By Carmelo Mesa-Lago
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Additional resources for Cuba's Aborted Reform: Socioeconomic Effects, International Comparisons, and Transition Policies
Finally, high taxes and fees have been assessed on self-employed workers, and their workplaces have been singled out for frequent inspections by government officials, who are quick to level fines for supposed violations. The small family restaurants (or paladares) were first allowed, then closed down, and finally allowed to reopen but subject to strict restrictions: A maximum of twelve customers can be served at one time, owners cannot hire workers other than family members, and they must pay high taxes.
The Helms-Burton Act, enacted in 1996, bans imports of Cuban products from third countries. S. S. courts persons that “traffic” in property confiscated by the Cuban government, including potential foreign investors in joint ventures with Cuban enterprises that control confiscated properties. S. S. actions against businessmen from their countries who had made investments in the island taking advantage of a more permissive attitude toward foreign investment by Cuban authorities, and threatened to pursue actions against the United States before the World Trade Organization (Pérez-López and Travieso-Díaz 2000).
To deal with potential popular dissatisfaction and the emergence of peaceful dissidents, in February 1999 the National Assembly passed Law No. 88, the Law for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy (Ley de la Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba). Referred to in Cuba as the “gag law” (ley mordaza), it established jail sentences of between 8 and 20 years and seizure of assets for citizens convicted of political crimes such as collaborating with foreign journalists, accepting payment for such collaboration, and having or distributing “subversive materials” (that is, publications not authorized by the government), disrupting the peace by participating in demonstrations, and otherwise seeking to destabilize the country.