Cuba moves to privatize hair salons, barber shops

HAVANA – Cuba has begun turning over some state-run barber shops and hair salons to their employees, a small but potentially significant step toward loosening the communist government’s strict controls on the retail sector.

The new regulations have not been published into law, and a government spokeswoman said Tuesday she did not yet have enough information to confirm them. But eight barbers and hairdressers said the reforms began on a trial basis April 1.

Employees in state-run salons chosen to participate lose their government salaries and are required to rent the retail space where they work, as well as pay taxes. But they are allowed to pocket all the money they make cutting hair, after paying for supplies and rent.

The pilot program could be another step toward the type of free-market reforms that transformed the command economies of communist-ruled China and Vietnam.

But Cuban barbers and stylists interviewed by the Associated Press had nothing but complaints Tuesday. Most said they felt the reforms had less to do with opening the economy and more to do with stamping out institutionalized thievery that had become built into every haircut provided by state employees.

Posted prices at state barber shops and salons mandate that standard haircuts cost 80 centavos – about 4 American pennies – for men and 1.20 pesos for women. Instead, barbers typically charge 10 pesos, nearly 50 cents U.S., then pocket the difference – a major boon in a country where wages average about $20 a month.

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