New Cuban regulations open, close opportunities for private jobs

Cubans can now work as real estate agents, handymen, soap makers and 15 other types of “self-employed” jobs. But they cannot sell machine-made clothes, or profit from the resale of items purchased at state stores.

Those twin announcements Thursday seemed to reflect the Raúl Castro government’s vacillating efforts to open up Cuba’s Soviet-styled economy enough to rescue it from the doldrums, but not so much that it loses control.

A report in the official Granma newspaper said the government approved 18 new categories of “self employed” jobs, bringing to 201 the types of private economic activity that are allowed by the government.

The new jobs include real estate agents, builders, wholesalers of agricultural food products, cellular phone repairmen, metal casters, repairers of measuring instruments, bed and breakfast bookers and makers of shoe polish, tints and marble goods.

They join the list of 183 categories of jobs already permitted, from electrician to welder and barber to party clown, palm tree trimmer, animal trainer, mule driver and operator of children’s fun wagon pulled by pony or goat. There’s no mention of wagons pulled by full-grown horses.

Still not legally allowed to work on their own: doctors or lawyers, journalists, manufacturers of almost any items, importers or exporters, makers of musical instruments or distillers of alcoholic drinks, among many others.

Granma reported that the increase in private job categories — the government calls it ‘the non-state sector” — was part of the Castro campaign to generate new employment as he slashes state payrolls and subsidies because the island’s economy is at a standstill.

“The goal of these adjustments is to continue developing non-state activities … (and) search for a climate of trust and legality in the exercise of this way of working, born out of a need to generate jobs, increase the availability of goods and services and allow the state to concentrate on activities transcendental for the economic development,” the newspaper noted.

Cuba now has about 436,000 people licensed to perform self-employment activities — most of them involved in making food or selling it in street kiosks or private restaurants known as paladares — compared to less than 170,000 when Castro became president five year ago.

Tens of thousands of others, including real state agents, worked illegally although the unrestricted buying and sale of homes was legalized for the first time in 2011. Some were tolerated, while others complained of having to pay bribes to police and government inspectors.

New regulations published Thursday in the official Gazette, meanwhile, tightened the restrictions on retail activities to crack down on people who sell goods brought back by Cubans who travel abroad or buy the items at state stores.

Cubans licensed as tailors or seamstresses have been setting up clothing shops, for example, and others working as sellers of household supplies have been making a profit reselling goods bought at state stores, usually at subsidized prizes.

The new regulations now specifically note that tailors and seamstresses cannot sell clothing that has been manufactured or imported, and sellers of household supplies cannot profit from the resale of items bought at state stores.

Granma quoted Labor Ministry adviser José Barreiro as saying that the new restrictions are designed to avoid some of the “deformations” that have developed around the edges of some of the permitted private activities.

“The issue of goods purchased in stores for resale has generated constant opinions among the people, who complain about shortages and the high prices set by the hoarders,” Barreiro said. “Order will be imposed.”

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