HAVANA (Reuters) – There is no quick fix for Cuba’s sputtering economy, its economy minister said on Thursday, as inflation, fuel shortages, plunging farm production and a cash crunch drag on output and continue to fan discontent in the communist-run island nation.
Economy Minister Alejandro Gil, in an hour-long presentation before newly elected lawmakers, said there was too little foreign currency on the island to pay for coveted fuel, food and farm imports, meaning Cuba would increasingly scrape by with what it can produce at home.
“If we can´t produce it, we won´t have it,” Gil told lawmakers, referring specifically to some food products and urging legislators and municipalities to put renewed impetus on farm output this year and next.
A severe economic crisis in Cuba, among the worst since Fidel Castro´s 1959 revolution, has led to shortages of food, fuel and medicine and contributed to a record-breaking exodus of migrants north to the United States.
Tourism, once a key driver of much-needed foreign exchange, has struggled to revive, with visitor numbers between January and April this year at only half that of the same period in 2019, Gil said.
That has left the country short of the foreign currency necessary to import critical farming necessities like fertilizer and animal feed.
The production of pork for the state, for example, plunged from a record 199.7 tonnes in 2017 to just 16 tonnes in 2022, Gil said, as inputs dried up. Many fruits and vegetables have fared equally poorly, he said.
Fuel that might otherwise help bolster farm production and deliver goods to market has been re-routed to electricity generation, Gil said. Cuba used nearly twice as much diesel as planned to produce electricity in the first four months of 2023, the economy minister added.
Soaring food prices, due to inefficiencies and dwindling production, have far outpaced the buying power of most Cubans, Gil said, leaving many with salaries short of covering their “basic needs.”
Cuba blames a Cold War-era U.S. trade embargo for much of its woes, though top officials have increasingly called on Cubans to find new ways to overcome the sanctions.