The increase in import duties and fees has raised questions about why the Cuban government would cast such a dark cloud over the small private enterprises that Castro has been trying to promote since he succeeded brother Fidel Castro in 2008.
Morales said he believed the hikes are part of a drive by Communist hardliners to regain a measure of control over the private businesses and force émigrés abroad to send less goods and more cash — which Cubans must then spend on state stores.
“This is the fear of an (economic) opening that they have always had,” he told El Nuevo Herald. “They don’t like too much money floating on the street.”
Some of the new businesses have complained of increasing state controls, such as more and tighter inspections, and government officials have reportedly called for forcing the “self-employed” to join neighborhood activities such as cleaning streets.
Miami economist Marzo Fernandez said Havana “needs cash with extreme urgency” and noted that Cuban bank assets abroad reported by the Bank for International Settlement plunged from $5.65 billion to $4.1 billion in the last three months of 2011.
Dissident Havana journalist Ivan García wrote recently that the government is trying to “milk more cash out of Cubans living abroad” because “deep down they hate the émigrés. They see them as traitors who fled … and took refuge in the land of their No. 1 enemy.”
The Cuban government is expected to soon approve changes in migration regulations that would make it more attractive for émigrés to invest in and return to the island.
Castro opened a window to private enterprise as part of a drive to energize the economy by slashing nearly one million workers from state payrolls, cutting state spending on health, education and food imports, handing out millions of acres of state lands to private farmers and attracting increased foreign investments.
But he has taken a slow and steady approach, warning over the past two years that while Cuba stands on the edge of economic chaos, his economic reforms must be carried out “without hurry but without delay.”
Few changes have been visible since a crucial Communist Party Congress in April of last year endorsed Castro’s reform package, while complaints have mounted against bureaucrats and corrupt officials who oppose the reforms.
Paladar owner Jose Antonio recalled that he opened his doors in the early 1990s, when the collapse of Soviet subsidies to Cuba forced Fidel Castro, who nationalized all island businesses in 1968, to approve a limited reopening of private enterprise.
But as Cuba recovered from the shock in the last half of the 1990s, Castro began to row back on the opening, with tax and health inspectors tightening the controls on the small businesses until many of them closed their doors.
“I’ve had some years of experience, and that’s why I worry,” said Jose Antonio. In the early 19990s, “we were 30 paladares in Old Havana, and at one point we were only five. Today, I just don’t know if I will be able to continue, with these rising costs.”