Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba shuts down private cinemas and video-game salons

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Media captionThe Cuban government says private cinemas, including 3D rooms, were never authorised

Cuba has ordered the immediate closure of dozens of privately-run cinemas and video-game salons.

The government said they were never authorised, and that it needed to bring "order" to the management of independent businesses.

The Communist island recently relaxed restrictions on the private sector.

But some Cuban entrepreneurs had used restaurant and other types of business licences to operate backroom movie and entertainment parlours.

"Cinematic exhibition (including 3D rooms) and computer games will cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity," read a government announcement in the state-run newspaper Granma.

It warned of decisive action against any violations of the law, and defended its decision to instil "discipline" in the private sector, adding that this was not "a step backward".

"Quite the contrary, we will continue to decidedly advance in the updating of our economic model."

'Huge blow'

President Raul Castro, who replaced his brother Fidel in 2008, has relaxed some economic restrictions on the set-up of private businesses in the communist island, where the state still employs 79% of the five million-strong labour force.

He opened up retail services to "self employment" in the form of nearly 200 licensed activities such as seamstresses, taxis and small restaurants.

But some residents had used these categories to operate cinema and video-game parlours.

The closure is a huge blow to those entrepreneurial Cubans who invested heavily, especially in 3D cinemas, importing equipment at considerable cost from abroad, says the BBC correspondent in Havana, Sarah Rainsford.

She adds that many 3D cinemas she tried to visit since the government announcement had been locked up and closed for business.

There had been hints this crackdown was coming. Cuban Culture Ministry officials talked of the "banality" and "frivolity" of films on offer, mostly produced in America, and out of line, they complained, with the cultural policy of the revolution.

Still, our correspondent adds, the hope was that the booming sector would be regulated, not closed down.

"The cinemas and games rooms were keeping us off the street, and out of trouble," Miguel, a young Cuban, told our correspondent. "Now where are we supposed to go?"

Another young Cuban, Yosvany, said: "I think a lot of people won't agree with this ban. 3D cinema was something new and popular."

Correspondents say private cinemas had become a popular alternative to poorly-maintained, state-run movie theatres that shy away from showing Hollywood and other mainstream films.

According to government figures, more than 400,000 people in Cuba are self-employed, of whom around 100,000 work as employees of small businesses.

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