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A rare commercial opportunity in Cuba

08/27/2021 | 06:42pm EDT

Cuban entrepreneurs, ranging from a dried fruit vendor to bike repair shops and software developers, are hoping to cash in on a landmark change in the rules governing the communist-run island's economy...

The change could mean more business opportunities and roadblocks ahead. Earlier this month, the government released regulations about a reform that would allow small- and medium-sized ventures to formally incorporate as businesses and access state financing, ending decades of classifying them as 'self-employed'.

The measure is seen by many analysts as one of the most important reforms undertaken since all businesses were nationalized by former leader Fidel Castro.

Cuban economist Omar Everleny described the reform as a very positive one, long-sought by many Cubans... but he says change hasn't happened fast enough.

"Since 2016 we've been talking about small and medium businesses, and today they are talking about 'gradually' in the country when what we need is speed, not 'gradually.'"

It does have limits - for instance, people can own no more than one business and cannot contract foreign partners or carry out direct foreign trade.

But for Nayvis Diaz, founder of Velo Cuba, a bicycle repair and rental company with 17 employees in Havana, it marks a significant change.

"It's a moment we've been waiting a long time for, to really have a non-state sector, in this case a private sector. To be part of a global analysis of the country's economy so we could help in every way we could."

The measure forms part of a package of market-oriented reforms undertaken by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel over the last year, as the health crisis and tougher U.S. sanctions tipped the shaky economy into a tailspin and led to shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

The Fernandez brothers, who own Deshidratados Habana, Cuba's only company processing and selling dried fruits, were nevertheless enthusiastic.

Ricardo Fernandez says the reform may sound good on paper but wonders what it'll look like in practice.

"Everything we see written down sounds wonderful, it gives us hope but in time we would like to see how real this regulation is in practice and how sustainable it is over time, how regular is its application."

The Fernandez brothers say they have the land and suppliers lined up... now all they need... is the financing.

© Reuters 2021
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