HAVANA — Cuba announced a new credit system Thursday that will offer loans to small-business owners, private farmers and other citizens beginning next month, and established rules for paying independent contractors who do business with the state.

Credit will also be available to people looking to purchase building materials, pay for labor associated with home construction, “acquire goods for their personal property or satisfy other needs,” according to the government’s Official Gazette.

The lack of a system of lending has been one of the chief complaints of the expanding class of entrepreneurs who are running independent businesses as part of President Raul Castro’s economic overhaul, which aims to right Cuba’s foundering economy.

Economists have also said credit is a necessary element if the private businesses are to grow beyond subsistence levels.

Offering loans for home construction, meanwhile, could help address the island’s acute housing shortage and bolster Cuba’s brand-new real estate market, created earlier this month when property sales were legalized for the first time since shortly after the 1959 revolution.

The primary source of repayment for the loans will be people’s ability to repay based on their “legal personal income,” according to the law.

It also allows people to take out mortgages on second homes or vacant lots, a novelty after five decades of prohibition against using homes as collateral.

Under the housing law that took effect Nov. 10, Cubans are allowed to own two properties — one primary residence and a second vacation house — to avoid accumulation of wealth.

The Official Gazette, a publication that disseminates new laws, said the credit system will take effect Dec. 20 and be rolled out “progressively, as the country’s economic and financial conditions permit.”

Financial institutions authorized by Cuba’s Central Bank will offer the loans in Cuban pesos, valued at 24 to the U.S. dollar, rather than the stronger convertible currency, which is one to the dollar.

The Central Bank will also set minimum and maximum interest rates.

A separate measure published in the Official Gazette set the rules under which the state will pay private contractors, including a wide range of options covering everything from cash, debit card and bank transfers to checks, vouchers and IOUs.

Last week, the government put in place a law authorizing farmers to sell their products directly to state-run tourist hotel and restaurant concerns, eliminating the need to go through a state middleman, and said they could negotiate their own prices.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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