Juan Juan Almeida, 21 February 2018 — The Cuban government is in the process of updating an old, punitive legal statute that would allow it to control the growth of the self-employment sector and independent commercial activity as well as to curb private initiative, which has in recent years been expanding in the country.
Martí News reports that authorities are meeting with groups of small business owners to explain what is expected of them. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office is under orders from the highest levels of government to revamp the country’s laws in a way that would allow for stricter control over the private sector.
“The crime used to be prosecuted as ‘actions harmful to economic plans related to state hiring,’ but now is being used to charge certain self-employed individuals with ‘actions harmful to economic activity related to hiring’,” explained a source associated with the Attorney General’s Office.
It is not simply a matter of imposing fines; it involves jail sentences of eight to twenty years.
In 2016, the Seventh Communist Party Congress identified the need to “advance the improvement of the business system, gradually granting the management of the various entities new powers.” To do this, it was necessary to repeal a decree, the General Regulations of State Enterprise, and an accord, the Union and State Enterprise, which had been adopted by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers in 1979 and 1988 respectively.
On December 12, 2017, a set of new regulations took effect which are intended to advance the improvement business sector by granting all state-owned companies greater autonomy.
Although certain existing legislative restrictions on state enterprises were eliminated, and the ability of these companies to operate more freely was broadened, low profitability and a lack of incentives prevented the anticipated results from being met. Within a short period of time, private-sector companies were far outperforming state-run companies, which has given them greater importance in the Cuban economy.
According to information obtained by Martí Noticias, since early 2018 a government commission made up of representatives from the labor ministry, the police, immigration, the Communist Party, the public health ministry and the Confederation of Cuban Labor has been meeting with groups of individuals employed in the private sector, essentially those in the tourism industry.
In meetings with private business owners, authorities are explaining the need to report all the employees on their payrolls and are encouraging the use of hiring contracts that define the rights and obligations of all parties. Meanwhile, they have already revamped an old statute, Section 7 of the Cuban Criminal Code, which previously applied only to state-owned companies.
“This is not a trivial matter. Even the smallest infraction can lead to penalties that range from three to eight years in prison. But for more serious infractions, the penalty is eight to twenty years,” says the source.
And that does not include additional sanctions, such as the seizure of all assets which a judge determines to be related to the crime.
The cases being tried under this revised law are being handled by attorneys from a collective law firm located at 41st and 60th streets in Havana’s Playa district. They have been christened by the locals as the “cooperatives’ lawyers.”