Cuba strapped for cash, acts to avoid power blackouts -economy minister

HAVANA, (Reuters) – Cuba faces a cash crunch and must ration energy in a bid to avoid blackouts and spare essential services, Economy Minister Marino Murillo was cited as saying by state-run media yesterday.

Cuban companies are already slashing work hours and limiting the use of air-conditioning and cars in order to save energy, workers say, adding they fear the situation will worsen.

Cuba has a history of energy rationing, especially in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Communist government struggled to survive under a severe U.S. embargo.

Marino Murillo
Marino Murillo

While the current restrictions will not be so severe, they come at a time when Cubans’ expectations are higher due to reforms and the detente with Washington.

“It is essential that we reduce spending as much as possible,” the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma quoted Murillo as saying during a meeting of the economic commission of the Assembly, which was closed to foreign journalists.

The austerity measures come as low global commodities prices batter Cuban exports of nickel, refined oil products and sugar.

While no statistics are available, revenues from the sale of professional services to oil-producing nations such as Venezuela and Angola, are also thought to have suffered.

Cuba has fallen behind on payments for imports in recent months, diplomats and foreign business people have said.

Murillo was quoted as saying his forecast for 2 percent economic growth this year was now in question.

“The most important thing will be to avoid effecting residential electricity consumption and in general basic services to the population,” the minister said.

The head of a joint venture, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters last week he had seen a government document ordering cuts in electricity and fuel consumption to most state-run companies and entities by 50 percent.

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