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After a long wait, Cuba opens the door to more capitalism.




Cuba took a long-awaited and potentially irreversible step over the weekend towards a massive expansion of the island's private sector.


The communist-run government of Cuba declared on Saturday that Cubans would soon be able to obtain jobs or start a business in most areas of operation.


Previously, in only 127 officially sanctioned private-sector job descriptions, Cubans were limited to working. Over the years, some of those legalized practices involved working as a barber, tire repairer, palm tree trimmer, or "dandy," as the state referred to Cubans dressing up to pose for pictures with visitors.


However, many Cubans chafed that the government list did not contain prospects provided by the recent rise in internet penetration and the almost unlimited potential of Cubans to innovate and invent.

They will also have the opportunity to operate in more than 2,000 separate sectors

.

"The new measures for self-employment approved by the Council of Ministers will expand significantly the activities one can carry out. A new and important step to develop this kind of work," Cuban official Marino Murrillo Jorge tweeted, "the reforms czar," who has overseen its glacially-paced attempt to modernize the local economy.


Self-employment and capitalism were all but forbidden in Cuba until its near-total economic collapse, brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union, then the island's largest trading party.

The Cuban government allowed Cubans to eventually, and with frequent backtracking, quit working low-paid state jobs and go into business for themselves. More than 600,000 Cubans currently work in the private sector, according to the government's own estimates, but the figure is actually even higher when accounting for the island's booming black market.

Nevertheless, Cuban government officials have always viewed the island's capitalists as a necessary evil and a potential Trojan Horse that could cause the revolt to eventually be taken down by opponents in the United States.


And while the official line from Cuban officials is that "without hurry but without stopping," free-market changes were being introduced, the opening had slowed as the government appeared to doubt the wisdom of encouraging Cuban entrepreneurs more.


But with the pervasive effects of the pandemic, and as Raul Castro, 89, is set to step down in April as president of the Cuban Communist Party, the long-term economic planning body of the island, Cuba has gradually embarked on two main changes in 2021: unifying its labyrinthine dual-currency structure and now removing work constraints.


The government would also prohibit or limit Cubans from performing 124 tasks privately. Although those actions are yet to be revealed, the state's monopoly over health services, telecommunications, and mass media is expected to continue.

The latest measure, said Cuban economist Ricardo Torres, is likely to alter the face of the island's economy over time.

"We don't know yet which 124 activities will remain prohibited but it's safe to assume that the possibilities will be expanded for professionals," Torres told CNN. "An old demand in a country that has made an enormous investment in education. "


"This is long overdue, it's welcome news, and the United States should affirm that the embargo was never intended, and will not be used, to penalize private enterprise in Cuba, "This is long overdue, it is welcome news, and the United States should affirm that the embargo was never intended, and will not be used, to penalize private enterprise in Cuba.

"After more than half a century isn't it time to repeal a Cold War embargo that has failed to achieve any of its objectives, and has only made life harder for the struggling Cuban people?"

Leahy, a longtime champion for closer relations with Cuba, co-sponsored a long-shot bill earlier this month to end the island's nearly six-decade-old US trade embargo.


The relentlessly imaginative and long-suffering entrepreneurs of Cuba will wait to see what happens.


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