HAVANA, (Reuters) - Cuba said Tuesday its struggling economy, hit this
year by a five-month drought, a hurricane and a record low sugar harvest,
would fall short of the official 1998 growth target of between 2.5 percent
and 3.5 percent.
Vice President Carlos Lage, who oversees state economic planning, told
reporters at the Havana International Trade Fair that the economy would
have "discreet growth" in 1998 but "we estimate that we will not reach the
level we had planned."
Independent analysts have said for months that Cuba would not reach its
target, and would more likely register around one percent Gross Domestic
Product growth (GDP) this year. Lage's comments were the first public
acknowledgment by a senior official that the target would be missed.
Cuba's GDP growth last year was 2.5 percent, below the forecast four to
five percent, and the 7.8 percent rise reported in 1996.
Plunged into crisis in the early 1990s by the collapse of aid and trade
with the former Soviet Union, Cuba's economy is slowly recovering from
recession. But it remains hindered by the U.S. economic embargo and
difficulties in obtaining medium- and long-term financing.
A lengthy drought in eastern Cuban earlier this year, and the destructive
passage of Hurricane Georges in September, caused widespread damage to
infrastructure and agriculture. And lower world prices for sugar and nickel,
Cuba's principal export products, have further hampered growth.
Critics of President Fidel Castro's communist government say that the
system is also inefficient and cautious economic reforms from the early
1990s have not gone far enough.
Lage insisted that most sectors of the economy were in a healthy state,
especially tourism, but that the sugar failure had influenced the overall GDP
He said the 1997-98 sugar harvest was confirmed at 3.2 million metric tons
-- the lowest figure in half a century. Lage said nickel production this year
would be between 8,000 and 10,000 tons higher than 1997's output of
60,000 tons. Despite lower prices, there was still profit from that sector, he
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.