HAVANA — The elimination of 500,000 public sector jobs in six months is worrying Cubans who have known only the state as an employer, although some see an opportunity to start a small business with the government's blessing.

Among those running scared is Ricardo Aldana, a 46-year-old carpenter, who says his hair "stands on end" just thinking about losing his job on a maintenance crew for daycare centers.

"Imagine, 500,000 people: the wheel of luck is crazy and it could land on you," he said.

The coming layoffs -- 10 percent of the work force -- are just half the million state jobs that President Raul Castro wants to eliminate to boost productivity, the Achilles heel of Cuba's communist economy.

Analysts outside Cuba say the changes are a dramatic departure for a regime that has been one of the last anti-capitalist holdouts, but question whether its tiny private sector can absorb so many people so quickly.

"We don't know yet what the future holds. It's not an easy thing, a lot of workers are going to be unemployed," said Lazara Martinez, 45, a receptionist at an agency in charge of restoration work in old Havana.

The country's sole labor organization said layoffs will begin immediately and then be phased in over the next six months in all sectors of the economy, which is 95 percent state-controlled.

Those whose jobs are being eliminated will be offered other jobs in agriculture or construction, where there is a shortage of labor. If they turn the offers down, they will receive a month's salary for every decade they have worked, according to unofficial reports.

Those who lose their jobs will have to find work in the private sector, in workers' cooperatives or as self-employed freelancers.

About 148,000 Cubans -- of a 4.9-million-strong workforce -- currently work on their own account as hairdressers, taxi drivers or restaurateurs, paying taxes and social security to the government.

But according to unofficial documents circulating at work places, the government expects to issue 250,000 new permits for 120 types of businesses -- cobblers, shoe shine stands, hairdressers, watch repairers, mechanics, gardeners, translators, and so on.

Silvia, a 36-year-old computer scientist, is out of work and has turned down the two alternate job offers the government has made her.

Now, she is planning to start a business renting clothes for birthday parties, seeing a chance to make more than the average 17-dollar-a-month salary paid by the state.

"I have never thought about working for myself and really I don't expect to become a millionaire, just to live better," she said.

Angel Millo, an artisan who has worked for himself since 1993, said "more private businesses could be positive" for the island's economy, which is saddled with corruption, an oppressive bureaucracy and the world's oldest embargo, imposed in 1962 by the United States.

Ricardo Aldana is dubious, though.

"What do I gain by asking for a business license if the state then won't sell me lumber. They are still going to come to collect their taxes every month," he said.

