Serious fuel shortages halt May Day parade, affect wider economy

1st May 2023

In an indication of the seriousness of the fuel shortages presently facing Cuba, the country’s symbolic mass May Day parade in Havana was dramatically downsized and relocated.

Announcing this just days before it was due to take place, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, General Secretary, of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), the national trades union body, said that in the capital this year’s parade would only involve those from five districts in central Havana and take place on the Malecón rather than in the vast Plaza de la Revolución. Elsewhere, he said, the objective would be to hold assemblies in central locations addressed by local speakers.  He attributed the change of plans to “the complex situation that our country is going through” and “limitations with the issuance of fuel.” 

In almost every year since the revolution, excepting during the pandemic and times of extreme austerity in the 1990s, Cubans have been bussed in, or come to the capital to participate in the May Day parade; arriving eventually in hundreds of thousands in the Plaza de la Revolución to demonstrate their national pride and solidarity, hear speeches, celebrate, and in recent years to be greeted by the country’s political leadership dressed informally.

Speaking about the fuel shortages, Lidia Rodríguez, the Commercial Director of CUPET, was quoted in the state media as saying that gasoline and diesel availability remained low and  rationing and controls had been introduced as the state company was “trying to avoid a total fuel shortage in the country.”

Cuba’s fuel crisis (Details Cuba Briefings 24 and 17 April 2023) is now having a much wider negative effect on the country’s already weak economy and on daily life.

Reports in the national and provincial media indicate that five universities have suspended face-to-face classes  due to the shortage of transport, cultural events have been cancelled, and reports of problems with planting, inputs and agricultural supply have begun to appear in some parts of the country. In addition, the news agency EFE quoted named farmers indicating that the fuel crisis is beginning to affect the country’s already difficult food supply, as a lack of transport is preventing deliveries of fresh produce to farmers’ markets.

To try to address problems caused by fuel rationing, Corporacion Cimex, which is responsible for the sale of fuel in Cuba, has announced a series of measures aimed at trying to restore order in Havana and other locations. “Given the complex situation in the country regarding the availability of gasoline and diesel , and “to avoid dissatisfaction among the population,” it said that it will introduce measures aimed at ensuring that “the constant flow of sales is maintained, without interruptions.”

In doing so, it said it will liaise with the police and the authorities in each territory to restore order. The announcement came after a detailed story appeared in the official La Tribuna de Habana alleging corrupt practices by those in charge of filling stations, disorderly scenes, and pictures appeared on social media of a brawl outside one filling station.

Among the measures introduced are oversight of work shifts; a  ban on filling containers; improving queue management through the introduction of an app; and close liaison with the police and local authorities. It noted that its intention is to “maintain the constant flow of sales without interruptions,” although given the widespread shortages of fuel and rationing it is not clear how it intends ensuring this.

In an unusual departure, Cuba’s state media reported a ship of unstated origin arriving to discharge diesel by ship-to-ship transfer.  The coverage indicated that its arrival at a dock at the Matanzas Supertanker Base was in “compliance with CUPET’s contracts with international suppliers.” The shipment will be for Havana, Camagüey, and Santiago de Cuba, which the reports noted had been suffering from a lack of fuel for days. Officials were quoted, however, as saying that the shipment, did not represent a significant improvement, but did “guarantee stability in vital services in each of the country’s provinces.”

Meanwhile, reporting by news agencies and the international energy media indicate that Cuba is increasingly turning to Russia and Mexico for shipments of diesel and gasoline to supplement dwindling supplies of Venezuelan crude and fuel. They suggest that Venezuela is struggling to meet its own needs, so far only supplying, according to World Energy News, 55,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared to almost 80,000 bpd in 2020.

Separately, Reuters quoted ship tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon noting that Cuba has imported at least five shipments from Russia since November 2022 and others from Mexico’s state-owned Pemex.  It noted that two shipments from Mexico involved crude oil for refining in Cuba for gasoline and one of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) used for cooking. Other shipments are scheduled from Venezuela the news agency reported. Meanwhile Cuban state media has suggested that the shipment of LPG means that bottled gas for domestic use will gradually become widely available to consumers

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Photo: Getty Images