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Cuba reassures with plans for cooperatives to start at year-end

HAVANA--Cuba's economy czar said Monday that plans are in place to begin an experimental phase of non-state cooperatives in sectors ranging from food services to transportation by the end of the year.

While cooperative farming has already begun, Cubans have been waiting for regulations allowing them to form worker-owned co-ops in other sectors. The pilot program announced by Marino Murillo in a session of Cuba's parliament will include 222 cooperatives.

The creation of midsize cooperatives is a long-promised lynchpin of President Raul Castro's economic reforms, and Cuba's economy czar promised state support to jump-start the pilot program. Murillo said some will be converted state-run enterprises, and co-ops will be given preference over private single-owner businesses.

“For these cooperatives and the non-state entities, in the coming year US$100 million is being budgeted which is the financing necessary so they can be assured production, because if we create them and there is no financing, they won't work,” Murillo told laawmakers in one of the parliament's twice-a-year sessions.

He also reiterated that Cuba must also make its state-run enterprises more efficient and productive, since they will continue to dominate.

“The most important part of our economy will be the socialist state enterprise,” Murillo said. “Don't think that all of a sudden the private-sector workers will generate US$40 billion, US$50 billion in GDP.”

Castro's five-year plan to overhaul the economy has already legalized the sale of homes and cars and swelled the ranks of private-sector entrepreneurs by a quarter-million since 2010.

Nearly all are small mom-and-pop shops, however, the likes of restaurants, cell-phone repair shops and jewelers.

Cuba insists that the reforms are not are not a wholesale embrace of capitalism but rather an “updating” of the nation's socialist model, and most key sectors will remain under government control.

Other than a statute on taxation, no new laws were announced Monday. Foreign journalists were not allowed access to the session of the National Assembly, but state television aired Murillo's speech in the evening.

For islanders wondering whether the assembly would take action on long-promised reform of travel restrictions, it was another disappointment.

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Cuba's President Raul Castro gestures as he is applauded by members of the parliament after his closing speech during a session by the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 23.

(AP)

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