Status: 07/31/2022 3:07 p.m.
In Cuba, there is a lack of food, gasoline – and the hope that the situation will improve soon. A year after the historic protests, tens of thousands of people are leaving the country.
Filling the fridge of his AirBnB becomes a day’s work for Yordy Gonzalez. At least she wants to offer her guests cola and water. But buying bottled water is an almost impossible task. “You really have to walk far and look. There’s almost no water anywhere.” The situation is similar at breakfast. She gets fruit from the market, but the eggs are too expensive – and powdered milk is only available for children.
Yordy Gonzalez grew up in Cuba, she experienced the economic crisis of the 1990s when the allied Soviet Union collapsed – this period is euphemistically called the “special period” in Cuba because a large part of the population suffered from the hunger. But now it’s different than it was then, Gonzalez says: “There’s a sense of sadness in Cuba. You breathe sadness. The country is tired and annoyed.”
Queuing is part of everyday life
Queuing is now part of the daily life of Cubans. Some hire family members to grab a choice of chicken, bread, or cigarettes. There are vegetables and fruits in the markets, but after the abolition of the second currency “CUC”, the Cuban peso fell dramatically. “People can hardly afford groceries anymore,” said Cuban economist Omar Everleny. Last year, the average salary was 3,528 pesos. But a kilo of powdered milk already costs 1000 pesos, a pound of pork 300 pesos.
Additionally, diesel is particularly scarce as the government apparently diverts fuel to generate electricity. Several power plants are in trouble or out of order. In the provinces, electricity is often cut at night to protect the infrastructure – and that in the heat of summer. Without a fridge or a 30 degree fan, it gets on your nerves. “People sleep badly, they eat badly. Something has to be done,” says Everleny.
Tourism is also weakening
Just what? Tourism, one of the most important sources of foreign exchange for Cuba, is only slowly recovering from the Corona crisis. But due to the war in Ukraine, fewer Russian guests are coming now. According to Everleny, Cuba is still far from the four million tourists who came in 2018 and 2019. The economist has long called for more flexibility for the economy. There have been relaxations, but they are too hesitant and too slow.
“It would also be important to set aside ideological questions,” says Everleny. “If an American company wants to invest, Cuba must be more aggressive in attracting capital.” According to Everleny, foreign investment is Cuba’s only chance to emerge from the crisis. However, current US President Biden has done little to bring them closer and has done little to ease harsh sanctions.
More and more resisters
The pressure rises: the resistance is agitated in certain places. Videos are circulating on Facebook of people banging on pots to express their anger. President Miguel Diaz-Canel therefore publicly asked for patience and cohesion last week. Above all, he blames the US economic blockade for the bottlenecks – and he warns against taking advantage of the situation to “attack the revolution”. An allusion to the massive protests of the past year.
At that time, thousands of people took to the streets across the country to demonstrate against the shortage, but also for more political and economic freedom. About 400 people are currently in prison, some sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, among other charges for disorderly conduct, insulting officials, assault or vandalism. The hopes of many Cubans for more openness have so far not been met. Human rights activists slam the heavy sentences handed down by the courts against protesters as a deterrent. The Cuban authorities, for their part, speak of legally correct judgments.
Political pressure favors the exodus
But in recent months, tens of thousands of people have left the country. Cuba’s Migration Directorate describes this as a normal migratory flow and a “natural phenomenon” since Cuba is an island. The economist Everleny, on the other hand, sees a new problem in Cuba in the dramatic emigration. Because young people in particular apparently see no prospects in Cuba. “Where will the workforce come from in five or ten years to finance the aging of the population? Cuba faces a serious demographic problem.
But there is a good thing about emigration. Most Cubans end up handing over dollars or euros to their families on the Caribbean island. It is estimated that 50-60% benefit in one way or another from these so-called “remesas”. This could keep Cuba afloat for a while.