Crackdown on Private Businesses around Havana

By Alexis Cepero (Café Fuerte)

A makeshift barbarshop in Havana. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — As part of a clampdown on violations of “city planning legislation”, Raul Castro’s government is applying severe control measures on privately-run business around the capital, many of which have been shut down by authorities in recent months.

The National Institute for Urban Planning (IPF) has become the firm hand of the Cuban government in its fight against alleged city planning infractions, the mechanism through which it has decreed the closure of hundreds of small private businesses in Havana.

The IPF is applying these harsh measures in the context of an official campaign against infractions and misdemeanors, many of them identified as violations of the city’s urban planning and development code. On April of last year, Raul Castro appointed Division General Samuel Rodiles Planas director of the IPF and tasked him with bringing order and discipline to this sector.

According to statements made by business owners affected by these recent measures, all private businesses that operate locales on doorways, or places which are considered part of the city’s decorative environment, will be shut down and forced to relocate to household or building interiors.

New Requirements and Control Measures

As part of this series of measures, business owners will now be barred from renting out these types of spaces.

In addition to this and on the basis of Decree Law 272 of 2001 and 299, passed on May 14, all locales built specifically to operate small private businesses will be inspected to verify compliance with a whole range of very strict requirements.

The IPF has now been empowered to carry out inspections and apply State control measures. The Attorney General’s Office, city courts, local government Inspection Bureaus, the National Housing Bureau and other bodies will also take part in these inspection efforts.

“I knew a good thing couldn’t last long in Cuba. They simply had to interfere, at one point,” said Madyory Menendez, the owner of a cafeteria which was shut down because it had been set up next to a doorway facing Havana’s busy avenue of Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

According to several individuals interviewed by CaféFuerte, IPF officials reported that their offices are providing the public with information about State-owned locales which the government is renting out to business owners whose locales have been closed down.

Unkind Treatment

“They weren’t exactly kind, they arrived and told me, straight out, that I had to take everything down, showing me the Law, in writing,” a business owner said.

Decree Law 272, which sets down sanctions for violations of the urban planning and development code, was published in Cuba’s Official Gazette on February 21, 2001. It establishes that, in addition to a fine, the individual or entity can be subjected to other measures, such as being forced to discontinue the illegal practice and to compensate the city for damages caused.

It also empowers inspectors of the Urban Planning and Housing bureaus to apply fines and other punitive measures. Similarly, Article 29 stipulates that, if a person fails to comply with a measure of this nature, a competent State entity shall enforce the penalty and the violator will be made to pay all related costs.

The enforcement of city planning legislation through the closing-down of private businesses around the city is taking place a little over two years after the Cuban government authorized the opening of these businesses as an economic alternative for Cubans.

Some 400 thousand Cubans have been registered as self-employed since the government authorized the granting of licenses for 181 different types of private business activity, a fifth of which fall under the category of food preparation and food product sales.

4 thoughts on “Crackdown on Private Businesses around Havana

  • The irony is that while the government “cracks down” on the little guy who refills cigarette lighters for 3 cuban pesos from his sidewalk table, there is another guy who goes unchecked redirecting millions of dollars of donated construction materials to a private warehouse for personal sale. Cuba, like most places, overly focuses on the small stuff. The problem is that Cuba can least afford the corruption at the highest levels while cleaning up the sidewalks.

  • Excellent points, ac. Thanks.

    What is encouraging to me is that Cuba finally is returning to sanity, and is allowing the proliferation of a small business class. Such a class is absolutely essential for successful socialism.

    One thing more that is needed however is depositor/worker-owned cooperative banks, to provide fractional-reserve money creation for the small entrepreneurial sector.

    But this need is unlikely to be recognized, due to the state monopoly on capital credit generation, and the backwardness of political/social thinking among the leadership.

  • Oops, I messed up the dates in my post, the first opening of self-employment was in 1994 instead of 2004. Sorry about that, it is way too early in the morning.

  • Ok, this is getting ridiculous. Seriously. The headline should have been “Cuban government enforces 2001 law preventing the blocking of public space by private entrepreneurs”.

    There is one little but important distinction between having a license to open a private business and doing so in non compliance with existing laws. Is not that they invented a new law in the spot specifically to screw existing private business (private business weren’t even legal until 2004), and I kind of understand the rationale for it.

    I’ve been into Calzada de 10 de Octubre before and as in some parts of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana the sidewalks in some places are way too narrow for pedestrian traffic. If you open a business directly on it (or even a counter inside a house facing the street), your patrons will block the sidewalk and force the pedestrians to use the street to move around your business, putting themselves in danger andor slowing down traffic in an important city hub.

    And the “unkind treatment” section was a joke. The inspectors identified themselves (at least I infer so since there was no doubt they were inspectors), showed the owner the law in writing and ask him to take the business down because it was in non compliance with said law and pointed out that it has harsh provisions in case they fail to comply with the inspector order. How is that being unkind? They were breaking the law and were told to stop doing so, thats all.

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