Raúl Castro to allow Cubans more private sector jobs
Leader says prohibitions on licences and commercialisation will be
rolled back in effort to reduce 'bloated' state sector
More Cubans will be allowed to work for themselves and hire their own
workers, the country's president has said, while ruling out wholesale
reform of the communist economy.
Raúl Castro, who was speaking to parliament at the opening of its
biannual session, said the steps were aimed at creating jobs as the
government seeks to cut jobs from the public sector over the next five
About 95% of all Cubans work for the government and Castro suggested
that as many as one in five state employees were redundant in what he
called a "bloated" state sector.
Castro said those left out of work would be retrained or reassigned to
other jobs but warned that few sectors would be immune to cuts. While
sketchy, his comments signalled a liberalisation of the economy at a
time of financial crisis. Raúl Castro took power from Fidel, first
temporarily, then permanently, in July 2006. He has a reputation for
being more pragmatic than his brother.
Castro made only limited references to Fidel, who did not attend the
session. Fidel also missed the recent celebration of Revolution Day. His
brother and successor attended that event but did not speak – the first
time since 1959 that a Castro did not deliver a speech on Cuba's most
important official holiday.
The new measures eliminate "various existing prohibitions for the
granting of new licences and the commercialisation of some production,
giving flexibility to the hiring of labour", Castro said.
He did not say how many people would receive self-employment licences. A
substantial but unknown number of Cubans work privately without a licence.
Similar moves were taken in the 1990s when Cuba's economy went into
freefall after the collapse of its benefactor, the Soviet Union. Fidel
took steps to improve efficiency in agriculture and allowed barbers and
taxis to operate more like small businesses, but many licences were not
renewed as the situation improved.
For the past two years hard economic times have forced Cuba to cut
imports, freeze the Cuban bank accounts of foreign businesses on the
island and delay paying its bills.
Analysts say the reforms announced by Castro are marginal.
"These are reforms on the margin that don't address the fundamental
inefficiency of the Cuban economy," Christopher Sabatini, of the Council
of the Americas thinktank in Washington, told Reuters.
Paolo Spadoni, of Tulane University, said it was "a positive signal" but
"the key issue is how many people will be allowed to become
self-employed and in what sectors"
He said Cuba, which has a population of 11 million, had only 143,800
legal self-employed or "cuentapropistas" at the end of 2009.
On US-Cuba relations, Raúl said "in essence nothing has changed" since
Barack Obama took office.
"Although there's less rhetoric and there are occasional bilateral
conversations about specific and limited topics, in reality the embargo
continues," he said, referring to the longstanding US trade bans against
As for the planned release of 52 political prisoners in a deal last
month with the Catholic church, Raúl described all of them as
"subversives" working for the US. So far 20 of the 52 have been freed
and sent to Spain. He said this was not a concession to foreign
pressure, but a "sovereign decision in strict adherence" to Cuban laws.