Cuba announces new austerity plan

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 27 May 2009

By Michael Voss, BBC News, Havana

Cuba has announced it will introduce an austerity programme in June to try to offset the impact of the international financial crisis and reduce energy use.

Unless energy use is reduced over the summer there could be blackouts, the authorities warn.

Details of the restrictions have yet to be announced but could include limiting the use of air conditioning at work and home, and shorter working hours.

Until recently the global recession has not been felt by most Cubans.

There have been no mass redundancies in this state-run economy where most workers have jobs for life.

But life is about to get harder.

Prices of Cuba's major export, nickel, have slumped, tourism revenues are down while last year's hurricane caused $10bn (£6.25bn) worth of damage and the US trade embargo continues to bite.

Liquidity problem

The result is a serious liquidity problem.

The government is running out of money to pay for imports.

Shortages are starting to appear in the shops of items ranging from milk to toothpaste and babies' nappies.

Cuba used 40,000 more tons of fuel to produce electricity in the first three months of 2009 because of increased consumption, according to figures published in the state-run newspaper Granma.

According to Cuba's Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo, the predicted 6% growth in 2009 is now expected to fall to barely 2%.

Many foreign firms operating in Cuba are currently unable to send money abroad or take cash out from their corporate accounts.

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