Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Rick MacInnes-Rae: Cuba's economy at mercy of Venezuela's voters

Post-Chavez election threatens Cuba's subsidized oil

By Rick MacInnes-Rae, CBC News

Posted: Apr 1, 2013 5:16 AM ET

In Cuba, state restrictions have loosened in the past year or so. One

result: private cars acting as taxis for tourists and other visitors,

like here in downtown Havana. In Cuba, state restrictions have loosened

in the past year or so. One result: private cars acting as taxis for t

It is not just Venezuelans who are looking anxiously at their post-Hugo

Chavez future.

Cubans, too, have much to lose if Venezuela's government changes after

the April 14 election, and they're not happy about it.

In campaign speeches, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles is

threatening to axe the long-time lifeline Venezuela has been providing

to Cuba in the form of heavily discounted oil.

For 13 years, the small Caribbean state has depended on Venezuela for

nearly 100,000 barrels a day of petroleum — to light Cuba's homes and

the hotels that underpin its tourist economy — at discount prices that

amount to an estimated $6-billion subsidy over the six-year life of the

current agreement.

"The giveaways to other countries are going to end," Capriles told a

student rally in Zulia recently. "Not another drop of oil will go toward

financing the government of the Castros."

The market-friendly Venezuelan governor is no fan of the radical

socialism of the late president Hugo Chavez who viewed Cuba's Fidel

Castro as a mentor. And his message is getting through to Cuban loud and


"The opposition is talking about cutting off the oil and if they do

we're in big trouble," says Tina (not her real name), a tour guide in

the northern province of Mattanzas.

Trouble is not something Cuba needs any more of, particularly now.

"After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Cuba became an upside-down

pyramid. Labourers at the top. Professionals at the bottom," says Tina,

her own life being a case in point.

Surviving on tourists

Tina is a multilingual, university-trained interpreter/translator in her

late 20s who found no work after graduating. So she became a teacher,

and found there was no money in that.

Her teacher's salary equalled $25 Cdn a month. Almost enough to buy four

kilograms of pork to feed her extended family, providing she bought

nothing else that month.

But she's a smart woman. She speaks Spanish, English, German and

realpolitik. So, like Cuba after the collapse of its Soviet sponsor in

the early-1990s, she stopped what she was doing and turned to tourism.

Cuba's been turning out joint-venture resorts as fast as it can drain

the swamps of Varadero, building a new economy on the hard currency of

foreign visitors to the tune of almost $2.5 billion a year, according to


Tourists are flocking to the pastel-colored, all-inclusive,

air-conditioned bubbles of blue water and white rum that could be

anywhere in the Caribbean since they portray so little of Cuba or Castro

or the political tensions that litter the country's past and present.

For those willing to leave the bubble, Tina will guide them where they

want to go for a daily fee that's small to them, but eight times what

she used to make in a month.

Most of her customers are Canadians ("So nice!") and Russians ("Not so

nice."), since the ongoing 53-year-old U.S. embargo pretty much keeps

Americans out.

The departures and arrivals board at Varadero Airport reads like a

survey of cold weather capitals, with flights from Toronto, Montreal,

Quebec City, Edmonton and Saint John coming and going all day long.

Still shortages

But while there are plenty of Canadians and Russians (even a few Chinese

nationals) basking in sun and cheap rum, there are shortages of other

things, despite the much trumpeted "triumph of the revolution."

Earlier this month it was butter. Before that, toothpaste. And before

that, a shortage of shampoo.

The U.S. embargo against the Castro regime compels Cuba to pay for the

things it wants in cash, and hard currency is hard to come by.

That is also where Venezuela helps out. Along with the subsidized oil,

it also invests billions of its hard-earned petrodollars directly in

Cuba's aging infrastructure.

Still, despite the help, Cuba can't afford everything, all the time. So

it constantly runs out of all kinds of stuff.

"Cubans get by on tips," Tina tells me. A bartender in a tourist resort

trousers more in a day than a teacher will in a month.

Times are tough, but not as tough as they once were in the mid-1990s

when some 50,000 state-owned cows suddenly vanished into many thousands

of pots when Cubans were going hungry.

There's emigration, of course.

Cuba has famously had two kinds. "Wet" and "dry." Wet means finding a

boat, or lashing a few inner tubes together and trying your luck on the

tides to Florida, 144 kilometres to the north.

Dry meant going to someplace like Venezuela, then travelling north over

land through Mexico by rail to the U.S. A little more expensive, and

fraught with risks of its own.

Raul Castro greets Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at Havana's airport in May

2011. The Venezuelan leader had been in Cuba undergoing treatment for

the cancer that would eventually claim his life two years later.Raul

Castro greets Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at Havana's airport in May 2011.

The Venezuelan leader had been in Cuba undergoing treatment for the

cancer that would eventually claim his life two years later. (Reuters)

Passports have become easier to come by since January, when Cuba lifted

the burdensome restrictions that were once designed to prevent people

skipping out.

But like the easing of restrictions on buying and selling cars and

houses over the past two years, it sounds better than it is.

As Tina says, you have to be able to afford these things, and not many can.

She likes to say that Cuba has no important natural resources, which is

why it is so tourist-dependent. But she's wrong about that. Cuban has

resources all right. Human resources. It exports people.

Tens of thousands of doctors, health professionals, teachers and sports

coaches are dispatched on contracts all over the developing world, but

particularly to Venezuela, where over 30,000 Cuban doctors and dentists

are based, part of a doctors for (subsidized) oil program that the

Castros set up with Chavez.

Human chattel, whose talents are part payment for the oil lifeline many

are worried about losing.

Were the oil exchange to end, there'd be little waiting for these

professionals back at home, beyond slinging mojitos to surly Russians.

But the first major poll of the Venezuelan campaign has the party of

late president Chavez in the lead. Its victory would ensure the oil

keeps flowing to Cuba, at least for the short term.

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