Page last updated at 02:44 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 03:44 UK

Cuba liberalises barber shops and beauty salons

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana


A Cuban barber reacts to the changes

Cuba is turning over hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons to employees in what may be the start of a long-expected privatisation drive.

All barbers and hairdressers in shops with three seats or fewer will be allowed to rent the space and pay taxes instead of getting a monthly wage.

The retail sector has long been derided for poor service and rampant theft.

The country's former President, Fidel Castro, nationalised all small businesses in 1968.

'Slow and cautious'

Now his younger brother and successor Raul Castro is trying to modernise the system without jumping to full-scale capitalism.

Other communist countries such as China and Vietnam have long since pushed through market reforms while maintaining political control.

President Castro's first economic reforms involved giving unproductive state-owned land to private farmers.

Some taxi drivers are allowed to work for themselves.

This is his first attempt to deal with shops in the retail and service sector.

It is likely to be a gradual process, though.

These beauty salon changes have not been officially announced or mentioned in the state-controlled press.

In a recent speech to the Young Communist League, Raul Castro acknowledged that people were impatient for change but warned that he planned to move slowly and cautiously.

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