paladar La Cocina de Lilliam (Lilliam’s Kitchen), a home-based restaurant garden where President Jimmy Carter ate on his first visit to Cuba in 2002. Photo: Ted Henken

While Americans have been reeling over the shocking outcome of our presidential election, Cubans are experiencing perhaps even greater vertigo as a result of the surprise victory of Donald Trump.

As the saying goes, “When the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold.” Or perhaps the old Mexican adage is more appropriate to the situation Cubans find themselves in: “Poor Mexico! So far from God, but so close to the United States!”

Cubans went from a largely acrimonious relationship with the U.S. prior to December 2014, to one of unprecedented “hope and change” during the past 22 months under bilateral efforts to achieve diplomatic normalization between the erstwhile adversaries, to one of great trepidation and uncertainty over the past week given the president-elect’s campaign promise to “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal.” President Raúl Castro perfectly captured the moment’s ambivalence for Cuba by quickly sending the president-elect a brief note of congratulations while simultaneously ordering a five-day military mobilization.

In my more than half-dozen trips to the island over the past year, I have noted a palpable, ebullient expectation among Cubans for a better, more prosperous future under Obama’s “new rules” of engagement. This was especially pronounced among Cuba’s emergent entrepreneurial class, which includes old school cabbies in their even older school American cars, hip app designers in Cuba’s surprising tech start-up scene, and some of the many restaurateurs behind the island’s surging circle of “paladares” (private, home-based restaurants) which now number more than 1,800.

This hard-won hope was also born of Cuba’s own “new rules” introduced in late 2010 under President Raúl Castro aimed at expanding the island’s long-suppressed private sector. However, I also found that most entrepreneurs were under no illusions that the Cuban government would be fully lifting its own counter-productive “auto-bloqueo” or internal embargo against grass-roots entrepreneurial innovation and inventiveness any time soon.

This sense of rising hope inside Cuba reached its climax in Obama’s brilliant deployment of soft power during his historic state visit to the island in March 2016. Many Cubans identified with this youthful, optimistic, and eloquent African-American family man endowed with both a sense of history and of humor much more than with their own waxworks of old white ideologues.

However, Cuba’s old guard realized that Obama’s charm offensive had begun to fatally undermine their own authority and undercut their long-effective use of the U.S. boogeyman as a scapegoat for their own economic failures and as a justification for their continued political authoritarianism. In response, the Cuban leadership has spent the past eight months constantly reminding Cuban citizens of the continued U.S. existential threat to Cuban sovereignty under the Revolution and simultaneously dashing their hopes for a better, more open and prosperous future by stepping up detentions of peaceful political opponents and independent journalists and slowing economic reforms to a manageable trickle.

The clearest example of the Cuban government’s efforts to lower expectations has come on the economic front. First, April’s Seventh Party Congress included no new resolutions about deepening or expanding much needed market-oriented reforms apart from a vague reference to studying the possibility of granting status as legal businesses to a portion of the half-a-million strong micro-enterprise sector. Nothing has come of this idea in the intervening seven months.

Second, price controls have been reimposed in the private agriculture and transportation sectors, reducing incentives for greater production. Third, this past summer saw the government scale back economic growth estimates for 2016 to under 1 percent and impose severe energy saving and cost-cutting measures across the state sector due to a liquidity crisis and the Venezuelan debacle.

Finally, the issuing of new licenses for Havana’s surging private, home-based restaurant sector were suspended for six weeks in the fall in order to root out legal violations such as providing bar services and live entertainment without permission, obtaining supplies from black-market sources, staying open past the state-imposed 3 a.m. closing time, and tax evasion. Some have even been accused of doubling as sites of prostitution and drug trafficking and shut down.
show chapters

However, the government has so far not delivered on its promise to provide affordable access to wholesale markets for these restaurateurs nor has it allowed them to legally import supplies from abroad or expand beyond the arbitrary limit of 50 place settings. Moreover, the tax system for the private sector provokes “creative bookkeeping” by imposing a rigid 40-percent deduction limit for business often burdened by much higher supply costs due to Cuba’s environment of chronic scarcity. It also imposes a labor tax on any more than five employees disincentivizing legal hiring.

