Conflict Brews in Cuba Over Sales Ban of Imported Goods
October 03, 2013
HAVANA — 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
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
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
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,
“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.
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
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
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.
Source: “Conflict Brews in Cuba Over Sales Ban of Imported Goods” –