Monday, November 4, 2013

Cuba bans private cinemas and the sale of imported goods

Movies shown in Havana will return to two dimensions per government order. Businesses offering imported goods also have their days numbered. This Saturday the Council of Ministers announced an immediate ban on "cinematographic projections including 3D theaters and computer games," offered by independent businesses. These projections are said to ratify "the illegality of minority businesses that sell imported goods and resell those acquired through the state's commercial apparatus." The authorities deny that these measures represent a step back in economic modernization and argue that, on the contrary, these laws are "necessary corrections" to protect independent workers.

Films in 3D were first shown in small private theaters in the capital. Many of them doubled as coffee shops. Prices ranged from one to four pesos convertibles, (Cuba's second official currency that is used to convert foreign money for use on the island where it is equivalent to the US dollar.) The entrance ticket buys the spectator a drink or a bag of popcorn.

The Cuban Communist Party youth newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, published a story on October 26 that denounced the proliferation of venues that operate without license and give priority to American films. "More and more Cubans are discreetly - and some not so discreetly - setting up new and small theaters to show these kinds of films without first getting a proper license," the article said. "Our journalists have confirmed that many of these venues are actually in homes, garages, or renovated terraces offering air conditioning, HD screens and projectors, and chairs, sofas or old fashioned stalls depending on the space, budget and initiative of the owner," the paper said.

The next day, Cuban Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas said the principles of cultural politics that came out of the Cuban Revolution ruled over both state institutions and independent ventures. Consequently, he continued, the government would start regulating these venues.

On November 2 the state's main newspaper, Granma, published an announcement signed by the Council of Ministers. It read, "cinematographic projections, including 3D venues and group computer games, were never sanctioned." They should cease immediately, the note warned.

The government also set a date for the elimination of private businesses that have been offering imported goods. Since a considerable number a workers have asked for some time to sell off and liquidate their stocks, the Council of Ministers "has approved their doing so until December 31st of this year."

Independent businesses was first legalized in October 2010. Since then Raúl Castro's government determines which commercial activities may be undertaken and their corresponding tax responsibilities. According to official records the number of registered independent workers rose from 157.000 to 442.000 in the last three years.

The Cuban government denied that these last measures would lead to a regression in the agenda for economic modernization that Castro's government had taken on in the last few years due to financial difficulties, social pressure and political instability in Venezuela, its most important commercial partner and political ally. "These measures are corrections necessary for this kind of work to be done in an orderly manner, fight impunity, insist on obedience to the law and protect independent workers, most of whom follow the regulations," the announcement said. "This is in no way a step back. On the contrary, we will keep advancing decidedly toward modernizing Cuban's economic model."

Translation: Dyane Jean François


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