Cuban ministers reveal details of food, fuel shortages amid economic crisis

(Reuters) – Senior Cuban officials have over several weeks provided an increasingly dire snapshot of a deepening economic crisis in a series of televised prime-time appearances, revealing the extent of the downturn in unprecedented detail.

Minister after minister have delivered the bad news as the import-dependent Communist-run country weathers a fourth year of crisis, scraping by with a minimum of foreign exchange as output plummets.

Food production, the supply of phamaceuticals and transportation are down by at least 50% since 2018, the top officials said, and continued to decline this year in large part due to chronic fuel shortages and power outages.

Cuba imports most of the food and fuel it consumes, but revenues have plunged following the pandemic, hampered by stiff U.S. sanctions and floundering tourism, once a mainstay of the Caribbean island economy.

“The ministers provided new information revealing just how serious the crisis is and that growth this year is very doubtful,” Cuban economist Omar Everleny said.

Production of pork, rice and beans – all staples on the Cuban dinner plate – are down by more than 80% this year over pre-crisis levels and eggs 50%, Agriculture Minister Ydael Jesus Perez said.

“It has only been possible to acquire 40% of the fuel, 4% of the fertilizer and 20% of the animal feed required,” the minister explained.

Hospitals, short on basic supplies such as sutures, cotton and gauze, have done 30% fewer surgical procedures compared with 2019, according to data shared on state-run TV during a presentation by First Deputy Health Minister Tania Margarita Cruz. Nearly 68% of basic pharmaceuticals are not available or in short supply.

Public transportation, vital in a country where few have vehicles, has also been hobbled by fuel shortages and difficulties in obtaining spare parts.

If before the collapse of former benefactor the Soviet Union “there were 2,500 buses operating in Havana … today there are just 300 compared with 600 four years ago,” Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodríguez Davila said.

The ministers revealed domestic freight traffic continues to decline and is half of what it was in 2019. Industry is operating at 35% of capacity.

Cuba’s government has acknowledged its state-run economy needs reform.

Local authorities, increasingly under pressure as the problems and tension ratchet up, have launched programs to contain hunger, build homes and improve the flow of transportation, but remain hamstrung by a lack of funds, they have said.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Sandra Maler)