Cuba authorizes nonfarm cooperatives

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HAVANA (AP) — Cuba formally authorized the creation of the first non-agricultural cooperatives on Tuesday, a measure expected to permit the growth of midsize businesses as part of President Raul Castro's plan to open the economy to some liberalization.

More than 200 co-ops will be established during a trial period in sectors from transportation and construction to fishing and services, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said. The state will also lease out businesses such as restaurants and repair shops for their employees to run cooperatively.

Top Cuban leaders announced the imminent arrival of the nonfarm co-ops in the summer, but the change did not take effect until five new governing statutes were published Tuesday in the government's Official Gazette.

The rules say a cooperative can be formed by three or more Cubans.

"They will not be administratively subordinate to any state entity, although they should conform to the guidelines established by the governing bodies that oversee their activities," Granma said.

The paper added that they will be free to do business with private citizens, other cooperatives or state entities, and to set their own prices "except those that the State determines."

While agricultural collectives have existed since the 1990s, these will be the first worker-run nonfarm co-ops allowed after the Cuban state's control over nearly the entire economy for decades.

Castro's five-year plan of gradual reform has seen other measures like the leasing of state land to independent growers, the legalized sale of real estate and used cars and eased restrictions on travel.

Officials say they are not abandoning socialism and the state will maintain control of key sectors.

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