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MOAN, GROAN: INCOME TAX BITES CUBANS

For 37 years, Cuba's Communists ignored what much of the world thought was as inevitable as death: income taxes.

This year, hundreds of thousands of Cubans find themselves paying income taxes for the first time in decades, as the government tries to tap the pockets of a growing sector of self-employed workers.Communist Cuba has been a country virtually without taxes of any kind - not on income, property or sales. The state paid almost everyone and sold almost every-thing.

"It's a form of injustice," complained Isidro Espana, a 40-year-old butcher who works 12 hours a day at the Four Roads farmers' market in Havana, earning 150 to 200 pesos, equivalent to $6 to $8.

On May 1, Espana and other "middlemen" at markets began paying 200 pesos a month as an advance on their 1996 taxes. Self-employed workers in other fields reportedly face a steep jump in advance payments on June 1.

But nobody at the market yet knows how much tax they'll pay. The government says the tax rates should be published within a few days - nearly five months after the tax year began.

The taxes aim to draw excess cash from the economy, limit growing inequalities of income and impose greater control over the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have left state jobs to work for themselves over the past two years.

In a May Day address, President Fidel Castro said the farmers' markets had created a class of "new rich" who were not helping to pay for Cuba's schools, medical services and other state benefits.

"I am sure that none of us sheds a tear because there are no millionaires" in Cuba, he said. "The tax is the path to collect the abusive excess of money that some persons have acquired."

Self-employment and markets have helped provide jobs and food that the Cuban state, hurt by the loss of its socialist trading partners after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist allies, has been hard-pressed to offer. But they have created widespread resentment.

Most Cubans still work for the government, earning 140 to 200 pesos a month - a small sum even in a country where nearly everyone receives some food, cheap housing, transportation and free medical care.

At the farmers' market, a pound of pork costs 23 pesos, nearly a week's wage for many Cubans.

"It's a good idea of the government to help those who earn less," said Antonia Martinez, a 68-year-old retired accountant who strolled through the market, gazing at meat she could not afford on her pension of 90 pesos a month.