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Cuban small businesses under threat

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Cuban small businesses under threat

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HAVANA (AP) – You can find just about anything at El Curita marketplace in gritty central Havana.
Hundreds of entrepreneurs hawk all manner of goods at the bustling bazaar, from watches, shampoos and facial creams to neon-colored tube tops and the striped FC Barcelona soccer jerseys that are increasingly a fashion must.
Three years ago, there was nothing quite like it on this Communist-run island known as much for perpetual scarcity as it is for pristine beaches and world class cigars. And three months from now, it could all be over as authorities begin enforcing a new law banning the private sale of imported goods.
Cuba is in the middle of what it calls a significant opening to limited private enterprise – even as it swears it won’t abandon socialism. But for entrepreneurs who have carved out modestly successful livelihoods after investing their life savings to launch import-dependent businesses, the new measure feels like a big step back.
Announced in late September, the law is likely to snuff out some businesses entirely while driving others back underground in a nation where the black market has long flourished. In some markets, crude signs have already started going up advertising “liquidation” sales.
“I never thought that this would happen. I’m desperate,” said Barbara Perez, who sells blouses for $13 and jeans for around $15 from her clothing stall. “I can’t sleep because I’m constantly asking myself, ‘What is going to happen? What am I going to do?’”
Last week, she said, authorities summoned her to hear an explanation of the new rule.
“They treated me well. They read me the new law and they made me sign a paper,” Perez said between sobs. She has until November 30 to sell her remaining inventory, and “after that they can confiscate it”.
Some 436 000 Cubans are running or working for private small businesses under President Raul Castro’s package of social and economic reforms begun in 2010. Among other things, the government has legalized used car and real estate sales and ended the much-detested exit visa required for decades of all islanders seeking to travel overseas.