Cubans with academic qualifications will be allowed to engage in private enterprise, according to a new ruling of the ministry of labour and social security. But there is a major restriction. They are forbidden to use their academic expertise in the private sector.
Cuba, although a member of the USSR-led Comecon block, largely remained aloof from the political and economic changes which brought about that bloc's demise. As one communist government after another fell to the tide of multi-party democracy and pro-market reforms, Cuban leader Fidel Castro proclaimed his unswerving allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and the centrally planned economy.
But with Cuba's economic ties with its former socialist allies ruptured, and the economy in disarray, it was eventually decided to allow a small private sector in a limited range of occupations and subject to fairly stringent, and frequently changing, regulations. Private employment of labour was still anathema to the Cuban ideologues, but self-employed status was, pragmatically, tolerated.
Holders of university degrees or equivalent qualifications were, however, specifically barred from self-employment. Since they had received their education at the expense of the state, it was argued, the state had the sole right to their expert knowledge.
Since the beginning of this month, however, persons described by the ministry of labour as "university professionals" will be allowed to do self-employed work in their free time - provided that they have the permission of the management of their official job, and that their performance of their official duties is not impaired. But, as before, they may not use their professional expertise, gained at the state's expense, for private gain.
This apparent charter for amateurism would allow, for example, a history graduate to spend his evenings as a "self-employed" radio-repairman, but forbid a qualified electronic engineer from doing so.