Cuba creeping toward economic
Growth beats the Latin American average, but most Cubans' lives remain hard.
BY ANITA SNOW
HAVANA -- Container ships laden with food and consumer goods from
and Asia plow daily into Havana Bay, a body of water virtually empty five years
ago. The daily arrivals in the harbor are a sign that, bit by bit, Cuba's economy
continues to recover, even though life remains hard for the average Cuban.
The economy grew 5.6 percent last year and is projected to grow
percent in 2001, Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez reported in late
December. Both rates were well ahead of the Latin American average of 3
But Rodriguez acknowledged that the effects of economic growth
have yet to
trickle down to ordinary Cubans.
``Important limitations are still faced when it comes to people's
Rodriguez acknowledged in his annual report to the National Assembly, or
The collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago led the island's
product to shrink by some 40 percent, and a full recovery to the GNP level of 1989
may still be years off.
Prices for non-rationed food remain extremely high for most Cubans,
Rodriguez, and more homes need to be repaired and built, and public
transportation must be improved.
``There are a lot more things to buy now, but our pensions are
the same,'' said
Lifa Isabel Barroso, a retiree in her 60s who sells crocheted shawls and doilies to
tourists in Old Havana. Her monthly pension is 80 pesos, the equivalent of a little
more than $4.
Still, things are much better than the early 1990s -- grim years
marked by severe
shortages of food, petroleum and just about everything else. Cubans went months
without eating meat, blackouts were regularly scheduled to save fuel, and the
streets were devoid of motor vehicles because there just wasn't any gasoline
``Life can still be difficult for all Cubans,'' especially elderly
people who need
special foods and medicines, said Augustin Cruz, 42, who sells wooden statues
at an artisan market. ``But overall, the economic situation is about 80 percent
better than 1993,'' the year that's generally considered the roughest for those who
Much of Cuba's current economic growth has been attributed to
Rodriguez described as ``the most dynamic factor in our economy.'' The industry
has grown at an average of nearly 19 percent a year over the past five years.
But the industry failed to live up to expectations in 2000, when
1.8 million people
visited the island. It was only a 10 percent increase over 1999, well below official
Foreign investment, meanwhile, ``continues growing and playing
role in our development,'' Rodriguez said.
Since foreign companies first got the green light to invest on
the island in 1995,
370 ``mixed enterprises'' -- partnerships between outside investors and the Cuban
government -- have been formed. By year's end, that translated into foreign
investment of $4.3 billion.
The sugar crop, once all-important, has suffered under chronic
expect only 3.7 million metric tons from this harvest, a 10 percent drop from a
Such news would once have been devastating, but the Soviet collapse
Cuban authorities the dangers of not diversifying. Economic planners responded
by developing tourism, fish exporting and mining industries.
The average monthly government salary over the past year increased
to 249 pesos, which works out to a bit less than $12 at government exchange
The salary figure can mislead because most Cubans pay little or
housing and utilities and enjoy free education and healthcare and heavily
subsidized public transportation. They also receive about half of their food through
a government ration program for about 25 pesos a month -- the equivalent of about