Saturday, June 18, 2011

Urban marketplaces, long common in Latin America, flourishing in Cuba amid economic changes

Urban marketplaces, long common in Latin America, flourishing in Cuba
amid economic changes
By Associated Press, Published: June 17

HAVANA — Marketplaces full of vendors hawking everything from food to
religious items may be common sights across Latin America, but they're
springing up for the first time in the Cuban capital as the island's
Communist government opens its tightly controlled economy to some
private-sector activity.

Nearly 140 official points of sale in abandoned structures, parking lots
and crumbling old buildings have been established in recent months and
are accommodating about 2,600 independent vendors, the Communist Party
newspaper Granma reported Friday. The number of markets "should grow
steadily," Luis Carlos Gongora, vice president of Havana's Provincial
Administration Council, told the newspaper.

Cuba only recently began licensing a broad spectrum of private sector
activity, giving rise to a nascent and growing class of self-employed

Former health care worker Andres Lamberto Diaz, who took out a license
for to sell clothes, shoes and jewelry, said he pays 40 pesos ($1.60) a
day — on top of his taxes and license fees — for the right to set up
shop on a lot where few traces remain of what was an old mansion in busy
Central Havana.

"Things are organized here, and the flow of people along the avenue is
good," Diaz said. "Nevertheless, I think it's a lot to pay each day for
the space." Official salaries average about $20 a month in Cuba.

Faustino Agramonte, the state administrator of the market, said it
houses 21 independent merchants, and officials are looking at possibly
expanding into a little-used parking lot on the site of another
collapsed building.

Buckets, spatulas, cheese graters and soup pots hung from one stand
Friday. Colorful clothing was on offer at another, strung up underneath
a canvas tarp to protect it from the intense tropical sun. The market
launched in early 2010.

Under the new rules governing independent businesses, many people have
set up shop in their own houses. Not all Cubans, however, live in spaces
appropriate for home businesses, and many are taking to the streets. The
government has accomodated the trend by creating authorized vending
zones where sellers can gather.

Officials are considering adjustments to the tax structure for
independent operators, Granma said.

Mired in deep financial woes and hamstrung by inefficiency in state-run
businesses, Cuba announced last August that it would be implementing
major changes in hopes of rescuing its troubled economy. From the end of
2010 through May, more than 200,000 Cubans became licensed independent

President Raul Castro insists that the new private-sector activity is
meant to "update" Cuba's socialist model, not replace it with the free

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