Feature: Cuba expands private sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, February 14, 2021
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by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Mario Rodriguez, a resident in Havana's Playa district, is preparing his application to run an interior design start-up after the Cuban government extended the scope of private sector activities in Cuba.

Under the new legal framework for non-state businesses, hundreds of people nationwide have found incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. economic sanctions against the island nation.

The 47-year-old entrepreneur, who lives with his wife and two adolescent daughters, told Xinhua he was eager to put into practice new ideas for the betterment of indoor design in the country's capital and of his family incomes.

Rodriguez has been working for a construction start-up over the past few years, providing services to housing and entrepreneurial sectors nationwide.

"I feel the government is moving on the right track because private businesses can contribute to improving the country's economic indicators," he told Xinhua. "We are moving towards a more creative economy."

As a result of new measures approved during a meeting of Cuba's Council of Ministers last week, the list of activities in which local private entrepreneurs are engaged has been extended from 127 to more than 2,000.

The move comes as the Caribbean nation has implemented its major monetary overhaul over the past six decades, which puts an end to the dual currency system in place since 1994 while increasing pensions, salaries and social security payments.

Cuba's Labour and Social Security Minister Marta Elena Feito said that only 124 economic activities would be excluded from private involvement, including strategic areas such as mining, defense and cybersecurity.

"Cubans are very creative and we needed to find a way to unleash that creativity," she said, adding that a one-stop-shop system will be implemented to expedite application processes for private entrepreneurs in the country.

The number of self-employed persons in the Caribbean nation has increased from around 157,000 in 2010 to more than 600, 000, and the private sector in Cuba accounts for 13 percent of the nation's workforce, according to official figures.

"I believe all these measures adopted by the government will lead to a private sector's real takeoff," said Frank Benitez, a self-employed barber in Havana's entertainment district. "We had long awaited this decision."

The island nation expects a gradual recovery of the economic activity during 2021 after the country's gross domestic product decreased by 11 percent last year.

Meanwhile, the government has taken steps for small- and medium-sized private businesses in Cuba to continue importing and exporting products and services through state-run enterprises.

Additionally, wholesale markets have been set up across the country for small businesses to increase access to supplies and raw materials.

All these changes have taken place ahead of the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba to be held in April.

Oniel Diaz, who runs a consultancy to help private entrepreneurs in the island country, said the Cuban government has taken "a huge and historic step" by setting better conditions for the private sector's functioning.

"Is it possible to open a food truck? Yes, indeed, for it is not forbidden," said Diaz, who feels optimistic about these new measures. "It entails a change of paradigm."

For his part, Ricardo Torres, a senior researcher at the University of Havana's Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, said that the market and real economic conditions will determine how many businesses will operate, open, and close on the island in the coming months.

"Current economic and epidemiological conditions will not last forever," he said. "Job creation, employment and economic production will undoubtedly increase in the future." Enditem

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