Cuba: Co-op growth slows

Co-operative News

By: Anca Voinea

As Cuba continues its efforts to open to more trade, the number of new co-ops being set up has decreased.

According to figures released by the country’s National Statistics Office, only 22 new co-operatives were created last year in sectors other than agriculture. This represents a decrease from 2014, when 147 co-operatives were set up. Cuba currently has 367 non-agricultural co-operatives, 193 of which are in the capital Havana.

Around 131 co-operatives are in the commercial sector, 91 are restaurants, 61 in building and 49 in manufacture. The government announced it would convert another 230 restaurants to co-operative ownership this year.

However, only 21% of economic reforms announced in 2010 have so far been implemented. The number of self-employed workers in Cuba has dropped to 496,400, from 504,600 six months ago.

The chief of the Union of Enterprises and Trade in Gastronomy, Idalmi Martínez, told EFE that these co-op and self-employed ventures tend to provide better services but that this was reflected in higher prices.

Limited production and greater demand have determined an increase in prices, particularly in the food sector. Workers in the public sector have seen food prices increase at a higher rate than their salaries. To address food inflation the government is buying and distributing more food at fixed prices. Outlets selling basic food at fixed prices will be opened in each of Havana’s 105 districts.

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama announced on 27 January a third round of unilateral measures to further loosen the US trade embargo on the island. Obama’s lifting of key US sanctions on Cuba has opened new opportunities for the co-operative sectors in the two countries. NCBA Clusa, the national umbrella organisation for co-operatives in the US, recently joined a list of organisations and associations partnering with Engage Cuba, a working coalition on US – Cuba policy. A US-Cuba Cooperative Working Group has also been set up to promote engagement between the US and Cuban co-operative sector.

“We believe that working in partnership with Engage Cuba will strengthen all of our efforts to remove barriers to trade and other partnerships with our Cuban counterparts,” said Amy Coughenour Betancourt, chief operating officer of NCBA CLUSA and head of the USCCWG. “Cuban co-operatives are interested in improving their businesses, creating jobs, and opening up markets on the island and with the U.S. We are here to support that.”

Initial estimations of the Cuban government foresaw that the country would have 10,000 co-ops by 2017.