© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People stand in front of a private restaurant in Havana, Cuba© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People stand in front of a private restaurant in Havana, Cuba

By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) – A draft of new Cuban economic regulations proposes increasing state control over the private sector and curtailing private enterprise, a copy of the document seen by Reuters showed.

The tightening may signal that the ruling Cuban Communist Party fears that free market reforms introduced eight years ago by President Raul Castro may have gone too far, amid a broader debate about rising inequality.

The draft document, circulating among Cuba experts and private entrepreneurs, goes beyond proposed restrictions announced in December.

For example, it would allow homes only one license to operate a restaurant, cafeteria or bar. That would limit the number of seats per establishment to 50. Many of Havana’s most successful private restaurants currently hold several licenses enabling them to have a seating capacity of 100 or more.

There is uncertainty over the direction of economic policy generally as Cuba prepares in April to mark the end of six decades of rule by Castro and his older brother Fidel, who stood down formally as a leader in 2008.

That has been heightened by U.S. President Donald Trump partially rolling back the Obama-era detente with the United States.

The head of the Communist Party’s reform commission, Marino Murillo, announced restrictions on the private sector in December, some of them included in the new document. But the draft regulations go into greater detail and show how far the push back could go.

“The decree strengthens control at a municipal, provincial and national level” over the private sector, according to the 166-page document, dated Aug. 3, 2017 and signed by Marcia Fernández Andreu, deputy chief of the secretariat of Cuba’s Council of Ministers.

The document said resolutions were drafted by the reform commission and were being sent to provincial and national organs of administration for consultation. Reuters could not independently verify its authenticity. Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some analysts said they suspected the draft was leaked to gauge public opinion and could be revised.

The regulations state that measures that will apply to infractions will be more “rigorous.”

The government has increased criticism of wealth accumulation over the past year and gone on the offensive against tax evasion and other malpractices in the private sector.

The number of self-employed Cubans soared to 567,982 as of the middle of last year, versus 157,731 in 2010 at the start of the reform process designed to boost Cuba’s centrally planned economy.

Private sector workers now make up roughly 12 percent of the workforce, but the prosperity of some Cuban entrepreneurs, particularly those working in the tourist sector and receiving hard currency, has become a source of tension.

The average state monthly wage is $30, the same sum a B&B owner can charge for a night’s stay.

The restrictions unveiled by Murillo in December included limiting business licenses to a single activity per entrepreneur.

Some entrepreneurs had hoped they could get around that by transferring business licenses, for activities as diverse as manicures or bookkeeping, to family members.

It was unclear from the draft document whether the measures would be applied retroactively.

Murillo said in December the number of categories in which self employment would be permitted would be reduced and in some cases consolidated. For example, manicurist, masseuse and hairdresser would fall under an expanded beauty salon license.

The draft lists 122 categories, down from approximately 200 previously.

The document calls for a new division under the Ministry of Labour to administer and control self-employed work.

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