Recent Articles

Date Title
9/30/10 When Life Imitates a Charlie Chaplin Movie... You Know You're in Cuba
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/30/10 Cuba ready to drill for oil deeper than BP
Lesley Clark and Sarah Kennedy, Miami Herald
9/29/10 A helping U.S. hand to Cuba’s market reform?
Susan Ekstein, Reuters
9/29/10 The Threat of a Label: "Dissident"
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/29/10 Castro recycles '60 speech
Washington Times
9/29/10 Castro address tens of thousands for over an hour
Will Weissert, AP
9/29/10 Tropical depression soaks Cuba, heads for Florida
Will Weissert, AP
9/28/10 US lawmakers puts off action on Cuba travel ban
9/28/10 Ease travel to Cuba, help spur reform
Carlos Saladrigas, Sun Sentinel
9/27/10 El Dorado and the Left of the 21st Century
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/27/10 "Permission Denied": The Cuban Regime Is Afraid To Let Me Travel
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/24/10 Blockade vs. Embargo: Reason Hijacked
Ernesto Morales Licea, Pequeño Hermano
9/24/10 Cuba Details New Policies on Budding Entrepreneurs
Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times
9/24/10 Freed dissidents who stay in Cuba may be put under parole
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
9/24/10 House panel to move forward on easing Cuba policy
9/23/10 Hunger striker who sewed lips shut hospitalized
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
9/23/10 Cuba offers 19 ways Obama can loosen US embargo
Andrea Rodriguez, AP
9/22/10 Lawyer in line to head Martí stations
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
9/22/10 Near Cuba, Wary Kin Wait for Proof of a New Path
Damien Cave, New York Times
9/21/10 Brazil offers Cuba help to develop small businesses
9/21/10 New weapon against regime: Immediacy
Yoani Sanchez, Miami Herald
9/21/10 Towards a mixed economy
The Economist
9/21/10 Why Reconciliation Succeeded With Vietnam, but Is Failing With Cuba
John McAuliff, Huffington Post
9/20/10 Changes in Cuba Challenge Obama's Will to Respond and Change Course
Sarah Stephens, Huffington Post
9/20/10 Cuban Teachers Desert An Increasingly Despised Profession
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/20/10 Layoffs in Cuba
Editorial Opinion, Washington Post
9/20/10 Cuban minister sacked amid policy changes
Isabel Sanchez, AFP
9/19/10 Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew
George Will, Washington Post
9/19/10 Cuba's tailspin into the `free' market
Editorial Opinion, Miami Herald
9/19/10 British firms could be first foreigners to buy land in Cuba since revolution
Elena Moya, Guardian
9/19/10 Cuba Resets the Revolution
Marc Lacey, New York Times
9/18/10 We must stanch Cuba's coming crisis
Edward Schumacher-Matos, Washington Post
9/17/10 Oil slicks don't respect political boundaries. Neither should cleanups
Editorial Opinion, Houston Chronicle
9/17/10 No word on easing travel
Lesley Clark and Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
9/17/10 A sea of pink slips on a red isle
Editorial, Financial Times
9/17/10 The Naked King
Reinaldo Escobar, Huffington Post
9/17/10 We must stanch Cuba's coming crisis
Edward Schumacher-Matos
9/17/10 Senate confirms Tampa native to oversee Voice of America, Radio Marti
Alex Leary, St. Pete Times
9/17/10 Cuba offers 19 ways Obama can loosen US embargo
Andrea Rodriguez, Miami Herald
9/16/10 Lift the hurdles for travel to Cuba
Doug Jaraczewski, Chicago Tribune
9/16/10 Expert: Cuba in first phase of de-Fidelization
Carol Rosenberg and Frances Robles, Miami Herald
9/15/10 The 'de-Fidelization' of Cuba has begun
Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald
9/15/10 Cuba says U.S. embargo has toughened under Obama
Nelson Acosta, Reuters
9/15/10 Capitalizing on Cuba
Editorial Opinion, Los Angeles Times
9/15/10 The Evil Master
Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post
9/15/10 Is Cuba giving up on socialism?
Lorne Gunter, National Post
9/15/10 Current Record
9/15/10 Document charts Cuba's path to economic reform
Paul Haven and Andrea Rodriguez, AP
9/15/10 Cuba's economic overhaul would require new approach, experts say
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
9/15/10 Cuba's Big Layoffs: What to Do with the Unemployed?
Tim Padgett, Time
9/15/10 U.S. post-election vote seen best chance for Cuba bill
Doug Palmer, Reuters
9/14/10 Cuba's leaders lay out details for layoffs
Andrea Rodriguez, AP
9/14/10 To Cuba's failures
Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami Herald
9/14/10 Cuba’s Public-Sector Layoffs Signal Major Shift
Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times
9/13/10 Cuba to lay off 500,000 in 6 months, allow private jobs
9/11/10 U.S. and Cuba discuss alliance to save sharks
Jeff Franks, Reuters
9/10/10 Castro `Amused' at How Remark on Cuban Economic Model Was Interpreted
Blake Schmidt, Bloomberg News
9/10/10 Video shows armed Cuban police breaking up student protest
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
9/10/10 Good news and bad news on the Castro front
Al Kamen, Washington Post
9/9/10 Castro Comment on Cuba Model Not Working May Signal More Economic Opening
Charlie Devereux and Bob Willis, Bloomberg
9/9/10 Again, Yoani
Reinaldo Escobar, Desde Aqui
9/9/10 Fidel Castro: Cuba's economic model is broken
Jim Wuss and Luisa Yanez, Miami Herald
9/9/10 Iranians unaware Castro has taken up their cause
Paul Haven and Nasser Karimi, Miami Herald
9/9/10 Case of detained American hampers U.S. effort to ease Cuba ties
Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times
9/8/10 Fidel: 'Cuban Model Doesn't Even Work For Us Anymore'
Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic
9/8/10 Report: Castro blasts Ahmadinejad as anti-Semitic
Will Weissert, Miami Herald
9/7/10 Cuban blogger is press freedom hero
AFP, The Guardian
9/4/10 Twenty Years
Claudia Cadelo, Octavo Cerco
9/4/10 Cuba drilling poses spill issue
Monica Hatcher, Houston Chronicle
9/3/10 Fidel Castro, Internet junkie
Editorial, Los Angeles Times
9/3/10 Scourge of the Castros: Cuba's Ladies Courageous
Thor Halvorssen, Huggington Post
9/3/10 Cuba: No lifeline to a dying regime
Stephen Johnson, Foreign Policy
9/3/10 Obama Renews Cuba Embargo for Another Year
Anya Landau French, Huffington Post
9/3/10 Urban Paranoias
Caludia Cadelo, Octavo Cerco
9/3/10 Small signal, big meaning? Castro in military duds
Paul Haven, Miami Herald
9/3/10 U.S. denies `Cuban Five' prisoner swap
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
9/2/10 Despite embargo, Cuba a haven for pirated U.S. goods
Esteban Israel, Reuters
9/2/10 Cubans See Their Ration Cards Get Thinner and Thinner
Anett Rios, Latin American Herald Tribune
9/2/10 Cuban offshore oil plans gain momentum
9/2/10 No travel to 'terrorist' countries for Florida state universities: court
Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor
9/1/10 Time to press on with our plan in Havana
Christopher Sabatini, Financial Times
9/1/10 Cuban migrants held for ransom in Mexico rescued, government says
9/1/10 Has the time come for travel to Cuba?
Bill McGee, USA Today
9/1/10 Cuban court to consider suit against Ministry of Justice
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
9/1/10 New photos show Fidel Castro with US journalist
Will Weissert, Miami Herald