Cubans look to private sector to make ends meet

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans are finding that working for private employers instead of a paternalistic communist state is putting more money in their pockets, but they are still struggling to make ends meet.

Under ongoing economic reforms, tens of thousands are now working for small businesses, restaurants, farms and other enterprises where they put in long hours for relatively little pay, but say they have no better options. The reforms announced last year are aimed at fostering private sector development as part of a broad plan to modernize Cuba’s Soviet-style command economy and end a two-decade old economic crisis.

For the first time since the early years of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, private individuals in retail services, agriculture and construction have been allowed to hire employees, despite an article in the Cuban Constitution that says one’s property and equipment “cannot be used to obtain earnings from the exploitation of the labour of others.”

Cuba’s new private workers appear to worry less about exploitation than they do remuneration.

Twenty-three year-old Lizet Chaviano said she was not happy with her job serving customers and cleaning up at “La Paladar de Alina”, one of nearly 400 home-based restaurants in the capital, but it was better than the alternatives.

“I work from 8 am to 10 pm every other day. I work too much … and have to put up with the verbal abuse of the owners,” said Lizet, who complained she only earned the equivalent of between $3 and $5 a day.

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