By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government chose a moment of extreme crisis to open-up more possibilities for private employment. The announcement without specifics came on Saturday.
Instead of a short list of 127 jobs permitted for independent work, now there will be a list of only those prohibited. The government said 124 business fields will still be “totally or partially limited” but gave no details.
Most experts see the recent economic reforms leading to significant job losses in the over-staffed and under-productive state sector. Thus, creating the need to allow for more independent work.
A necessary evil or real change?
The Communist Party led government still repeatedly insists that the dominant state sector is the key to the country’s future. Party ideologues see small businesses as a necessary evil in hard times, as did Fidel Castro in the 1990s.
As many as half of Cuba’s already existing licenses for private work were handed back in Covid-depressed 2020. It’s noteworthy the government provides absolutely no Covid-19 relief to small businesses or the self-employed. This highlights the fact they are not really considered of any importance as people or to the economy.
At the same time, the recent reforms give powerful military companies a freer hand for greater autonomy. The combination steers the country away from failed egalitarian economic policies that for decades only massified poverty.
Reform-minded Cuban economists have long called for small business to be expanded to help jump-start the economy.
“The self-employed are not going to have it easy in this new beginning due to the complex environment in which they will operate, with few dollars and inputs in the economy,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali.
“But with the ingenuity of Cubans and the sophistication of the parallel market, they will be able to take off little by little,” he told Reuters.
With a wink to Joe Biden
The move could be an attempt to get US president Joe Biden to ease up on some of the sanctions imposed by Trump. The goal would be to attract more US dollars into the economy from tourism and remittances.
Cuba would thus be putting economic liberalization on the table to deflect any discussion on repression against anyone critical of government policies or leaders or other human rights abuses.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that if the Diaz-Canel administration is seeking to engage the new US president, finishing the currency unification, establishing a consistent floating exchange rate and boosting small businesses could serve as important “carrots,” reported the Miami Herald.
“The key is the Biden administration must believe Díaz-Canel is serious about restructuring the economy,” said Kavulich. “The only way to show that seriousness is to endure the pains of transformation.”