This Wednesday the Cuban government announced new measures, including the elimination of limits on the import of food and medicine, at a time when the island is going through a severe economic and health crisis, and after the protests that occurred in recent days in different locations of the country.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel, together with Prime Minister Manuel Marrero and Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil, made the announcements on the television program Mesa Redonda, in an appearance in which the issue of electricity generation was also addressed, affected in recent weeks and one of the problems that triggered the recent protests, as well as changes related to state-run enterprises and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
Normalization in power generation
On this matter, the prime minister announced the incorporation, in the test and adjustment mode, of the number one unit of the Lidio Ramón Pérez (Felton) thermoelectric plant, in the eastern province of Holguín, whose operations had been interrupted. He explained that the plant is still working below its potential, but it is estimated that it will complete its full capacity (260 megawatts) this week, once the adjustments conclude.
Marrero pointed out that during the week the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Matanzas was also synchronized with the National Electric System, which started up with a contribution of 237 megawatts and should reach its maximum potential (280) in the coming days, while anticipating that unit six of the Máximo Gómez thermoelectric plant, located in the Mariel municipality (Artemisa) will carry out its first synchronization in August.
⚡️ Con la entrada en funcionamiento de las termoeléctricas de Felton y de la "Antonio Guiteras" mejora de manera considerable la capacidad de generación, lo que permitirá reducir las afectaciones. Para garantizar una estabilidad del sistema se requieren 500 megawatt de reservas. pic.twitter.com/DQvjjy22ea
— Mesa Redonda (@mesaredondacuba) July 14, 2021
On the other hand, he acknowledged that despite the incorporation of these plants, which should lead to a reduction in power cuts — the annoying blackouts —, work is still under way on the generation of permanent energy reserves. The estimate necessary for there to be a guarantee of stability in the long-term energy supply is 500 megawatts, but today the country has 133 megawatts, he said.
The problems, according to the prime minister, were aggravated by the lack of fuel and other supplies due to the U.S. embargo, as well as the needs derived from the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has made it necessary to create new isolation centers for the sick and suspects with protected circuits.
“There have always been protected circuits for hospitals, but they have increased due to the situation of the pandemic. Therefore, there has been a little more frequency of blackouts…that have affected the same people,” he explained.
Import of food, toiletries and medicines
Regarding the lack of medicines in hospitals and pharmacies, Marrero alluded to problems with suppliers and financing, mainly motivated by the impact of the pandemic and the increase in prices due to the U.S. economic sanctions.
Among the most affected products are medicine for high blood pressure, antibiotics, analgesics, contraceptives, vitamins and products for dentistry use, many of them for regulated use through the “card,” as the control card for the sale of these drugs is known on the island.
He also referred to the import substitution that the pharmaceutical industry has undertaken. Of the 619 drugs included in the basic table in Cuba, 365 are produced by the national industry, he said, and assured that, currently, “we have available in the country a significant level of raw materials” to produce drugs to fill the existing deficiencies. “Among the production priorities are drugs against COVID-19 and those destined for the hospital network, for hemodialysis, hypertension, antibiotics, diabetics and oncology patients, as well as for isolation centers and the pharmacy network,” he said.
According to the prime minister, local authorities have been “oriented” to identify people in need of these regulated drugs in short supply, and to make home deliveries once these drugs are re-established in the network of pharmacies.
Among the measures taken to minimize the impact of the crisis facing the Cuban population today in terms of essential products, Marrero also announced that the duty-free import of food, medicine and toiletries will be allowed “exceptionally.”
He affirmed that it was approved by the government “to authorize exceptionally and on a temporary basis the import of food, toiletries and medicines by passengers with accompanying luggage, without limit of duty-free import value until December 31, 2021. The airlines are the ones that set the limits.”
The measure, which takes effect as of Monday, July 19, requires that the products described be separated from the rest of the personal luggage. Food products must continue to comply with plant and animal health regulations and medicines must be transported in their original containers.
Additional restrictions will be applied to travelers arriving on the island through Cayo Coco and Varadero, whose maximum limit is a single suitcase, according to the hygienic-sanitary measures in force due to COVID-19.
On internal migration and regulated food products
Referring to people who have left their provinces to settle in other territories without completing the legal procedures, Marrero pointed out that they are working “to update the regulations, respecting the right of the population to decide where they want to live, but in an organized manner.”
In the midst of the island’s worst pandemic surge, during which more than 6,000 infections have been reported daily in recent days, these people do not have a ration book in their current place of residence, making it impossible for them to access the basic food basket.
To resolve this problem, Marrero pointed out that local governments, together with the domestic trade system, are developing a “provisional mechanism” so that people in this situation can purchase the basic food basket, regardless of where they reside. The leader estimated a figure of around 300,000 people in these conditions.
