May 19th, 2010
04:22 PM ET

Cuba says private farmers can deal directly with suppliers

In the latest loosening of government involvement in Cuba's still predominantly state-run economy, private farmers in the country will be allowed to bypass the government bureaucracy and purchase goods directly from suppliers.

Economy Minister Marino Murillo made the announcement during Sunday's congressional session, in an effort to boost agricultural production in the cash-strapped island nation.

Cuba's association of mostly private farmers and cooperatives - who comprise less than half of country's farms but account for an estimated 70 percent of it's total agricultural production - petitioned for greater autonomy and contract reforms over the weekend, according to a state-run newspaper.

The association's 350,000 farmers have a been central part of agricultural restructuring led by Cuban President Raul Castro, and the focus of his latest attempt to address chronic food shortages on the island.

The former defense minister assumed power from his ailing brother and former president, Fidel Castro, in 2006, at first temporarily and then permanently, and has long considered food security as an integral part of Cuba¹s national security.

The move comes on the heels of a series of small liberalization measures aimed at improving efficiency and production, while attempting to maintain the communist nation's egalitarian doctrine.

Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced plans to open up real-estate to foreign investment on tourism-related projects, laying out plans for new hotels across the country.

Last month, Cuba instituted a pilot program that turned over hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons to employees.

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