Cuba has announced several last-minute modifications to the new law intended to govern more closely the activities of the country’s cuentapropistas (self-employed). It has also promised to review a decree law of concern to independent Cuban artists and writers. The changes follow widespread disquiet over the two measures.
Indicating a willingness to adapt policies when required, the country’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said in a Tweet that “there is no reason to believe the rectifications are setbacks nor to confuse them with weakness when one is listening to the people.”
His message and the changes respond to unease among many self-employed Cubans about restrictions on their activities that would lower their income, and concerns among independent artists that another new law may restrict their artistic freedom.
The development comes at a time when most economic indicators suggest that 2019 will be a very difficult year for most Cubans as a result of falling revenues from exports and services, uncertainty surrounding levels of foreign investment as a result of US sanctions, and continuing austerity.
In moves aimed at diluting announced restrictions on the self-employed, the Cuban government announced just two days before the decree law was due to take effect that it would be amended.
Speaking on Cuban Television’s flagship current affairs programme, Mesa Redonda, the Cuban Minister of Labour and Social Security, Margarita González, said that it was necessary to rectify the regulation to address what she said, “were interpretations that generated unfounded doubts and comments about the adopted policy” so that self-employment “continues with order and discipline”.
In her remarks, she reiterated the government’s willingness to recognise self-employment as complementing state activity, noting that it was also a source of employment, increased the “assets (income) available to the population, and reduced the non-fundamental activities of the State”.
Other senior officials appearing on the same programme added that self-employment increased the supply of goods and services and quality of what is available for the population and provided “taxes …. (that)…. constitute a source of revenue for municipal budgets.”
The Cuban government said that the changes, which were only announced on 5 December, two days before the decree law was due to take effect, arose out of its ongoing dialogue with cuentapropistas about the new regulation. González said these exchanges had resulted in ideas that had contributed to the modification of some aspects of the policy towards self-employment.
The principal changes announced significantly amend some of the new rules governing self-employment. In outline:
- Individuals will now be allowed to undertake more than one licensed activity if such multiple employment is undertaken on a daily basis.
- Cafeterias, restaurants and bars will not be subject to the intended cap of 50 seats. The capacity will be determined by the size and nature of the premises.
- The minimum balance to be held in CUP denominated bank accounts will apply to just 6 out of 123 authorised categories of self-employment licenses and be reduced from three months to the equivalent of two months tax instalments. In addition, the revision allows for an increase for sums held in cash from monthly income in such accounts.
- Those renting out rooms and houses will now be allowed to provide a food service including alcoholic beverages if they hold a sanitary license. Other individuals providing additional services at the premises will also be allowed.
- Limits have been lifted on the numbers of children to be cared for by child carers based on a fixed ratio of staff and space for each child or group of children.
The new measures make no changes to aspects of the regulation that controls the growth and size of non-state business activities. Rather, they are intended to address concerns about the the sustainability of self-employed activity.
The changes will enable many Cubans who have more than one occupation to continue to earn a living wage. Many cuentapropistas combine different forms of work, for example renting out rooms and taxi driving. Some 588,000 Cubans were reported as being self-employed at the end of October 2018, or 13% of the country’s workforce
In a separate announcement, Cuba’s Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, has said that decree law 349 would be studied further. Promulgated in July, the controversial law was due to come into force on 7 December. Appearing on Mesa Redonda, Alonso said that the law, which seeks to exercise greater control over artists and creative people who are self-employed, will continue to be studied within the framework of Cuban cultural policy and will only be applied “gradually”.
Meanwhile, the final recommendations of the Drafting Commission working on revisions to Cuba’s draft constitution are expected shortly. Cuban churches have mounted a well-supported organised campaign opposing aspects of the draft constitution that would legalise same sex partnerships, despite the measure having high level political support.
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