REFILE-Indians help build Cuba hotels as foreign labor ban weakens

jueves 21 de julio de 2016 09:59 GYT

(Corrects name of Indian laborer in paragraph 19)

By Marc Frank

July 21 (Reuters) - French construction group Bouygues is employing more than 100 Indian laborers to work on a hotel it is building in Cuba, breaking a taboo in the Communist-run country on hiring foreign labor in order to meet increased tourism demand.

The Cuban government removed a key barrier to hiring foreign workers with the passage of a 2014 foreign investment law that authorized "special regulations" concerning foreign workers under "exceptional circumstances."

Cuban government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the influx of foreign workers, several dozen of whom spoke to Reuters in Havana. But the Bouygues move, which was also confirmed by a company spokesman, is the first time a firm has bypassed Cuba's state-run labor halls to hire foreign workers en masse.

For a country struggling to prop up export revenue in the face of low commodity prices, foreign workers on the Caribbean island signal how critical tourism is now in Cuba and how market forces are transforming its once tightly controlled economy.

Already popular as a low-cost beach resort for Europeans and Canadians, Cuba is seeing a surge in American visitors since the United States and Cuba announced in December of 2014 that they would work to normalize relations.

Tourism increased 17 percent in 2015 and was up over 11 percent through June this year, official data shows. It generated $2.8 billion in revenue last year.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit in goods widened by $1.5 billion last year.   Continuación...