Cuba's private sector freeze will not last years, government says

Latin America Reuters

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The Cuban government said on Monday the freeze on new licenses for some private-sector occupations would not last years, in an attempt to reassure citizens worried about an apparent pause in the liberalization of the economy.

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Communist-run Cuba last week said it was suspending issuing licenses for popular activities like renting out rooms in homes while it took new measures to "perfect" the functioning of the nascent private sector and curb wrongdoing.

"We are not talking about a very long period of time. We are not talking about years," Labor Vice Minister Marta Elena Feitó said in an interview aired on state-run television. "We are talking about a normal work procedure to approve these norms."

Feitó said around 1,600 applications for licenses for affected occupations filed before the freeze was announced would be processed.

The number of self-employed on the island has more than tripled to 567,982 since President Raul Castro in 2010 launched his plan to open up the centrally planned economy to more private initiative and market forces.

For many Cubans, self-employment or work at cooperatives offers an opportunity to earn more than the average state wage of $30 per month. The Cuban government legalized nonagricultural cooperatives five years ago.

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Worries that the government is reneging on its reform plan were exacerbated on Friday when one fast-growing cooperative said it had been ordered to shut down.

Scenius, which provides accounting and business consultancy services mainly to state companies, said the order came after the finance ministry complained it was offering skills outside its official remit.

Scenius General Director Alfonso Larrea denounced the order on his Facebook page for destroying the "faith of 300 cooperativists ... and thousands of Cubans who believed it was possible to dream."

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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