April 27, 2018 / 5:03 AM / 7 months ago

Cuba's first cabinet meet under new president tackles tricky economy

HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba’s first cabinet meeting under new President Miguel Diaz-Canel focused on corruption and a cash crunch hurting the economy, state-run media reported on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO - Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks to Bolivia's President Evo Morales (not pictured) at the Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, April 23, 2018. Ramon Espinosa/Pool via Reuters

Diaz-Canel took office from his mentor Raul Castro last week, although the latter remains head of the ruling Communist Party, the island nation’s guiding political force.

Fixing the Soviet-style centralized economy is the most pressing challenge Diaz-Canel faces in view of declining oil shipments from socialist ally Venezuela and renewed tensions with old foe the United States that is hurting tourism.

Deputy Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez delivered a report on the economy’s performance in the first quarter of 2018 at the monthly cabinet meeting on Wednesday, state-run media reported.

There were still “tensions over the availability of hard currency” because of weak exports, as well as difficulties in fuel supply, media cited him as saying.

Lower imports due to the liquidity crisis have been affecting Cuban factories’ ability to manufacture; production of sanitary towels for example was suspended in recent months, causing indignation among some Cubans.

Supplies had finally arrived however, so the government hoped the situation would be “normalized” by May, state-run media reported.

In the face of low supplies and a lack of building workers among other difficulties, the government estimated Cuba achieved 90 percent of its investment goal in the first quarter.

Sugar production had been impacted by an intense drought followed by sustained rain, as well as Hurricane Irma, it said.

The cabinet meeting also addressed the “economic affectations caused by irregularities in foreign commerce operations and plans to combat illegalities in land use and urban planning”, state-run media reported.

This was the first time in a while that state-run media had given a detailed report on a cabinet meeting.

The meeting reunited the council of ministers of the legislative period that ended last week. Diaz-Canel has postponed announcing his own council of ministers until the next parliamentary session in July.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Robert Birsel

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