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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8845
JPY
USD
117.71
GBP
USD
0.6643
CAD
USD
1.2669
INR
USD
62.019

Rates may not be current.