Cuba Economy  

BACK TO THE FRONT PAGE
BASIC INFO.
ECONOMY
GEOGRAPHY
GOVERNMENT
HISTORY
HUMAN RIGHTS
LINKS
NEWS
PEOPLE
shadow 
 

CUBA
Budget: Income .............. $12.3 Billion
Expenditure ... $13 Billion

Main Crops:
Sugar cane, tobacco, citrus coffee

Natural Resources: Cobalt, nickel, iron ore

Major Industries:
Sugar, Petroleum, food proccessing, tobacco proccessing

he Cuban Government continues to adhere to socialist principles in organizing its state-controlled economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and, according to Cuban Government statistics, about 75% of the labor force is employed by the state. The actual figure is closer to 93%, with some 150,000 small farmers and another 108,000 "cuentapropistas," or holders of licenses for self-employment, out of a total workforce of about 4.4 million people.

The Cuban economy is still recovering from a decline in gross domestic product of at least 35% between 1989 and 1993 as the loss of Soviet subsidies laid bare the economy's fundamental weaknesses. To alleviate the economic crisis, in 1993 and 1994 the government introduced a few market-oriented reforms, including opening to tourism, allowing foreign investment, legalizing the dollar, and authorizing self-employment for some 150 occupations. These measures resulted in modest economic growth; the official statistics, however, are deficient and as a result provide an incomplete measure of Cuba's real economic situation. Living conditions at the end of the decade remained well below the 1989 level. Lower sugar and nickel prices, increases in petroleum costs, a post-September 11, 2001 decline in tourism, and a devastating November 2001 hurricane created new economic pressures on the country, threatening to take back the few improvements made in the mid- and late 1990s. Shortages of food and fuel increased dramatically.

In the mid 1990s tourism surpassed sugar, long the mainstay of the Cuban economy, as the primary source of foreign exchange. Tourism figures prominently in the Cuban Government's plans for development, and a top official cast it as at the "heart of the economy." Havana devotes significant resources to building new tourist facilities and renovating historic structures for use in the tourism sector. Roughly 1.7 million tourists visited Cuba in 2001, generating about $1.85 billion in gross revenues.  However, the government's hope for continued growth in this sector was unrewarded by the 2001 global economic downturn and the negative effects of September 11 on regional tourism; in 2002, 1,683,716 tourists visited the island, generating revenue of $1.5 billion.

Remittances play a large role in Cuba's accounts, accounting for between $800 million and $1 billion per year to an $18.6 billion economy. The majority of remittances come from families in the United States that are permitted by U.S. law to send to the island up to $1,200 in a year. This provides nearly 60% of the Cuban population with some access to dollars. The Cuban Government tries to capture these dollars by allowing Cuban citizens to shop in state-run "dollar stores," which sell food, household, and clothing items at a high mark-up averaging over 240% of face value. The global economic slump and reduced remittances have contributed to Cuba's faltering economic growth. Sugar, which has been the mainstay of the island's economy for most of its history, has fallen upon troubled times. In 1989, production was more than 8 million tons, but by the mid-1990s, it had fallen to around 3.5 million tons. Inefficient planting and cultivation methods, poor management, shortages of spare parts, and poor transportation infrastructure combined to deter the recovery of the sector. In June 2002, the government announced its intention to implement a "comprehensive transformation" of this declining sector. Almost half the existing sugar mills were closed and more than 100,000 workers were laid off. The government has promised that these workers will be "retrained" in other fields, though it is unlikely they will find new jobs in Cuba's stagnant economy. Moreover, despite such efforts, the sugar harvest continued to decline, falling to 2.1 million tons in 2003, the smallest since 1933.

To help keep the economy afloat, Havana actively courts foreign investment, which often takes the form of joint ventures with the Cuban Government holding half of the equity, management contracts for tourism facilities, or financing for the sugar harvest. A new legal framework laid out in 1995 allowed for majority foreign ownership in joint ventures with the Cuban Government. In practice, majority ownership by the foreign partner is practically nonexistent. Of the 540 joint ventures formed since the Cuban Government issued the first legislation on foreign investment in 1982, only 397 remained by the end of 2002. In addition, the number of joint ventures formed each year has been steadily declining since 1997, and foreign direct investment flows decreased from $448 million in 2000 to $39 million in 2001. Many of these investments are loans or contracts for management, supplies, or services normally not considered equity investment in Western economies. Investors are constrained by the U.S.-Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act that provides sanctions for those who "traffic" in property expropriated from U.S. citizens. As of August 2002, 18 executives of two foreign companies have been excluded from entry into the United States. More than a dozen companies have pulled out of Cuba or altered their plans to invest there due to the threat of action under the Libertad Act.

In 1993 the Cuban Government made it legal for its people to possess and use the U.S. dollar. Since then, the dollar has become the major currency in use. The gap in the standard of living has widened between those with access to dollars and those without. Jobs that can earn dollar salaries or tips from foreign businesses and tourists have become highly desirable. It is common to meet doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals working in restaurants or as taxi drivers.

To provide jobs for workers laid off due to the economic crisis, furnish services the government was having difficulty providing, and to try to bring some forms of black market activity into legal--and therefore controllable--channels, Havana in 1993 legalized self-employment for some 150 occupations. The government tightly controls the small private sector by regulating and taxing it. For example, owners of small private restaurant can seat no more than 12 people and can only employ family members to help with the work. Set monthly fees must be paid regardless of income earned, and frequent inspections yield stiff fines when any of the many self-employment regulations are violated. Rather than expanding private sector opportunities, in recent years, the government has been attempting to squeeze more of these private sector entrepreneurs out of business and back to the public sector. Many have opted to enter the informal economy or black market, and others have closed. These measures have reduced private sector employment from a peak of 209,000 to approximately 53, 000 in 2003. Moreover, a large number of those people who nominally are self-employed in reality are well-connected fronts for military officials. No recent figures have been made available, but the Government of Cuba reported at the end of 2001 that tax receipts from the self-employed fell 8.1% due to the decrease in the number of these taxpayers.

Prolonged austerity and the state-controlled economy's inefficiency in providing adequate goods and services have created conditions for a flourishing informal economy in Cuba. As the variety and amount of goods available in state-run peso stores has declined, Cubans have turned increasingly to the black market to obtain needed food, clothing, and household items. Pilferage of items from the work place to sell on the black market or illegally offering services on the sidelines of official employment is common, and Cuban companies regularly figure 15% in losses into their production plans to cover this. Recognizing that Cubans must engage in such activity to make ends meet and that attempts to shut the informal economy down would be futile, the government concentrates its control efforts on ideological appeals against theft and shutting down large organized operations. A report by an independent economist and opposition leader speculates that more than 40% of the Cuban economy operates in the informal sector.

Cuba's precarious economic position is complicated by the high price it must pay for foreign financing. The Cuban Government defaulted on most of its international debt in 1986 and does not have access to credit from international financial institutions like the World Bank, which means Havana must rely heavily on short-term loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor credit rating, an $11 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22%. In 2002, citing chronic delinquencies and mounting short-term debts, Moody's lowered Cuba's credit rating to Caa1 - "speculative grade, very poor." Dunn and Bradstreet rate Cuba as one of the riskiest economies in the world.