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Cuba hunkers down under austerity measures

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Cubans gathered every Sunday in this market to chase deals. Photo: Getty
Cubans gathered every Sunday in this market to chase deals. Photo: Getty

Since the U.S. and Cuba improved relations and President Obama visited the island in March, and the restoration of direct daily flights to Havana from Mérida, hopes have been high among Cubans that better economic times were coming. 

But instead, Cubans are bracing for a tough end of the year after already enduring a rough summer since July when authorities cut work hours, electricity and supplies. 

The island’s economic problems are connected mainly to Venezuela, which has been Cuba’s main patron and supplier of cheap oil. Oil prices have plummeted, and the South American nation has slashed its generous subsidies.

A Cuban couple rides a bicitaxi early in the sunny morning. Bicitaxi are an ideal way of commuting in Cuba for their agility at rush hour. Photo: Getty
A Cuban couple rides a bicitaxi early in the sunny morning. Bicitaxi are an ideal way of commuting in Cuba for their agility at rush hour. Photo: Getty

A return to the “Special Period” in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union is widely feared, reports National Public Radio. Many still remember cooking with charcoal, going long periods without electricity and having a hard time finding food.

An estimated 40 percent of the oil supplied by Venezuela has been cut, straining Cuba’s transportation system that’s comprised of overstuffed buses and privately run taxis, which have become harder to find since July.

Taxi driver Roy Ramirez, 31, told NPR that it takes 40 liters a day, or about $45 USD worth, to fill his 1957 Chevy. That cuts into his takehome pay since taxi fares are set by the state. 

And Richard Feinberg, author of Open for Business: Building The New Cuban Economy, says the Castro government has slowed plans for opening to foreign investment and reforming key industries. 

Laura, a state worker who didn’t want to give her name, is praying that isn’t true. So far the power cuts have been only about two hours a day. The worst part is battling to get to work in the heat of the morning commute.

“And you get to your office thinking at least there is air conditioning, but then find out it’s been shut off,” she told NPR. “It’s a big psychological blow.”

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