By Leidys M. Hernandez (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – Cuba’s self-employed are dissatisfied with many things including the lack of legal protection they have and the treatment they receive from certain officials who interpret regulations at their own discretion, making them oblige.
Iliana Vidal is a street-seller and has been fighting a legal battle for two years with the Cuban justice system. She was fined once, her business belongings were seized and her license was revoked. She doesn’t believe that the procedure she was subjected to was fair, so she filed several complaints at police stations and at the Attorney-General’s office. Her case still hasn’t been investigated, so she decided to seek out legal counsel.
Lawyers from the Bufete Colectivo del Vedado (Vedado Law Firm), heard Iliana’s demands and determined that her case should be taken to the Attorney-General. According to her statement, inspectors blackmailed her so she would pay them every day for authorization to work in the Carlos Marx theater’s surrounding areas.
Like Iliana, other Cuban self-employed workers also took part in the talks with lawyers that have recently developed across the country, a State initiative. The event organized by the collective law firms’ organization sought to contribute towards private sector workers’ legal education.
Felicia Rivero was also at the meeting that was summoned in the Plaza municipality. She shared her problems, as many of her other colleagues did, in regard to labor and economic contracts, which need to be presented to the state institutions they offer their services to.
Lawyers explained that contracts were rejected in most cases because of problems with the way they are written, if they are unclear. When this happens, they recommended that the self-employed come and seek legal advice.
“We want to do things properly”
Experts at the Collective Law Firm also informed that as the training period had come to an end, these institutions would continue to see people who need legal counsel. They added that they are working in coordination with other State bodies to increase independent workers’ ability to cope in Cuba.
During these talks, they made it clear that staff in these law firms are trained to offer legal advice, represent and defend the rights of a natural or legal person before a court, arbitration and administrative bodies.
One of the most controversial topics that arose during the session was the Registration of Industrial Property. They debated the importance that is being given to brands that they want to promote at every business. Two establishments with the same name or the same logos can’t exist anymore, for example.
“Cuba’s self-employed want to work within the limits of the Law,” Ileana Vidal said, “but we don’t always know what it is we can and can’t do. Now, with this issue of the business names, how much have people already spent making flyers, putting up lights, paying for ads. Why wasn’t it a requirement from the very beginning?
We want to do things properly, but it isn’t right that they are making us work twice as hard and waste our money. Plus, making everything clear from the beginning would ensure that some unprincipled inspectors don’t come afterwards to try and take advantage of us.”
A considerable economic group is demanding legal advice and support
According to statistics from official press, there were 580,828 self-employed workers in the country by the end of 2018. Out of these, 29% were young people; 34% women; 15% also work in the public sector and 10% are retirees. This number represents 13% of Cuba’s total workforce.
“We appreciate the (Law firms) project, our sector lacks legal expertise, advice for certain private sector procedures and also legal support to face everyday events which don’t only affect the self-employed,” Marisela Allende said, who rents out rooms to foreigners in the Plaza municipality.
According to her, other controversial issues that were brought up at the meeting she went to were tax evasion and the reception of goods of a dubious origin.
Both lawyers and independent workers talked about these issues from their own perspective and experience. Some self-employed workers admitted that they don’t always know where the goods they buy for their businesses come from, that shortages at Cuban markets almost forces them to seek out raw materials on the black market so they can continue to sell.
Cuba’s self-employed have many complaints
Another one of the business owners that took part in the meetings with lawyers was Oniel Diaz Castellanos, co-founder of AUGE, a business in Havana that creates business identities, among other things. Coming out of the meeting, he posted his opinion about his experience and about the situation of Cuban self-employment on his Facebook page:
“I applaud the lawyers’ initiative, their effort, expertise and patience sitting in as panel members. The talks developed further than what was intended and it became an assembly in which the private sector voiced their dissatisfaction and annoyance with the restrictive regulations that guide us and the completely discretional practice of officials who interpret regulations however they please, corruptly sometimes, and other times out of total ignorance. I admit that the Cuban government has given some positive signs since last December, which have mostly been policies, in terms of incorporating us within national economic priorities, but they need to do more than make statements in order for this to happen.”
“There will be a fine-tuning with us, not without us.”
Before the Collective Law Firm project kicked off, the National Tax Office (ONAT) had carried out a training exercise in 2018 about the new regulations for self-employment. At that time, turnout rates of private sector representatives were very low and opinions were not very positive at all.
It seems that this time the talks were more diverse and answered some concerns. Even so, some participants still feel that much-needed issues were not dealt with such as economic, bank and tax rights. Knowledge about these subjects is useful so that they can handle their accounts which is now a requirement for them to pay taxes.
According to Oniel Diaz, while these kinds of initiatives are praiseworthy, others need to take place that go beyond talking and training and that really contribute towards the development of the sector: “There are so many bans, so much nonsense and contradictions that this won’t be resolved with some legal quick-fixes, but with an in-depth revision which won’t go anywhere if we aren’t an active part in this process. We don’t want only lawyers, academics and regulatory bodies to take part in this revision. There will be a fine-tuning with us, not without us,” he also wrote on his Facebook page.