The Associated Press | May 23, 2011 | 02:24 PM EDT
More than 1,000 independent shops selling building materials have opened
up around Cuba, official media said Monday, as the government looks to
the private sector to fight corruption and the black market, eliminate
expensive subsidies and help ease a severe housing crisis.
Communist Party newspaper Granma said Monday that the new shops give
Cubans more access to supplies without having to navigate a Byzantine
"Acquiring these products no longer means immersing oneself in the
tangle of innumerable 'legal' documents that, in many cases, facilitated
corruption and favoritism toward a 'chosen' few who were not always the
most in need," the paper said.
The government has long controlled all construction on the island.
Cement and other building materials were in theory available in
state-run stores at heavily subsidized prices, but demand greatly
outstripped supply in part due to pilfering from state stocks.
Many turned to the thriving black-market trade in those stolen supplies
to get quicker service.
In recent years the government authorized the sale of building materials
in pricier stores that trade in the convertible peso, which is the
equivalent of $1. But those prices are out of reach of many Cubans who
receive state wages averaging about $20.
The new stores trade in the noncovertible peso that the government uses
for most salaries. Although the prices are higher than before, they are
cheaper than in the convertible-currency stores and much of the
bureaucracy been eliminated.
Rules governing the stores were created in January as part of a sweeping
economic package of free-market changes that the government is counting
on to stimulate a moribund economy. The government says newly
independent workers will be able to manufacture and sell building
materials wholesale, but details are still forthcoming.
Granma also said Monday that bank credit will be offered for the
purchase of building materials, but it did not give details.
The government has acknowledged that a lack of housing is one of the
country's biggest challenges. The shortage reached some 500,000 homes as
of the middle of the past decade, according to official estimates.
The National Statistics Office said this month that 33,000 homes were
built in 2010, compared with 35,000 in the previous year — both of which
fell far short of the 110,000 constructed in 2006, when then-President
Fidel Castro launched a campaign to address the problem.
For decades there have also been restrictions on the buying and selling
of private property, meaning many Cubans have no choice but to continue
living with their parents and other relatives even as they start
families of their own.
Recommendations approved by a Communist Party summit last month would
relax those restrictions, but they have not yet been enacted into law.
Authorities recently announced they are studying a new progressive tax
code, but without giving details.