HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's economy czar said Thursday that the government is planning more measures to support and increase the ranks of independent workers and small business owners, including the authorization of new areas of private employment.
Real estate broker, delivery person, antique dealer and produce vendor will be among the newly legal private professions, Marino Murillo told lawmakers at the second of their twice-annual sessions.
Economists have long said Cuba needs to expand the number of allowable private enterprises, with an emphasis on legalizing more independent white-collar work. Real estate has been a particular concern. Cuba legalized the buying and selling of property 12 months ago, but has yet to allow agents to facilitate transactions.
In a country that has long employed nearly the entire workforce and where the state dominates the economy, the self-employed "are gaining space," Murillo was quoted as saying by state news agency Prensa Latina.
The session was not open to international journalists.
Currently some 400,000 people are working in the private sector in 180 legally approved jobs, Prensa Latina said. That's up from 156,000 in late 2010, the onset of Castro's five-year plan to reform the economy with a dash of free-market activity.
Cuba intends to keep control of key sectors, however, and Castro and other top officials insist the country is not abandoning a half-century of socialism for freewheeling capitalism.
Murillo also said that in the future, state-run businesses including tourism concerns will be able to pay independent contractors in the hard, dollar-based currency through bank transactions.
Dressed in military khakis, President Raul Castro presided over the parliamentary session as legislators passed a budget for next year and heard an update on the economic situation.
The government announced recently that GDP rose 3.1 percent this year, below expectations of 3.4 percent. Growth of 3.7 percent is forecast for 2013, low for a small developing economy.
Economy Minister Adel Izquierdo said the construction sector is expected to expand 20 percent in the coming year, worker productivity should rise 2.6 percent and the country has a goal of topping 3 million tourist visits for the first time, according to Prensa Latina.
In its first order of business, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution of support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who earlier this week underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in the Cuban capital.
"We wish for his quick recovery," the resolution said, according to footage broadcast by state television. "At the same time … we ratify our unconditional solidarity and support, under any circumstances, for the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in this new battle."
Cuban leaders have sometimes used the parliamentary gatherings to make important announcements or policy statements.
The unicameral parliament will reconvene in February with a new membership following elections and is then expected to name Castro to another five-year term.
Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi