The Cuban government has taken another step toward regularizing private businesses that were first authorized in an economic reform package announced in 2009. The new regulations were discussed and approved at the secretive Communist Party Congress that took place in mid-April.
The government announcement, contained in a 32-page document released yesterday, did not specify what the exact changes for the private sector were going to involve. In several news reports, there was speculation that it would permit business owners to open bank accounts and engage in international banking transactions that would facilitate them getting resources and materials for their business.
Cuba's private sector has developed into a key part of the nation's economy, even though most big businesses remain under control of the central government. Up until 2009, all legal businesses were owned by the government. The reforms, which allowed the first private businesses to officially begin operating, were seen as being pushed by President Raúl Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel Castro when he fell ill. There have been reports that the ultimate goal is for private-sector activities to make up more than 40 percent of the economy.
The initial reforms allowed Cubans to engage in activities in more than 200 specific categories that ranged from restaurants, barbershops and beauty salons to small sundries shops. On almost every street in Havana, you can find these small shops, often just identified with a cardboard sign announcing whatever activity is going on inside. The restaurant world has been dramatically altered by the reforms, with some successful eateries serving hundreds of meals a day, and new ones cropping up lmost weekly, driven by money from abroad.
But there is no indication how the new regulations will impact the existing private sector. According to the news reports, the new rules must be approved by the National Assembly, which only meets twice a year. It could be months before the exact details of these changes are known the general public and the outside world.