Cuba Closes Privately Owned Movie Theaters And Imported Goods Sold From Private Markets

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If Hollywood had any plans to take over Cuba, those plans will need to be put on hold. The Communist-governed island's Council of Ministers announced over the weekend that it was banning all private movie theaters, including ones showing 3D films. The decision affects movie theaters, private video game parlors, and the sale of imported goods outside of state-owned markets.

The government emphasized that this measure does not represent a retreat from its economic reforms, saying it was just a “necessary amendment” to protect self-employed workers. Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported in late October that several movie theaters were operating without a valid license, and that they mostly showed U.S. films.

“Discreetly, and not so discreetly, the number of Cubans (...) showing movies without a proper license is increasing," the newspaper reported. "Many theaters have been improvised in private homes, garages or rooftops.”

Deputy Minister for Culture Fernando Rojas said the government would start regulating such activities, prompting state-owned newspaper Granma, a mouthpiece for the ruling party, to write, “Movie showings, including 3D shows, have never been authorized, and as such, should stop immediately."

The statement published by Granma also targeted private markets that have been selling imported goods, traditionally reserved for state-owned establishments. According to Granma, several workers asked for a grace period to sell their inventory and not lose money. The Council of Ministers allowed, “as an exception,” those businesses will continue to operate until the end of the year.

Self-employment in Cuba was made legal three years ago, but it has always been kept under tight control by President Raúl Castro’s government. The government decides on every application on a case-by-case basis, and it determines the tax to be paid by each applicant. According to official numbers, the number of self-employed workers increased by 180 percent in the last three years, from 157,000 in 2010 to the current 442,000.

Havana rejected the idea that the most recent measures will roll back the timid economic aperture started by Cuba since Raúl Castro took the helm from his aging, ailing brother Fidel. The reform has been put on hold several times, because of currency problems and a recent crisis in Venezuela, Cuba’s foremost trading partner and political ally.

“These measures are just necessary corrections in order to keep order, fight impunity, demand the fulfilment of the law and protect self-employed workers -- most of whom comply with the law,” concluded the Council of Ministers' statement. “This is not, in any way, a step backwards. On the contrary, we will keep working towards the modernization of the Cuban economic system.”

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