Socialist Cuba is in crisis – the worst and most dangerous crisis in 30 years. There are more and more signs of this, one of the clearest being the cancellation of the giant May Day celebration in Revolution Square. The millions of Cubans parading in the squares have been something like a trademark of Fidel Castro’s Revolución. Since the fateful 1959, the square has been empty on May Day only during the two years of COVID-19.
The secretary general of the Workers’ Union, Ulisses Guillarte de Nacimiento, announced on TV that Monday’s parade would be replaced by a smaller demonstration along the malecón (waterfront) in downtown Havana and various small neighborhood initiatives in the capital and throughout the island’s cities. The cause is the dramatic “fuel shortage” that has semi-paralyzed the island for the past few weeks. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, newly reappointed to the post, has tried to put a positive spin on it by writing on Twitter that one big (revolutionary) voice would be replaced by “many small voices.”
But this note of optimism rings false. First of all, to the tens of thousands of Cubans who are spending hours – I’ve experienced this myself – waiting in line for a tank of gas which might turn out elusive when they finally come within sight of the gas station, when the pump manager opens his arms and shouts the dreaded “se acabó” — it ran out.
Transportation Minister Vicente de la O Levy reiterated again on Friday that things will not get so bad as to reach “zero point,” that is, when the gasoline pumps run dry. But there will be rationing, 40 liters per vehicle, at some gas stations in the capital.
However, rather than reassuring people, the decision has stimulated the well-known Cuban ability to inventar, find all kinds of means to locate the pump that works and win the best place in a line that stretches for hundreds of meters, arriving there with an empty tank (or which was emptied by someone sucking the gasoline out while in line). There are also those who are turning the queuing into a “vocation” and selling the gasoline spoils at 3-400 pesos a liter, almost 20 times the official price.
The Cuban president has admitted the almost unprecedented severity of the fuel crisis that will have heavy repercussions on agriculture, trade and the distribution of goods and services, as well as on the GDP. But Díaz-Canel wanted to make it clear that the responsibility for this situation lies both with the U.S. embargo, turned deadly by President Trump and largely maintained by Biden, and the with “non-fulfillment” of agreements made with suppliers of oil and oil derivatives (Cuba produces only about 40 percent of the crude it needs, and of low quality to boot).
The fact that Venezuela has nearly halved its crude oil supplies to Cuba at favorable cost (from 70,000 barrels/day to just over 40,000) has been known for about a year. However, Díaz-Canel was keen on pointing out that this situation is due to “the complex international energy situation,” certainly not to a breakdown in the Bolivarian-Fidelist alliance. Thus, in recent days, especially in the provinces where the crisis is even more serious than in the capital, rumors are circulating that it was actually Algeria, under pressure from Washington, that failed to keep its commitments.
That’s a bola (a hoax), according to Raffaela Cruz, the leading economist of a Cuban-Spanish right-wing online newspaper. Algeria, she writes, supplies Cuba with only 2 million barrels a year. And she concludes by repeating the mantra of the Miami-based contra about the “last nail in the coffin of Castroism” – in this case, the proverbial nail being hammered in by Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, who is busy negotiating with the U.S. for his survival.
To prevent a collapse of transport in Cuba, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador intervened, sending two tankers from Mexico’s Pemex to the island in recent days. On Friday, a tanker called the Cheetah II, probably from Russia, was reported to be unloading diesel fuel needed for power generation in the port of Matanzas.
As mentioned, the energy crisis is exacerbating Cuba’s structural crisis, especially the low productive capacity of both state-run industry and agriculture, which are far from meeting the needs of the population. The scarcity of basic necessities is fueling an inflation that the government cannot control. To take just one example, the price of rice – a staple in the country’s diet – has risen 23 percent in recent weeks, despite donations arriving from Vietnam in large quantities.
Cuba’s political leadership – just approved for a new term despite the disastrous outcome of the Tarea ordenamiento economic-monetary reform – must address two priorities: structural reforms and exploring the possibility of improving relations with the Biden administration, which has made addressing the issue of “political prisoners” on the island a precondition.
On the latter point, on Wednesday there was a meeting between Díaz-Canel and the Catholic bishops, during which the issue of an amnesty for those arrested during the July 2021 riots was also discussed.