HAVANA (AP) — Real estate agents, auto body workers and home builders can come out of the shadows in Cuba's expanding private economy under rules announced Thursday that allow 18 new categories of independent employment under President Raul Castro's economic reforms.

Among the most notable of the newly allowed private professions are real estate agents, who have long operated on the margin of the law. Even after the communist government legalized the buying and selling of homes in 2011 for the first time in decades, it was still technically against the rules to make money connecting buyers with sellers.

The number of approved independent employment activities rises to 199 with the newly legalized professions, which also include rental agents, repair and maintenance service providers, iron workers and welders.

The decision to license the latest crop of professions came about because the country is now better positioned to supply "prime materials, equipment and other inputs to the network of stores," Labor Ministry official Jose Barreiro was quoted as saying by Communist Party newspaper Granma.

In all more than 430,000 private employment licenses have been issued since the reforms began in 2010, and 436,342 independent workers are currently operating, Granma said. Some were already working independently before the reforms began.

Critics have lamented that so far there has not been a push to let many educated professionals such as lawyers, health care workers or scientists work independently of the state.

Published into law Thursday in the government's Official Gazette, the new rules bar the resale of imported goods such as clothing.

Many entrepreneurs who operate under tailors' licenses appear to make more money selling garments brought into the country one overstuffed duffel bag at a time than they generate from actual sewing.

"I'm worried, disgusted and disconcerted," said Reina Margarita Moreira, who sells clothing and household items at a kiosk in central Havana. "We don't agree with this measure. ... We knew a change was coming and we thought they would modify the concept of the license and raise the taxes, but we never thought they would prohibit us from selling clothing brought in from abroad."

"I have children and grandchildren to support," said her colleague Diana Sanchez. "I feel really bad. Three years ago they let us work here legally, and now they forbid it. I don't understand it."

Mariela Carrera, a 45-year-old homemaker who was shopping at the open-air bazaar, said Cubans want to dress in international fashions and predicted that the measure would only push sales of imported clothing back into the black market.

"And the state isn't going to make any money off that if nobody's paying taxes," she said.

Also prohibited will be the "speculative" resale of goods bought in state-run retail stores.

"The issue of goods purchased in stores for resale has generated constant opinions among the people, who complain about shortages and the high prices set by the hoarders," Barreiro said.

"Order will be imposed, since nobody is allowed to buy merchandise in a state-run establishment and then speculate with it," he added.

Granma said it will be a crime to obtain merchandise "for the purpose of resale at a profit."

 

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