Cuban Government Yields to Pressures from Self-Employed and Keeps the Right to Hold Multiple Licenses

Private sellers are controlled by the police to prevent their offerings from competing with state stores. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2018 — The Cuban government has yielded to the pressures and unrest that have been incubating in Cuban streets for weeks, since new measures were announced to impose new controls over the private sector. In an unusual gesture, the authorities have softened some aspects of the rules that regulate self-employment after a barrage of popular criticism.

On Wednesday afternoon, on official TV’s Roundtable program, the Minister of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), Margarita González Fernández, said that ‘natural persons’ may be authorized to exercise more than one activity, provided that they “comply with the regulations for the exercise” of this form of management.

The decision contrasts with the regulations that were set to go into effect this Friday limiting self-employment to a single license per person.  This decision had generated widespread criticism, especially in the areas of food services, room rentals and other occupations where entrepreneurs carry out multiple activities related to the services they offer.

Two legal norms, published this Wednesday in the Official Gazette Extraordinary No. 77, had introduced this and other modifications in the decrees.

Despite this evident step back, González Fernández insisted that “there is no setback” and called on the self-employed to act in an “environment of legality, discipline and order.” The decision of this flexibilization “starts from the principle that there should be no differences between the state and non-state sectors, and in the first, multiple employment activities are allowed,” explained the minister.

The complaints have been rising since the measures to “reorder self-employment” were announced. (14ymedio)

Another flexibilization has been to remove the limit of 50 seats in food service establishments such as snack bars, restaurants, bars and recreation facilities. The “maximum” number of tables and chairs will be decided by the characteristics of the premises. The measure is being taken after the pressures of a sector with large numbers of employees and high levels of investment, especially in restaurants more focused on foreign tourism.

Self-employed workers will no longer have to deposit three monthly tax payments in the account they are required to have in a state bank. That number is reduced to two installments for license holders in the six activities in which they are obliged to do so. In the activity defined as baker-bakery, the sale of non-alcoholic beverages is now also included.

The minister acknowledged that the crackdown announced last July and known as El Paquetazo, caused “unrest and unfavorable opinion,” although she blamed the rejection on a misinterpretation of the regulations.

She did not, however, detail whether changes will be made in the next few days in the measures that will be applied to the transport sector, where there is great discontent because drivers are unhappy that they can not choose routes and customers, negotiate rates and charge higher fares.

With these amendments, Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government loses its first pushback against the citizenship and finds itself facing an unparalleled precedent around a restrictive measure dictated by the executive. The current flexibilities have been taken after the authorities held meetings with self-employed workers to explain the regulations. Those meetings were dominated by complaints and negative comments.

The step back happens a little less than 48 hours since the beginning of several protest initiatives organized from the private sector, especially among those providing private transportation services. A call for a strike, popularly called El Trancón (The Traffic Jam), had been broadcast among private taxi drivers from Havana and other provinces in the country, to begin this Friday.

With the slogan “Drivers’ Strike,” a document 14ymedio has access to lists the demands of a strategic sector for passenger mobility in a country where public transport is going through a deep crisis. “Freedom of movement, having the right to work throughout the country, a wholesale market, the possibility of importing parts and permission to have independent unions,” are some of the demands of the self-employed.

At the end of October, 588,000 people in Cuba were self-employed, 13% of the country’s workforce.

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