News / Economy

Conflict Brews in Cuba Over Sales Ban of Imported Goods

FILE - Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, and Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel
FILE - Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, and Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel
Reuters
The Cuban government appeared headed for its first serious clash with the island's newly created “non-state” sector of small businesses over a prohibition on the sale of imported clothing and other goods.
 
The decree issued last week potentially affects some 20,000 small businesses and their employees who sell clothing, hardware and other goods brought in informally by travelers, some of whom visit the Caribbean island regularly carrying merchandise from the United States, Spain and Latin American countries.
 
Three years ago the government of President Raul Castro, who replaced his brother Fidel in 2008, opened up retail services to “self employment” in the form of 200 licensed activities from clowns, seamstresses, food vendors, taxis and the building trades, to small businesses such as restaurants, cafeterias, bed and breakfasts and entertainment.
 
The government said the measure aimed at absorbing excess state labor, improving services, eliminating inefficiencies and bringing black-market activity above ground.
 
There are now 436,000 self-employed people, of which around 100,000 work as employees of small businesses, according to the government.
 
Enterprising residents have taken advantage of some of the categories, for example seamstress and household supplies salesman, to offer imported clothing and supplies in greater variety and at lower cost than the state.
 
Entrepreneurs, their employees and clients waxed furious over the clothing sale prohibition this week in the Central Havana district of the capital where a few dozen vendors had set up shop on a vacant lot to sell clothing, shoes and undergarments.
 
“We call on the authorities to reconsider. We have a lot of product and money invested in this,” Justo Castillo, a representative of the official labor federation which has tried to organize the self employed, said.
 
“Banning this means unemployment for these people forcing them to do whatever. They will move into the black market, return to illegal activity,” he said, as the crowd that had gathered applauded.
 
Castro has instituted a series of market-oriented reforms to Cuba's Soviet style economy where the state still employs 79 percent of the 5 million-strong labor force.
 
Public Clamor
 
Last week's measure appears aimed at protecting the state's monopoly on the wholesale and retail sale of imported goods, which has resulted in widespread black-market activity due to exorbitant prices and shoddy quality.
 
The regulation includes a new list of authorized types of self employment and their descriptions, with the addition of phrases to stop the resale and importation of goods.
 
For example, the description of a seamstress now has added, “does not include the sale of manufactured or imported clothing.”
 
The general public is also up in arms over the measure.
 
“There goes the chance to buy a pair of shoes or jeans that are worthwhile,” said retiree Ramon, who asked his last name not be used.
 
The public clamor is so loud that it appears to have reached communist authorities.
 
Blogger Yohandry Fontana, who is closely identified with the government, released a series of tweets this week criticizing the measure.
 
“Bad news,” he said in one of the tweets. “Wouldn't it be easier, I ask, to approve the sale of imported clothing by the self employed than push this activity into the black market?”
 
The new measure has yet to be enforced, at least in Havana even though authorities say it is now the law of the land.
 
JosDe Barreiro Alfonso, an adviser to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, said in an interview on Thursday with the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper that vendors would be visited on an individual basis.
 
“It is an effort to have an individual conversation and gain their understanding of the law,” he said.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9118
JPY
USD
124.31
GBP
USD
0.6420
CAD
USD
1.3048
INR
USD
64.136

Rates may not be current.