Cuba’s decision to allow more private economic activity is an opportunity for the U.S. government and others to support the growth of small and micro enterprises on the island, according to a report made public Thursday.

“An orderly, market-oriented economic reform process is decidedly in the best interests of Cuba, the United States and the region,’’ said the 48-page report by the Cuba Study Group (CSG), led by centrist Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas.

The study argued that since U.S. sanctions are designed to deny resources to the Cuban government, they should be eased to permit increased support for the island’s growing number of “self employed” — like plumbers, barbers and wedding photographers.

But it added that it’s primarily up to the Raul Castro government to promote private enterprise and noted that the congress of the ruling Communist Party that starts April 16 should do so by easing by easing laws and regulations on the self-employed.

Facing an insolvent economy, Castro has announced he will to slash public spending by laying off more than 1 million state workers and opening the communist system’s doors to more self-employment and other forms of private economic activities.

More than 170,000 Cubans have received new “self employed” permits since Castro’s announcement, but economists say the new small and micro businesses will need assistance if they are to survive.

The CSG report, unveiled during a telephone news conference from Washington, recommended a series of steps to help the island’s new entrepreneurs and “empower Cubans to take control of their own lives.”

The Cuban government does not have a lot of money to lend to the new enterprises and lacks experience in micro-lending, the report notes, so a $50 million fund for rotating microloans of up to $1,500 would help finance the new enterprises.

Saladrigas said banks in New York and Europe are interested in the idea, and Cuba’s Catholic Church could play a role in the loan program.

A Web page could link Cuban entrepreneurs with U.S. experts in small businesses and even Americans willing to make small loans, the report added. Non-government organizations could partner with Cuban universities to identify prospective businessmen and train them in basic skills such as accounting.

The U.S. government could help by easing laws and regulations that restrict U.S. financial transactions with Cuba as well as exports and imports, and adopt policies that favor the success of the island’s private sector, according to the report.

The CSG noted that although the Obama administration has made it easier to send remittances to Cuba, it could take further steps, such as allowing U.S. residents to invest as partners in businesses in Cuba.

A CSG report in 2006 proposed establishing a $10 million fund for microloans to small businesses in Cuba, and the next year proposed a Cuba Enterprise Fund designed to help small- and medium-size businesses on the island through equity investments, loans, technical assistance and training.

Havana did not publicly reply to either proposal.



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