Cuba amends economic priorities to lessen impact of US sanctions

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has told a meeting of the country’s Council of Ministers that the energy situation means that it is necessary to “work differently, in accordance with the times we live in”. His remarks came during a meeting that principally reviewed the performance of strategic sectors of the Cuban economy up to the end of August, following the tightening of the US embargo.

According to a report of the meeting published in Cuba Debate, Díaz-Canel said that Government and the Cuban people will need to adopt programmes that promote austerity and savings while giving priority to food production, housing construction, exports, the computerisation of society, tourism, renewable energy sources and transport.

Díaz-Canel told Ministers that measures to respond to US sanctions which have halted national investment and development activities in some areas and slowed production. The changes he said will have to be maintained for as long as required. He also emphasised that price rises, hoarding and speculation would not be allowed and confirmed that alternative approaches to food production, agriculture and transport will be developed.

The report also quoted Alejandro Gil, the Minister of Economy and Planning, as telling the Council of Ministers that the intention was still to grow the country’s Gross Domestic Product and as saying that the measures being taken and with  collective effort, “it is possible to take such slight steps of growth”.

Gil however indicated a mixed picture with planned revenue figures for tourism and nickel production not reaching their targets, but exports of tobacco, rum and lobster, and services income from medical and telecommunications services, earning more than anticipated.

In his reported remarks he also laid emphasis on energy saving measures to address what he described as the ‘complex’ situation facing the country and ‘the displacement of several productive activities’ at times of maximum energy demand.

He noted that while food production except for rice and beans had stabilised, there were problems with the retail commercial circulation of goods. This was, Gil said, significantly below what had been anticipated and was to be addressed as a priority as it was ‘the most effective mechanism to maintain the monetary balance in the country’.

According to Cuba Debate, other ministers observed that electricity demand at peak periods had been reduced and with it, fuel consumption.

The meeting also heard that logistical problems persist, hindering the efficiency of both export and import activities delaying ship turnaround times and the use of containers. To obviate this an existing scheme to make Cuban ports more efficient is to be prioritised, with emphasis being given at ports to products imported for the country’s standard food basket, cement, and products for export. Work is also to be undertaken to increase storage capacity, and greater use is being made of the country’s railways system to move essential freight and mail on its east-west network. 

Cuba Debate also reported on more general discussions that took place at the meeting, noting that:

  • There had been a significant fall off in cruise ship arrivals as a result of US policy, but Cuba still expects to receive its revised forecast of 4.3m visitors this year;
  • The education sector is to develop and diversify exportable services to increase revenues and generate new business opportunities with foreign capital. Cuba’s President advocated that Cuba study international funding for projects related to education and knowledge management to enable Cuba to participate in their delivery;
  • Approval was given for a new sector of the Mariel Special Development Zone mainly dedicated to tourism; and that
  • Concern exists that overdue domestic accounts payable are causing ‘a lack of liquidity to national supplier chains and importers’. The problem reportedly results from poor management and accounting practices by retail companies and restaurants that are not paying state business management groups and national administration agencies on time or at all. The meeting confirmed that the state budget ‘will not finance the decapitalisation and lack of liquidity of the business sector caused in this way’.

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