To add insult to this injury, the moribund network of their state-run competitor restaurants do enjoy access to wholesale markets and suffer no seating or size restrictions or employment taxes. Especially frustrating for Cuban entrepreneurs is the fact that this emphasis on law and order comes in the context of shrinking output in the state enterprise sector, a looming emigration crisis with record numbers of new Cuban arrivals in the U.S., and in the midst of a tourism boom that the state hospitality sector has proven unable to absorb.

As Cubans like to say: “¡No es fácil!” (It ain’t easy!)

President-elect Donald Trump could follow the recommendation of some Congressional Republicans by adding his own isolationist wind to the already full sails of the Cuban government’s rigid control that attempts to keep Cuban entrepreneurs in their frustrated and impoverished places. Or he could send Cuba’s business pioneers a message of support and solidarity as they attempt to build a more prosperous future by continuing America’s historic opening to Cuba that aims to empower the island’s mergent capitalists through engagement, investment, and trade.

For someone who campaigned as a anti-politician who would bring a hard-nosed business sense to Washington, Cuba presents Trump with a golden opportunity to place economic pragmatism and the tangible benefits it would bring to citizens of both countries over the out-dated and counterproductive Cold War ideology that undergirds the embargo.

Commentary by Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York and co-author with Arch Ritter of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.” He is a past president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2012-2014). Read his blog and follow him on Twitter @ElYuma.

 

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VOCES DE CAMBIO EN EL SECTOR NO ESTATAL CUBANO. Cuentapropistas, usufructuarios, socios de cooperativas y compraventa de viviendas.

Mesa-Lago, Carmelo (coord.) Veiga González, Roberto; González Mederos, Lenier; Vera Rojas, Sofía; Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Capture

Septiembre de 2016

See: VOCES DE CAMBIO

Más de un millón de personas, casi un tercio de la fuerza laboral cubana, está en el “sector no estatal” de la economía: trabajadores autónomos, usufructuarios de la tierra, miembros de nuevas cooperativas, compradores y vendedores de viviendas privadas y otros grupos. Aunque se trata de la reforma estructural más importante de Raúl Castro, que conlleva una reducción gradual del sector estatal, poco concreto se sabe sobre las características (edad, género, raza y educación), condiciones económico-sociales y aspiraciones del emergente sector no estatal.

Basado en 80 entrevistas intensivas hechas en Cuba entre 2014 y 2015, el libro recoge las voces del sector: hablan sobre su nivel de satisfacción con lo que hacen y ganan, sobre empleados contratados y formas de pago, ganancias y su distribución entre inversión y consumo, planes de expansión de los micronegocios, recibo de remesas externas y microcréditos, competencia y publicidad, y pago de impuestos.

La parte crucial es la que detalla las voces sobre los principales problemas que enfrentan los cuentapropistas y sus deseos de mejora o cambio.

Dice un trabajador autónomo: “Debe haber rienda suelta a toda esta fértil imaginación que estamos demostrando los cubanos, que se realice sin trabas, de manera libre, que el gobierno permita que esto fluya, no lo dificulte y controle sólo lo que debe controlar”.

COORDINADORES

Coordinado por Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Catedrático Distinguido de Economía y Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Pittsburgh. Es autor o editor de 93 libros y 300 artículos/capítulos en libros sobre economía de la seguridad social en América Latina, la economía cubana y sistemas económicos comparados, traducidos a 7 idiomas y publicados en 34 países. Ha recibido los premios Arthur Whitaker (1982), Hoover Institution (1986) y Alexander Von Humbolt Stiftung (1991, 2002).

El libro cuenta con la colaboración de Roberto Veiga González y Lenier González Mederos, cubanos residentes en la Isla que realizaron las entrevistas; la de Sofía Vera Rojas y Aníbal Pérez-Liñán que llevaron a cabo las tabulaciones y su análisis.

Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert, S.L.U.

c/ Amor de Dios, 1
E-28014 Madrid
E-Mail: info@iberoamericanalibros.com

R121015

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SELF-EMPLOYMENT IN CUBA: BETWEEN INFORMALITY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP – THE CASE OF SHOE MANUFACTURING

Yailenis Mulet Concepción

Third World Quarterly

Volume 37, 2016 – Issue 9

Original Article: SELF-EMPLOYMENT IN CUBA: THE CASE OF SHOE MANUFACTURING

Abstract

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAR FROM SILICON VALLEY, CUBA CULTIVATES STARTUP SCENE

BY Leani García |

Americas Quarterly, June 15, 2016

Original Article Here: Cuba Cultivates Startup Scene

 Cuba’s startup community is developing despite a lack of funding, equipment or fast internet.

 zz wifi-hotspots zzCubans can access the internet at government-run wireless hotspots.

The barriers to founding a tech startup in Cuba are high. For starters, hardly anyone has access to internet connections faster than dial-up.

But that’s not stopping a generation of young entrepreneurs on the island, where a nascent tech community is challenging the idea that tech innovation has to come from places like Silicon Valley.

Two of those entrepreneurs, Eliecer Cabrera Casas and Pablo Rodríguez Yordy, spoke with AQ at a recent tech startup event in Miami about their experience founding the Yelp-like app Conoce Cuba.

“Cuba is an emerging market where there are a lot of opportunities and talented professionals,” Cabrera said.You can’t invest at the moment, but in a short amount of time conditions can change. We’re preparing the field for the future.”

In addition to the challenges that entrepreneurs face region-wide – from weak infrastructure to innovation-stifling corruption – Cubans like Cabrera face a number of unique obstacles to getting their ideas off the ground.

One of the first hurdles they face is funding. While bank lending on the island is increasing, it’s still not sufficient to meet the needs of the 500,000 registered self-employed Cubans. And having been excluded from Cuba’s recent foreign investment law, tech entrepreneurs don’t have a legal avenue to receive direct funding from foreign companies or investors. Instead, they rely on a combination of state salaries and family connections to support their ideas. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Cuba’s small businesses are funded with remittances and family money, according to Sergio Lázaro, president of the Cuban software engineering startup Ingenius.

Then there’s web access. Cuba has the lowest internet penetration rate in the region, at just 3.4 percent for authorized households. For businesses like Ingenius, which specializes in cloud computing, the key is to make the most of limited time on the internet. Programmers connect just twice a day, once in the morning to download what they’re working on and again in the evening to push finished products to their clients.

The spotty internet can also create opportunities. Conoce Cuba, which functions as an offline app and website, was built as an upgrade to traditional phone books, one of the few ways to discover business and restaurants on the island. Because Cuba has limited internet and nearly non-existent 3G or 4G cell phone network coverage, the app was first distributed through a network of cell phone repair shops. The shops agreed to act as physical app stores where Cubans could download the latest version of Conoce Cuba.

“Now there are about 70 of these repair shops in Havana that can […] install or update [the app] for users for free,” Cabrera said.

Today, the Conoce Cuba app is also distributed through the paquete semanal — a digital selection of TV shows, movies, foreign newspapers and music known in the U.S. as the internet in a box because it can be downloaded and shared without an internet connection.

The company’s founders acknowledged the difficulties in coding software so smartphones function as if they’re on the web even while not being connected to the internet. But a bigger challenge has been a lack of access to hardware, in part because of the U.S. embargo.

“We weren’t able to see what we’d created come to fruition because we lacked the resources,” explained Rodríguez.

Like many Cubans, however, they said they found ways to resolver, or overcome. By borrowing devices from friends and the repair shops they used to distribute the app, or by purchasing them outside Cuba, Cabrera and Rodríguez found creative ways to test and distribute their product on the island. Now, the task is to convince business owners and consumers that their product deserves a look.

“We were doing something new that people had never seen before, we had to earn their trust,” Rodríguez said. “The biggest challenge for us, and for any entrepreneur in Cuba, is to change the Cuban mentality about how to consume a tech product.”

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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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