HAVANA – Cuba’s Communist government vastly expanded this week the scope for private enterprise on the island by opening the vast majority of recognized occupations to self-employed individuals.
More than a decade after authorizing private initiative in 127 categories, the Cabinet approved the scrapping of that list in favor of liberalizing all but 124 of the upwards of 2,000 occupations recognized in the National Classification of Economic Activity, official Communist Party daily Granma reported on Saturday.
Officials have yet to identify the 124 occupations that will be reserved, but areas such as education, health, telecommunications and media are expected to remain restricted.
Under the new system, the government will establish a one-stop permitting process for would-be entrepreneurs, making it “possible to unleash the productive forces in this sector,” Labor and Social Security Minister Marta Elena Feito told her Cabinet colleagues, according to Granma.
The Cuban economy shrank by 11 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – devastating to the island’s vital tourism industry – and the intensification of the embargo the United States imposed on the country in 1962.
Official data show that 600,000 people, representing 13 percent of Cuba’s labor force, work in the private sector. But that figure refers only to the individual licensed entrepreneurs, most of whom have employees of their own.
There have long been voices, including some inside officialdom, urging the government to eliminate most of the remaining limits on self-employment.
“It’s good news,” economist Ricardo Torres said of this week’s Cabinet decision. “A step in the right direction that, unfortunately, took too long.”
He said he was confident that the government would soon institute “similar changes in relation to the possibility of establishing private enterprises of up to medium size and cooperatives.”
Oniel Diaz, co-founder of business consultants AUGE, called the new policy “an enormous and historic step” and a “paradigm shift” in the realm of official attitudes toward self-employment.
“If with a meager list of authorized activities with inflexible extent, shortage of raw materials, deficient regulations and economic sanctions we have been capable of raising enterprises come hell or high water, this new scenario opens a path with no turning back for us to play an ever more important role in the national economy,” Diaz said.