Corrected: Factbox: Cubans rush at chance to open new businesses

Tue Jan 25, 2011 3:13pm EST
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(Adds dropped word Cuba in 1st paragraph)

HAVANA (Reuters) - Thousands of new businesses are opening in Communist-led Cuba as the government relaxes restrictions on private ventures and prepares to lay off up to a million public sector workers in the biggest jobs shake-up in decades.

President Raul Castro's government unveiled plans in September to expand the private sector by allowing new or additional opportunities in 178 activities ranging from food and wine sales to animal training.

Below are some details about the new system:

* Starting in October, the government began issuing permits for "self-employment," which includes small businesses, to create jobs for some of 500,000 state employees to be laid off by March in a cost-cutting measure. At least a million people are expected to lose state jobs in the next few years. At the last count, 75,000 permits had been handed out with minimal bureaucracy and thousands more are being issued each week.

* Prior to this opening of the economy, Cuba had 591,000 people working outside of the public sector, a number that includes mostly family farmers, plus 143,000 licensed self-employed. About 85 percent of Cuba's labor force of 5 million people work for the state. For the first time in decades, private businesses will be allowed to hire staff.

* The 178 activities being authorized cover many basic services such as construction, home and car repairs, haircuts, transportation, and food service, but also includes things like clowns, massages, button wrappers, umbrella repair, palm tree trimmers and caretakers of public restrooms.

* Over the past two years, 128,000 people have been given permits to work previously abandoned farmland. The vast majority of those people have little previous experience in agriculture. So far, most of the 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) handed out are still not producing crops but are being "prepared," the government says.

* Hundreds of private restaurants, known as "paladares," have sprung up in recent weeks. The restaurants are allowed to employ staff for the first time and their size limit expanded to 20 seats, although the current limit of 12 was already widely ignored in popular paladares. The restaurants are also allowed to legally offer dishes including potatoes, shellfish and beef, previously forbidden, but usually available.   Continued...