A difficult birth

Cooperatives are making incursions as an alternative into non-agricultural areas, but they are facing delays in their birth after being approved or obstacles to become a non-state form in an economy dominated by State enterprises.

The majority of the first group of cooperatives authorized in April 2013 found fertile ground in the agricultural market.

With the support of the government and professional institutions, the cooperatives are continuing to take off in non-agricultural sectors of the Cuban economy, without losing their experimental character because of this. Recent meetings organised by the national union of economists confirm, meanwhile, that the road is, at par, promising and tricky for these new non-state economic structures.

During an early March meeting, the Council of Ministers authorised the creation of a new group of 228 cooperatives, a figure that doubles the active amount in non-agricultural areas of the economy until now. According to the report offered at the close of that governmental session, 270 obtained the approval last year, of which only 224 were already constituted.

After being present for decades almost just for agricultural and livestock production, the cooperatives are making incursions for the first time into commercial, construction, industrial, transport and service sectors, among others, starting April 2013, when the government approved the first 126. It added another 71 in July and a third group of 73 in October.

The initial main amount was established for the agricultural market business, but afterwards they have gradually expanded to other scenarios of the economy. Vice President of the Council of Ministers Marino Murillo, head of the commission in charge of leading the country’s economic changes, reported that out of the group approved in March of this year, 186 are operating in commerce, gastronomy and services, 15 are industrial, 12 function in construction, three in transport and one in food production. This time some dedicated to the energy activity (5) and to accounting services (6) were incorporated.

In view of the delay of some cooperatives to start up after receiving the green light, the authorities agreed to analyse during the next meeting of the Council of Ministers those that at the close of February had not been officially created and then to assess “the convenience of invalidating the corresponding constitution agreement.”

During the meeting with the ministers in March, President Raúl Castro insisted on the experimental character of the process and asked the responsible agencies and the provincial governments to check on the work of these new non-state forms of business to detect possible mistakes and to correct them. “We have to analyse and not act as if what has been designed were impeccable,” he said.The new non-state work forms, also expanded to transport, are facing difficulties to sign supply contracts with the State enterprises.

Along that line, the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC) started giving courses for the training of cooperative members in labour, juridical, tax and contracting matters. With the participation of professors from the University of Havana and from other institutions, the courses will also serve as a space for the promotion of the economic culture, so important in view of the transformations being undertaken in the country, Ana Borges Borrego, ANEC vice president responsible for training in the capital, told the press.

It would be the seed to face one of the deficiencies pointed out in the two workshops organised by the ANEC in Havana and Matanzas. Among other problems, the participants admitted the lack of knowledge of the cooperative members about the banking legislation in relation to the option of loans for working and repair capital.

With the participation of academicians, members of the national executive board of ANEC, representatives of state administration agencies and numerous members of the agricultural cooperatives, the meeting held in Havana in mid April recognised an improvement in labour discipline and regarding the sense of belonging among the partners of these new entities, the majority coming from State enterprises and labour units.

Today everyone is concerned about keeping the locales clean, caring for the equipment, controlling expenditures in black and white and are aware that while the more they produce the more incomes they will obtain, said Exiquio Ramírez, president of the Marianao clothing cooperative, a workshop that used to belong to the Gala enterprise of the Light Industry Ministry.

A similar appraisal was expressed by the participants in the cooperative and local development workshop held in late March in the city of Matanzas. They also coincided, however, on the excessive delay of the procedures to approve a cooperative and the obstacles in the supplies because of the absence of a wholesale market as well as in establishing contracts or fluid relations with the supplier enterprises.One of the cooperatives authorised to operate in the gastronomic sector, the Karabalí Café, served as the venue for a Provincial Workshop on Cooperatives in Havana.

The Havana meeting, held in the Karabalí Café, the venue of one of the new cooperatives, denounced the state entities “that have no knowledge about our right to purchase supplies at 20 percent less of their value on the retail network, thus obviating the juridical personality these forms of management have by law.” In other cases, the enterprises are not authorised to sell to the cooperatives.

This new non-state work form – it was preceded by a less complex one, the self-employed workers or independent workers – is expanding between good decisions, obstacles and enormous expectations toward areas of the economy traditionally dominated by State enterprises. Up to what point will they be able to grow and develop? That is the question for which there still isn’t a clear answer in view. While the government aims to leave in their hands activities in which the State displayed constant inefficiency throughout the years, the commercial and entrepreneurial routines of the country are starting to place hurdles in front of the new cooperatives. (2014)

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