| HAVANA, July 5
HAVANA, July 5 Cuba faces a cash crunch and must
ration energy in a bid to avoid blackouts and spare essential
services, Economy Minister Marino Murillo was cited as saying by
state-run media on Tuesday.
Cuban companies are already slashing work hours and limiting
the use of air-conditioning and cars in order to save energy,
workers say, adding they fear the situation will worsen.
Cuba has a history of energy rationing, especially in the
1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Communist
government struggled to survive under a severe U.S. embargo.
While the current restrictions will not be so severe, they
come at a time when Cubans' expectations are higher due to
reforms and the detente with Washington.
"It is essential that we reduce spending as much as
possible," the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma quoted
Murillo as saying during a meeting of the economic commission of
the Assembly, which was closed to foreign journalists.
The austerity measures come as low global commodities prices
batter Cuban exports of nickel, refined oil products and sugar.
While no statistics are available, revenues from the sale of
professional services to oil-producing nations such as Venezuela
and Angola, are also thought to have suffered.
Cuba has fallen behind on payments for imports in recent
months, diplomats and foreign business people have said.
Murillo was quoted as saying his forecast for 2 percent
economic growth this year was now in question.
"The most important thing will be to avoid effecting
residential electricity consumption and in general basic
services to the population," the minister said.
The head of a joint venture, who asked to remain anonymous,
told Reuters last week he had seen a government document
ordering cuts in electricity and fuel consumption to most
state-run companies and entities by 50 percent.
Cuban workers said they have been informed of the cuts.
"They called a meeting and said our summer hours were being
cut as well as the use of our patrol cars," said an employee of
state-run security firm SEPSA, who asked that his name not be
used out of fear of retribution.
The Communist Party weekly in eastern Holguin province,
reporting on a meeting of top officials there, shed light on
government plans for the rest of the year.
"During the meeting the adjustments to the economic plan for
the second half of the year were explained," Ahora reported.
"Among them, the reduction of operations in dollars, and a
reduction of the consumption of energy of 28 percent."
Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean
Energy Program at the University of Texas, said Cuba's energy
woes were in part due to a sharp increase in consumption.
Energy consumption jumped more than 30 percent over the last
five years due to the growth of small businesses and the rise of
a middle class under President Raul Castro's market-oriented
"This summer they are trying to insure the electric grid
does not crash, and longer term, that they can handle increased
demand from tourism and small business," Pinon said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Leslie Adler)