Economy to grow 4 percent despite hurricane setbacks

Campaign News | Monday, 3 November 2008

by Jeff Franks, Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta reporting for Reuters

Cuba's economy is expected to grow 4 percent in 2008, despite the devastating effects of two powerful hurricanes that caused more than $5 billion in damage, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage said on Monday.

He also said 2.4 million Cubans are receiving additional food rations to help them through shortages caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck the Caribbean island two months ago.

Lage did not say what would account for the economic growth. Before the storms and the financial crisis that hit the global economy, Cuba had predicted its socialist economy would grow 8 percent this year.

"There are no doubts that the effects of the hurricanes have produced a strong blow," Lage told reporters at the opening of Havana's annual international trade fair.

But, he said, "the economy is going to grow more than 4 percent. It's the estimate and it's going to create conditions to keep advancing in the following years," he said.

The storms destroyed 30 percent of Cuba's crops, which touched off food shortages that led the government to increase, in the hardest hit areas, the monthly food ration provided to Cubans.

"Today, there are more than 2.4 million people receiving an additional quota of food," Lage said.

Cuba, which under normal circumstances imports about 60 percent of its food, has increased imports to meet the post-hurricane needs, he said.

Asked about the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday, Lage said the winner, be it Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, will have to decide whether "to maintain a criminal policy against Cuba," referring to the long-standing U.S trade embargo against the island.

"I think what the world needs is a president of the United States that is rational, that has a minimal coefficient of intelligence, that's not alcoholic and is not demented," Lage said, using words often heard from Cuban officials to describe U.S. President George W. Bush.

Bush is heavily criticized in Cuba for strengthening the U.S. embargo and his tough talk about the communist-run government.

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