Cuba modifies some regulations unpopular with private sector

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZFeaturesAssociated Press

Cuba's government has modified a series of measures unpopular with the country's private sector, including lifting restrictions on the number of business permits a person can have and the number of chairs there can be in restaurants, a top official said Wednesday.

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In July, authorities announced tighter controls on self-employment, including that Cubans would no longer be able to run more than a single business and high-earning businesses would pay new taxes, among other measures. The controls were meant to prevent tax evasion, abuses and the accumulation of wealth after openings on the communist-run island had fueled the rise of a prosperous upper-middle class.

Labor and Social Security Minister Margarita Gonzalez said authorities decided to modify some of those regulations as a result of months of meetings with representatives of the private sector to hear their complaints. The rules, with the revisions, take effect Friday.

Under the initial regulations announced in July, Cubans could have only one business permit — they couldn't be a manicurist, rent a room and sell arts and crafts, for example. They can now have more than one permit as long as they are reasonable, Gonzalez said.

Another change removes an unpopular regulation that had limited the number of chairs allowed in privately owned restaurants to 50.

Self-employment "is a complement to state activity," Gonzalez said, defending it as a source of employment, taxes and improvements for the population while acknowledging that "irregularities have also been observed."

One of the world's last communist nations, Cuba has made minimal reforms in comparison with economic high-performers like China and Vietnam. But the changes it has made have allowed the number of licensed "self-employed" workers to rise sharply since 2010, when Cuba began opening to more categories of private business. Thousands more Cubans work full or part-time in private activities without a license, though the large majority or Cubans still work in the state sector.

The new prosperity, often funded with capital from Cuban emigres overseas, has prompted resentment and complaints from the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who still live on state salaries averaging $30 a month.

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Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP