A prior post reported that Cubans want greater economic growth and opportunity while also expressing pessimism about that happening. The grounds for that pessimism are highlighted in a Miami-Herald article about the many economic challenges facing President Raúl Castro In the last year of his presidency.
This is the article’s big picture. “Many state enterprises are barely limping along, there are jitters as the economy of Cuba’s Venezuelan benefactor spirals downward, the rules of the road are murky for private businesses, salaries are low, a messy dual currency system still needs to be unified and Cuba is in dire need of much more foreign investment.”
These problems will not be easy to solve. “Many of Cuba’s economic problems are interrelated and the timing may not be good for any drastic moves — especially with Cuba’s relationship with the United States still up in the air.”
Yes, it is true that “Cuban officials are estimating economic growth of around 2 percent this year, but that figure is based on the assumption that oil prices will go up and tourism will keep growing.” According to Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, the 2 percent growth objective is “very ambitious.” He could have said “unrealistic” as His model puts the Cuban economy in negative territory with a decline of between .3 percent and 1.4 percent in 2017.”
Here are specifics on some of the economic challenges facing the island:
Maintaining Exports of professional services. Medical services by Cuban health care professionals on foreign medical missions in recent years have provided the Cuban government with a major source of foreign currency. In recent years, however, this source of foreign currency has declined with the implosion of the Venezuelan economy being a major factor.
Coping with Venezuela’s Economic Implosion. Venezuela’s problems for Cuba go beyond the decline in foreign medical mission income for Cuba. Since last July, oil deliveries from Venezuela have dropped as much as 60 percent. Venezuela used to send crude oil to Cuba for blending at the latter’s Cienfuegos refinery, but production at the Cuban refinery has fallen by half with the reduction in shipments from Venezuela.
Eliminating Cuba’s dual currency system. Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban peso (CP), which is generally used by the Cuban population and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which used by tourists and foreign companies, and the Cuban government for years has had a goal of eliminating this system. According to Carmelo Mesa-Largo, a Cuban economist and professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, “In 2016, the budget deficit was 7.3 percent of GDP, and because of the already difficult economic situation, they have had to print money. The budget deficit may be even higher this year — perhaps 12 percent — generating even more inflation.”
Increasing public salaries. “There are constant complaints about low public salaries. A private cab driver, for example, can earn more than a physician or other professionals. According to Mesa-Lago, even though salaries went up in 2015, buying power was just 62 percent of what it was in 1989. Nominal salaries could be increased by printing more CP, ”but with inflation, they would have to raise salaries even more to have real wage growth.” And that could set off a further inflationary spiral.
Attracting foreign investment. The Cuban government has made it clear that foreign investment is a cornerstone of Cuban economic development going forward, but so far investment is lagging. “Diplomats, business executives and members of the U.S. Congress who favor lifting the embargo all concur that Cuba needs to reform its legal system to offer foreign investors better legal guarantees, make it easier to sign contracts and allow them to directly hire their Cuban employees.” The Cuban government, however, does not want to do anything that potentially could be destabilizing and cause a weakening of political control.
A rare and limited public opinion poll of Cubans showed strong support for increased economic opportunity and growth. The poll in Cuba was a national random route-sample of 840 Cubans who were 18 years and older that was conducted between October 3 and November 26, 2016 by NORC, a respected public-opinion organization, at the University of Chicago.
Cuban Economic Issues
Many Cubans feel stuck in the current economic climate. Overall, 46 percent say the current condition of the Cuban economy is poor or very poor while 35 percent say it is fair. Only 13 percent of Cubans describe the condition of the Cuban economy today as good or excellent. Moreover, few Cubans think the economy is going to improve anytime soon: 47 percent say the economy will stay about the same and 8 percent say it is going to get worse while 33% say the condition of the economy is going to get better over the next three years,
Cubans have a slightly more positive view of the state of their family’s finances, though few anticipate improvement in the coming years: 24% rate their finances as poor or very poor while 18% rate the current condition of their family’s finances as good or excellent. Nearly 6 in 10 expect their finances will stay the same in the future.
Looking ahead, Cubans would like to see the government focus on economic growth and maintaining stability over the next 10 years. Fully 95 percent of Cubans say having a high level of economic growth is an extremely or very important goal. Nearly as many (87 percent) say it is very or extremely important that Cuba prioritize maintaining stability over the next 10 years.
Roughly two-thirds of Cubans (65 percent) say there should be more private ownership of business and industry, while 29 percent say there should be more government ownership. Many Cubans have entrepreneurial goals; more than half (56 percent) say they would like to start their own business over the next five years. Sixty-eight percent see competition within the marketplace as positive because it stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas. One-quarter say competition is harmful and brings out the worst in people.
Over half of Cubans say they would like to move away from Cuba if given the chance. Of those who would leave, nearly 7 in 10 say they would want to go to the United States.
Other Cuban Problems
Crime is seen as the most serious issue facing Cuba today, with 51 percent of Cubans reporting that it is an extremely or very serious problem. Another 4 in 10 say that poverty (41 percent), lack of internet access (41 percent), and corruption (38 percent) are each serious issues in Cuba.
In day-to-day life, many Cubans proceed with caution in placing trust in others and in expressing themselves publicly. Just 21% say they can always express themselves freely, while 76% say they must be careful in what they say sometimes.
Most Cubans get their news from state-owned television stations and newspapers, Cuban radio, and family or friends. Just 1 in 4 use foreign media sources. But, even controlling for other demographic and socioeconomic factors, those Cubans who access foreign media are more positive about the national economy and their personal financial situations, more likely to be critical of some aspects of Cuban society, and more likely to set aspirational goals such as traveling abroad, starting their own business, and buying a car or home.
Fifty-five percent of Cubans overall say that Cuba-U.S. normalization of relations will be mostly good for Cuba, while 3 percent say it will be mostly bad. Another 26 percent say it will have no impact. Thirteen percent aren’t sure what the impact will be.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, recently praised the achievements of Cuban “small business” or free enterprise that have emerged over the five years since the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba permitted “economic activity by foreign investors, cooperatives, small farmers, those working land granted in usufruct, renters of state property, and the self-employed.”
In those five years “the non-state sector has grown exponentially. While employment in the state sector constituted 81.2% of the total in 2010, it stood at 70.8% in 2015. Likewise, there were 157,371 registered self-employed in September of 2010, and more than 500,000 at the close of 2016.”
As Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Party noted at its 7th Congress in April 2016, “The increase in self-employment and the authorization to hire a work force has led, in practice, to the existence of private medium sized, small, and micro-enterprises, which function today without the appropriate legal standing, and are governed by law within a regulatory framework designed for individuals working in small businesses undertaken by the worker and family members,” developing is an atmosphere which does not discriminate against or stigmatize non-state work.
The changes over the last five years include “’pay per performance,’” which means that wages for workers in state and non-state enterprises are increasingly linked to results obtained.” In other words, wages will not be equal, but instead will vary based on performance.
The article also emphasizes that the Cuban “economic system would continue to be based on the entire people’s socialist ownership of the fundamental means of production, governed by the principle that distribution (also socialist) would be based on ‘from each according to their capacity, to each according to their work.’”
These changes over the last five years and into the foreseeable future “are taking place within a reality marked by little population growth, with low birth rates and longer life expectancy, a negative migratory balance, increasing urbanization and aging of the population, which imply great social and economic challenges for the country.”
A recent study based on interviews of 80 Cuban entrepreneurs found seemingly contradictory results.
There was frustration. As expressed by the Miami Herald, “Like entrepreneurs in any country, Cuban entrepreneurs want more access to resources and fewer bureaucratic obstacles to expand and reinvest in their businesses.”
There also was optimism. Said the author of the study, Cuban-born economist Carmelo Mesa Lago, there was a “very high level of reinvestment that the self-employed engage in. Most, including those renting apartments and houses, reinvest.” The study also found a “high degree of satisfaction expressed by those who have decided to start a private business in Cuba, which has allowed them to gain autonomy and live better than those who depend on state wages.”
With virtual unanimity, the entrepreneurs complained about “the level of state interference” or over-regulations plus high prices for supplies, the absence of a wholesale market and high taxes.
The study looked at four segments of the so-called “non-state sector” of the Cuban economy: (1) the self-employed; (2) farmers who use state-owned parcels; (3) corredores (brokers) of home sales as well as buyers and sellers of private homes; and (4) workers of non-farm production and service cooperatives. Another sector–owners of private restaurants known as paladares—was not included because, says Lago, they do not want to attract attention to their business.
The study– oces del cambio en el sector no estatal cubano (Voices of Change in the Cuban Non-State Sector)—is published by the Ibero-American publishing house.
This study confirms the existence of a thriving non-state sector of the Cuban economy, contrary to the Senate testimony of the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, as mentioned in a recent post.
The study also confirms the unsurprising difficulties and challenges the Cuban government faces in creating a mixed economy. Indeed, as covered in an earlier post, Raúl Castro in his role as the leader of the Communist Party of Cuba at its Party Congress last year stressed those difficulties and challenges while also acknowledging the essential and important contributions of the non-state sector for the Cuban economy.
Finally the study confirms the need for the U.S. to support the further development and success of this sector by continuing and enhancing the U.S. normalizing of relations with Cuba, especially the enabling of U.S. remittances to those on the island and thereby constituting a major source of capital for this sector. This very point has been emphasized by Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition, in its lobbying of the new Trump Administration.
On July 28, Cuba’s “Current Economic and Political Situation” was the opening session of the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, a U.S. non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting “research, publications, and scholarly discussion on the Cuban economy in its broadest sense, including on the social, economic, legal, and environmental aspects of a transition to a free market economy and a democratic society in Cuba.”
The presenters at this session were (1) Joaquín P. Pujol, International Monetary Fund (retired); (2) Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, Cuban Economist, Temas Magazine; and (3) Jorge R. Pińón, Researcher, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Texas at Austin.
Joaquín P. Pujol discussed “Cuba: Great Expectations, but How Real Are They?” Cuba is facing problems in servicing its foreign debt, unifying its unwieldy dual currency system, fixing its decrepit infrastructure and promoting sluggish foreign investment. “The Cuban government now finds itself again in need of foreign financing and they’re not going to get it. In fact, it has turned to Miami” as Cuban relatives and friends have become an important source of funding for small start-up businesses in Cuba.
Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva discussed “Cuba: Economia y Desafios” [Cuba: Economy and Challenges]. Although the government has projected the Cuban economy will grow by 1 percent this year, “I’m not sure it will reach that this year.”
Even though final figures for 2015 haven’t been announced yet, he said Cuba would show a deficit in goods and services trade. And even though tourism is growing briskly, he said taking into account expenditures in the tourism sector, the yield can be disappointing.
Jorge R. Pińón’s subject was “Cuba’s Energy Crisis: Truth or Fiction?” Faced with mounting energy problems, Cuban officials announced strict energy savings measures at state enterprises earlier this month in hopes of avoiding blackouts during the sweltering summer months. Officials have said Cuba will have to cut fuel consumption by 28 percent during the second half of the year.
Cuba produces about 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day and has relied on Venezuela for the other 80,000 to 90,000 daily barrels it needs. But with Venezuela on the ropes economically, continued oil supplies are uncertain. Indeed, over the last six months, he said, total Venezuelan oil production has come dangerously close to dropping below 2 million barrels a day. “In our business that’s catastrophic.”
“As of last week there was enough oil . . . [in Cuba] to keep the lights on,” Piñón said. “June and July deliveries were sufficient.”
Some analysts, looking only at declines in oil arriving in Cuba directly from Venezuela, have predicted an even worse outlook for the island, but Cuba also receives oil from offshore Venezuelan facilities.
Cuba also has been stockpiling oil, and there is an estimated 60-day supply on the island. The question is what happens with Venezuelan deliveries in August and September. “The [economic] hurricane is coming in Venezuela and it’s a Category 5 hurricane. The question is: Will it hit Cuba?”
Already hours have been cut for some state workers, fleets at nonessential enterprises have been parked and some neighborhoods have reported blackouts, drawing comparisons to the 1990s “special period” when after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its generous subsidies, there were severe shortages in Cuba in everything from fuel to food.
Indeed, Raúl Castro in his recent speech to the National Assembly said, “There is speculation and rumors of an imminent collapse of our economy and a return to the acute phase of the special period.” Raúl Castro said during a recent speech to Cuba’s National Assembly. But he said the island was “in better conditions than we were then to face them.”
The surge in Cuban tourism and the growth of private enterprise also is putting more pressure on Cuba’s energy sector. About 68 percent of oil consumption in Cuba is fuel oil for its inefficient electrical power sector. The government has said it will protect the tourism sector and private businesses from cutbacks.
If Venezuelan oil supplies dry up, it’s unlikely Cuba would be able to find another benefactor like Venezuela in Algeria, Angola, Russia, China or any other country, forcing it to go to the world market to buy about $1 billion worth of petroleum annually.
In recent years, Cuba has actually been receiving more oil from Venezuela than it needs and has been selling the excess on the world market as refined petroleum products. But Piñón suggests it would be cheaper and more efficient for Cuba to shut down its refineries and buy gasoline and jet fuel than buying crude and refining it.
An even gloomier outlook was voiced by Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank employee who is now a professor at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali. He said, “Under current conditions, [Cuban] gross domestic product will dip into negative territory this year and decline 2.9 per cent in 2017. If relations with Venezuela fall apart completely, GDP could decline 10 per cent.”
Another economic negative is anticipated declines in Cuba’s export of medical services (its foreign medical missions), especially to Algeria, Angola and Brazil. In 2014 such medical services earned Cuba about $8 billion or 40% of its total exports.
Karina Marrón, deputy director of Granma, has warned of possible street protests. “A perfect storm is brewing . . . this phenomenon of a cut in fuel, a cut in energy. This country can’t withstand another ’93, another ’94.”Rapid response brigades in the 1990s were formed to quell social unrest; they are now reportedly on alert.
“Just when we thought we were going forward, everything is slipping away again,” says Havana retiree Miriam Calabasa. “I am worried people are going to decide enough is enough: then what?” A mechanic, Ignacio Perez, stated, “Nothing will get better any time soon; it can only get worse. The roads won’t be paved, schools painted, the rubbish picked up, public transportation improved, and on and on.”
But foreign businesses hope these great economic challenges may speed economic opening. “Venezuela’s problems increase the chance of Cuban reforms. This government only acts when it has to,” says one Spanish investor on the island.
 As mentioned in a prior post, Omar Everleny Perez was one of the Cuba’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies and a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms in 2011. This last April (three weeks after Obama’s visit to Cuba), he was fired by the University of Havana for allegedly having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university. Perez said he believed he was fired because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.
 President Castro’s recent speech to the National Assembly was discussed in a prior post. His earlier speech to the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba also touched on Cuba’s economic problems; this speech was covered in another post.
A previous post covered the July 8th speeches to Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power) by President Raúl Castro and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo. However, that post was unable to dissect the English translation of the latter. Now Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, has provided the following analysis of Murillo’ speech.
In the last half of 2016, the Cuban government will be implementing measures that are “intended to optimize the country’s finances and emphasize the need for rational use of resources and efficiency, in order to reduce expenses and take advantage of untapped opportunities for savings.”
These measures include “plans to reduce liquid operations, which include adjustments by entities which have hard currency self-financing systems in place. Others involve suspending the assumption of short and medium term credits, as well as a cut, of approximately 28%, in planned energy consumption in the non-residential sector.”
The reductions of these expenses will mean “elimination of income” for some, but “other sectors with untapped opportunities are called upon to make an extra contribution to the economy. Tourism, for example, must generate some 25 million pesos more than initially planned.”
“In terms of energy consumption, fuel cutbacks of some 369,000 tons . . . are needed, while use of electrical energy must be reduced by 786 gigawatts. . . . However, the residential sector, which represents 60% of the country’s electricity consumption, will not be impacted.”
“Economic activities, such as tourism, which make a strategic contribution to the national economy – and consequently the country as a whole – will receive their projected supply of electricity, as will others capable of assuring export income or replacing imports with their products. Nor will the importing and production of food, or retail sales, be affected.”
“Also prioritized is the production of construction materials and indispensable inputs for agriculture, while maintaining attention to the country’s internal financial equilibrium.”
The steps to be taken in the last half of this year “are intended to address limitations with rationality, without changing the basic plan, and respond to the energy situation with precisely focused adjustments.”
There will be “strict adherence to the principle that funds allocated for salaries must be backed by production, in accordance with guiding benchmarks. Avoiding a negative impact on the average salary-productivity ratio is key to advancing along the course charted.”
“Leading the list of imperatives is stopping the importing of containers full of items that can be produced domestically, since reducing imports is crucial to balancing the budget equation.”
Encouragement was found in the increase in the “volume of milk collected by the state wholesale system . . ., implying a reduction in expenses associated with importing powdered milk, initially projected at 53,000 tons. Since dairy farmers have surpassed plans by more than seven million liters and the industry by 32 million, projected imports can be reduced.”
Another premise for these measures is “reducing expenses in hard currency to a minimum, maintaining only the indispensable associated with key economic activities.”
Also important is “avoiding the addition of inflationary pressures. Adequate levels of retail sales will be assured, and the necessity of salary expenses having productive backing is reiterated.”
“Other results thus far this year indicate the need to reprogram levels of freight transportation and, therefore, scheduled investments. It is now projected, however, that 17% of the funds originally planned for investment will not be spent. The 2016 total was estimated at 6.5 billion pesos, placing the transport sector among those with the largest investment plans in the country. Key development projects to a tune of 4.5 billion pesos will be guaranteed. The prioritized group of sectors in which strategic investments will be fully funded includes tourism, energy, the oil industry, and agricultural programs.”
The “average salary in state enterprises will be slightly lower than projected, with a reduction in the wage expenses-gross value added index.”
“In reference to the food supply, . . . planned imports of foodstuffs are assured. Fortunately, a decline in prices on the international market for some [food] products has given the state some relief in terms of funds allocated for food imports, allowing for savings of approximately 193 million U.S. dollars. Nevertheless, domestic shortfalls in projected production of food items have led to unplanned imports, costing some 50 million additional dollars.”
Recent steps have been “taken to increase the buying power of the Cuban peso, adding that efforts to stabilize their supply in retail outlets continue, to make the impact of price reductions sustainable over time. Lower prices for chicken, rice, cooking oil, powdered milk, and chickpeas have led to [recent] increased sales.”
“Throughout the report, a renewed call for increased productivity and efficiency, on the part of all, was made clear. Using resources rationally at all times, in all places, is now imperative.”
 Delgado, Morales & Rodriguez, Efficiency on the economic agenda, Granma (July 14, 2016). On July 13, only five days after this speech, Murillo was replaced as Minister of Economy and Planning by Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Vice President of Council of Ministers. According to the State Council, Murillo, in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development, will now focus on updating the Cuban economic and social model, adopted by the 6th and the 7th Party congresses. However, no reasons were provided for this change. Official Note, Granma (July 13, 2016), ; Assoc. Press, Cuba Shuffles Economic Leadership Amid Fiscal Struggles, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2016).
Grim news over Cuba’s economy was delivered in July 8 speeches to the country’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power) by Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro, and by Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo. Naturally the Cuban people are worried. Here is a summary of those developments.
“In December 2015 I [projected that we would experience] financial constraints as a result of declining export revenue . . . [due to] falling prices for our traditional items as well as damages [to our] relations of mutually beneficial cooperation with various countries, particularly with Venezuela, which is being subjected to an economic war to weaken popular support for its revolution.”
“In the first half [of 2016] GDP grew by only one percent, half of what we had projected. This is the result of worsening external financial restrictions, driven by the decline of export earnings, coupled with the constraints faced by some of our major trading partners, due to falling oil prices.”
“There also has been a contraction in fuel supplies that had been promised by Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Nicolas Maduro and his government to fulfill that commitment. Obviously this has caused additional stress on the functioning of the Cuban economy.”
“Nevertheless, Cuba has managed to maintain compliance with the commitments made in the process of restructuring of debts to our foreign creditors. However, I must admit that there have been some delays in current payments to suppliers and I thank our partners for their confidence and understanding of this situation and reaffirm the commitment of the Government to meet the outstanding maturities and to continue restoring the international credibility of the Cuban economy.”
“Nor can we ignore the harmful effects of the US blockade and the US ban on Cuba’s use of the US dollar in its international transactions.”
“In these adverse circumstances the Council of Ministers adopted a set of measures to address the situation and ensure the main activities that ensure the vitality of the economy, minimizing the effects on the population.”
“As expected, in order to sow discouragement and uncertainty among citizens, there have been speculations and predictions of an imminent collapse of our economy with the return to the acute phase of the special period. These dire warnings have been overcome thanks to the resilience of the Cuban people and their unlimited confidence in Fidel and the Party. We do not deny damages that may occur, even higher than at present, but we are prepared and better able then to reverse them.”
“Faced with these difficulties and threats, there is no room for improvisations and much less for defeatism. In the short-term, we face the situation with great energy, fairness, rationality and political sensitivity; and we continue to strengthen coordination between the Party and the Government with much optimism and confidence in the present and the future of the Revolution.”
“We must reduce expenses of all kinds that are not essential, to foster a culture of saving and efficient use of available resources, concentrating investment in activities that generate revenue from exports, substitute imports and support strengthening of infrastructure, ensuring sustainability of electricity generation and better use of energy carriers. These programs will ensure the development of the nation, in short, non-stop.”
“At the same time, the social services that the revolution has obtained for our people and measures to gradually improve their quality are preserved. In the midst of these difficulties were made several measures aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the Cuban peso, including the decrease in prices of a set of products and articles of broad demand for our population.”
“Similarly, despite the prolonged drought plaguing us, we begin to see the fruits of other actions to ensure better collection and distribution of agricultural products, confirming greater presence of these markets and a slight but progressive reduction of selling prices. These measures have been welcomed by the population as relief to Cuban families.”
“In addition, these measures have guaranteed the internal financial balance through appropriate levels of supply in the retail market, while progress is being made in the implementation of pay systems linked to productive results, all of which has enabled us to avoid inflationary pressures.”
“This morning the National Assembly of People’s Power agreed to support in its spirit and letter the update of the Guidelines for Economic Policy and Social Party and the Revolution for the period 2016-2021 that were adopted by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. This will entail the legislative development and adoption of legal standards required to continue improving the legal and institutional basis in the interests of economic changes in the country.”
“We reaffirm that we will continue updating our economic model at our sovereignly determined pace, forging consensus and unity of Cubans in the construction of socialism.”
“The rate of change will continue to be conditioned by our ability to do things right, which has not always been so. This requires ensuring the preparation of policy documents, training and mastery of content, conducting monitoring and implementation and timely rectification to any deviations.”
“As clear evidence of our strength and experience, we have had favorable results in implementing the plan of prevention and confrontation of mosquito-borne diseases.
“The complex circumstances of the national economy will not weaken in the least, the solidarity and commitment of Cuba to the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavista with President Maduro and his government and the Civic Union Military brother Venezuelan people. We will continue lending to Venezuela, to the best of our ability, collaboration agreed to help sustain the achievements in social services that benefit the population. True friends are known in difficult times and Cubans will never forget the support of Venezuelans when we faced serious difficulties.”
“In commemorating the Day of National Rebellion [on July 29] we will do so with the conviction that the Cuban revolutionary people will again face difficulties without the slightest hint of defeatism and full confidence in the Revolution.”
In his July 8 speech to the Cuban legislature, Marino Murillo, a member of the Politburo, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, essentially repeated the main points of President Castro’s report.
The 1% increase in Cuban GDP for the first half of 2016 stands in contrast to the 4.7% increase for the first half of 2015. According to Reuters, Venezuelan shipments of crude oil and refined products to the island nation decreased around 20% for this period.
As a result of these economic problems and challenges, Cuba is concentrating on reducing expenses, promoting conservation and efficient use of available resources; concentrating investments on activities that generate exports and replace imports; strengthening infrastructure; assuring the sustainability of electrical generation; and facilitating better use of energy resources. The plan is to reduce total electricity consumption by 6% while not cutting residential use and key revenue-generating sectors such as tourism and nickel production.
More than 450,000 U.S. citizens or residents were among the 3.5 million tourists to visit the island last year, when the total number of visitors rose 17% from 2014, and the number of U.S. visitors for the first half of 2016 was up 26% to 304,000 out of a total of 2.1 million visitors to the island. Those numbers are likely to rise further when commercial flights from the U.S. begin later this year.
Cuba’s future exemption from electricity restrictions for privately-owned businesses that cater to tourists could be seen as a Faustian bargain. Cuba desperately needs the hard currencies that tourists bring and spend on the island. On the other hand, the increasing numbers of U.S. visitors are tending to spend their money on Cuban bed-and-breakfasts, taxis, meals in privately-owned restaurants and other services that will increase demands for electricity and nurture Cuba’s nascent urban middle class and increase pressures for political and economic change.
Signs of these changes already can be seen. Public offices and state-run companies have cut work hours and are limiting the use of air-conditioning. Cinemas have cut the number of film screenings, and petrol stations are running out of fuel more frequently than in the past few years.
According to a New York Times journalist, many Cubans now fear “a return to the days when they used oil lamps to light their living rooms and walked or bicycled miles to work because there was no gasoline.” Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for several years for Cuban state security, voiced one aspect of that fear: “We all know that it’s Venezuelan oil that keeps the lights on. People are convinced that if Maduro [the President of Venezuela] falls, there will be blackouts here.”