Cooperatives continue growing in the non-agricultural sector of the Cuban economy, though at a slower pace than at the start. After giving them the green light in November 2012 for their incorporation to economic activities where they previously did not exist, the government is cautiously manoeuvring before favouring the expansion of this form of non-state work. This year, however, they are tending to gain force, coinciding with some measures approved to back them.
The year 2015 saw the poorest amount of approvals of non-agricultural cooperatives. At the close of December 367 were functioning in the country, an increase of barely 22 over the ones registered a year before, according to reports by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI). This advance contrasts with the 198 authorized in 2013 and the 147 in 2014.
The moderation responds to the government’s public strategy. Last May, President Raúl Castro directed in a meeting of the Council of Ministers, to “not massively create cooperatives; the priority must be to consolidate the existing ones and to gradually advance, since on the contrary we would be generalising the problems that crop up.”
But in 2016 the approval could gain some force, judging by the year’s start up. In the first three months, the authorities approved 16 new non-agricultural cooperatives, a figure that is starting to get close to the total incorporated throughout 2015.
During the May meeting it was announced that another 205 proposals were being assessed by the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Guidelines.
Out of the 383 existing at the close of March, the majority, 208, are in Havana. The other four provinces with the largest number are all in the west, around the capital: Artemisa (67), Pinar del Río (12), Mayabeque (15) and Matanzas (19). The central and eastern provinces have been less favoured: none of them have more than 10.
The imbalance is probably due to the experimental character with which the authorities decided to try their luck with this non-state business form, since the Constitution admits them only for the agricultural activity.
Commerce and gastronomy show the greatest expansion. Out of the total, 131 are involved in commerce and the repair of personal effects, 102 in restaurants and hostels, 60 in construction and 49 in manufacturing, according to ONEI.
In May of this year the government approved a group of measures so that the cooperatives that operate in gastronomy and provide personal and technical services can directly buy supplies from wholesale producers and marketing enterprises, state-run as well as joint ventures.
The new cooperatives, however, are still complaining about the bureaucratic obstacles they face to obtain raw material and other resources they need for their services.
Another difficulty that can delay the development of this form of business organisation is the poor commercial management, accounting and business training of the workers who decide to take that step. The majority of the cooperatives are born from the transformation of state-run entities.
In the July sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Domestic Trade Minister Mary Blanca Ortega reported that 219 state-run commerce, gastronomy and services units have been authorised to become non-agricultural cooperatives. But only 110 have taken the step. The rest is preparing conditions.
A study carried out by the Centre for Studies on the Cuban Economy (CEEC) and the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC) indicates that those personnel have a weak training and knowledge about the arts of business management. Experts fear that that they will transfer to the new structure vices present in the state-run forms they are today abandoning in search of greater decision-making autonomy. (2016)
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