15 April 2010

Liberating the barbers

Does it start with the barbers? The Cuban government is turning over hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons to employees in what may be the start of an overhaul of state retail services. Instead of receiving a wage, the barbers and hairdressers will be able to rent their space and pay a fee based on the revenue they generate. They will be required to pay for their own water, electricity and supplies but will be free to charge whatever the market will bear.

This is the first time since they were nationalized in 1968 that state-run, retail-level establishments have been handed over to employees. The action is long overdue for a sector notorious for poor service.

One Cuba-watcher, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, suggests that although this is but a small step, it has considerable potential if more broadly applied. "If carried out fully," he stated, "it would convert small state enterprises into leasing arrangements and urban co-operatives." The idea of an abundance of co-operatives sounds very progressive indeed and could set an example for other countries, including ours, something for our governments to consider when they privatize things like liquor retailing.

If this small taste of free enterprise doesn't prove too much for the Castros, it might even lead to larger freedoms for the Cuban people.

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