Cooperatives face tough economy

After being extended to the non-agricultural sector, the new forms of non-state work find obstacles for wholesale supply and in other areas.

The cooperatives found fertile ground in construction, deteriorated under state-run forms of work.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños_IPS

The cooperative business forms are gaining a space in the Cuban economy despite the obstacles they find in a sphere that is still not very favourable for their development. A recent Business Fair analysed this experience, one of the novelties introduced by the economic reform undertaken by Cuba a bit over five years ago.

The authorities participating in the meeting, which took place in late March in the ExpoCuba fairgrounds, recognised the ongoing problems despite the intention of expanding the non-state forms of work.


The so-called non-agricultural cooperatives (CNA), only admitted before in the agrarian activity, experimentally came on the scene starting 2012. Since then they have demanded access to wholesale markets and attentions similar to other enterprises. The dissatisfactions continue, revealed the analysis of last March 29 at the Fair.


In the face of repeated demands by some and the doubts of others, Domestic Trade Minister Mari Blanca Ortega insisted at the Business Fair that the non-agricultural cooperatives are legal entities and therefore act in the market under equal conditions as the rest of the legal entities. As the first reason for guaranteeing them the supply, she mentioned the fact that many of the cooperatives used to belong to state forms that already had contracted these supplies.

Cooperative members and government representatives analysed the problems faced by the cooperatives in their commercial work.

Cooperative members and government representatives analysed the problems faced by the cooperatives in their commercial work.


Referring to producers and wholesale marketing, the minister said that “none of these figures have limits to establish contractual relations with the CNSa while they have these resources.” The official specified, however, that the wholesale entities must first meet the orders contracted by state-run entities.


With the intention of filling the void, the government has been trying to reorganise since 2013 a group of wholesale marketing entities to attend the needs of cooperatives in the line of non-food products. The participants in the Fair assessed as insufficient the 231 contracts signed with 11 of these wholesale entities, which neither cover the demand for food for non-state restaurants or paladares, cafeterias and gastronomy.


Domestic Trade First Deputy Minister OdalysEscandel commented on a plan to facilitate supply to the non-state forms of work. This month, she announced, the CIMEX and COPEXTEL chains and the Wholesale Food Enterprise will open new shops to expand their markets. Conceived for selling wholesale to the non-agricultural cooperatives through a contract, they could extend the service to other forms of non-state work.


The opening will take place precisely during the month in which the Congress of the Communist Party must study one of the debts in the transformation of the economic model: the wholesale market for cooperatives and private workers.


Because of these and other problems, the CNAs have lost driving force. At the close of 2015 there were 367, but the majority was approved by the Council of Ministers at the beginning: 198 in 2013 and 147 the following year, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI). In 2015 the government only gave the green light to 22.


The attitude in each of the tests of the transformations undertaken in the economy is cautiousness. In a meeting of the Council of Ministers in May 2015 President Raúl Castro requested that “the creation of cooperatives not be made massive; priority must be given to consolidating those that exist and advance gradually, since on the contrary we would be generalising the problems that come up.”


The analysis of the recent Business Fair detected other obstacles that deter the new cooperative members. The difficult access to supplies becomes aggravated due to the tendency to the hike in the (retail) agricultural markets to which they are forced to resort.


The poor commercial, legal or financial training also discourages economic self-management. A diagnosis made in Havana and in the province of Artemisa by the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy (CEEC) and the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC) confirmed a weak cooperative education.


The ANEC will soon begin five workshops for non-state workers about quality management, credits and the entrance and orientation to the market, among others.


The lack of knowledge also slows down enterprises and other state entities when signing contracts with these cooperatives, the participants in the Business Fair observed.


Economy and Planning Deputy Minister René Hernández Castellanos cited in this meeting a programme to prepare those responsible for policies and heads of economic activities after recognising problems of knowledge about the regulations and the norms in force for the development of the new forms of work. He also asked for more active advice to the organisations that accompany the creation of these cooperatives.


Previously visible in a very different sector of the economy, agriculture and cattle raising, the presence of cooperatives in construction, services, commerce and other activities is an ambitious step in the updating of the Cuban economic model. It implies transformations in the country’s business spaces, in the commercial and price regulations and in labour legislation. The change also encourages hopes, problems and questions, as seen in public debates. (2016)

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