According to what he said, the head of the Ministry of Domestic Trade (MINCIN) must appear at the Mesa Redonda program next week to explain and guide the population on the implementation of this mechanism.
Socialist state-run enterprise and the salary scale
For his part, Cuban Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Planning Alejandro Gil referred to the measures approved in the framework of the restructuring of state-run enterprises.
After announcing last June the approval for the creation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, the leader pointed out that work is under way to finalize their legal regulations, as well as other categories such as self-employment and non-agricultural cooperatives.
Gil recalled that the measures seek to place state-run enterprises “as the main subject of our economic model,” through “decisions and measures that promote greater efficiency in the state-run enterprises and allow for greater autonomy in management.”
The first measure adopted in this regard is the improvement of the payment system of state-run enterprises. Gil recalled that the mechanisms that imposed limits on the payment for productivity (profits) were recently withdrawn and said that they are working on eliminating the obligation to use the salary scale to define the payment of wages in these enterprises.
This measure, “unprecedented in the country, gives autonomy to state-run enterprises to pay salaries, but it also constitutes a great responsibility,” said the deputy prime minister.
In the place of a salary scale as it exists today, an approved salary fund has been proposed to be distributed among the workers, according to the parameters defined by each enterprise.
The measure, which will be implemented gradually in a group of enterprises, has gone through a risk assessment process together with academics and specialists, and is expected to have a “favorable impact” on the economy. “Risks exist, but we will have to deal with them,” Gil said.
La eliminación de la obligatoriedad de aplicar la escala salarial en las empresas estatales, dota de mayor autonomía y responsabilidad a la empresa, que podrá estimular de manera diferenciada a los trabajadores que más aportan. #SomosCuba #SomosContinuidad @MEP_CUBA pic.twitter.com/J6DmTsFnSB
— Alejandro Gil Fernández (@AlejandroGilF) July 15, 2021
Micro, small and medium-sized state-run enterprises
Another measure pointed out by the minister is the relationship between owner and management within the micro, small and medium-sized state-run enterprises.
“While the micro, small and medium-sized private enterprise has an owner who is a natural person, in the case of micro, small and medium-sized state-run enterprises, the owner is the State, which is represented through a legal entity,” he explained.
In this case, the idea is being evaluated so that budgeted units, enterprises or Higher Organizations of Business Management (OSDE) and also scientific centers and universities can act as partners or owners of these state-run enterprises.
According to the minister of economy, the measure seeks to establish a clear division between owner and administrator, a transformation aimed at “promoting high value-added enterprises.”
“It is not an improvised process.… It is an important step in the redesign of state property,” stated Gil.
Final words by Díaz-Canel
The Cuban president was in charge of closing the television program. He began his participation by referring to the “complex and challenging situation” that the country is experiencing.
He affirmed that the context is complex due to the confluence of several issues, including the U.S. policy towards the island and the current pandemic surge, but also the “energy situation,” shortages, dissatisfactions and “accumulated problems” that the island is experiencing.
Díaz-Canel pointed out that, despite the current crisis, the context is different from that of the Special Period — the harsh economic crisis of the 1990s — when due to dependence on imports from the socialist camp, the country entered a deep depression.
“We learned from that and today that is not the same scenario,” said the president and pointed out that today Cuba is capable of being self-sufficient in various sectors. “At that time we received and wasted,” he acknowledged and in contrast he said that today strategies are being developed to seek self-sustainability in sectors such as tourism, and investment projects that have served to supply the population and create reserves. These projects, however, are currently being stifled by the economic sanctions derived from the embargo/blockade, he said.
He also extoled, as he has been doing in his most recent interventions, that, despite the current crisis, the country has managed to develop five vaccine candidates. “We were forced because we did not have the money to buy vaccines from others, but it was able to be done because the country has scientific capacity and it was the only alternative,” he added.
About the protests
In reference to the protests that have shaken the island in recent days, Díaz-Canel reiterated that there is a strategy of “soft coup,” organized from the United States, which has used the demonstrations as a lever to filter out “annexationist and destabilizing” guidelines.
He insisted that among the protesters are people with criminal records, but this time he used a more moderate tone than in previous interventions, such as the one on Sunday, July 11 in the afternoon, and acknowledged that these people are also part of the population and that their demands need to be heard.
He also recognized that the government must deal with the “fractures” that exist in the population and that have been the fundamental catalyst of the demonstrations in recent days, and, in his opinion, it is necessary to act with greater efficiency and sensitivity in vulnerable neighborhoods.
“That [the protests] tells us that we have to enhance attention to the population, sensitivity to the problems, specify the humanist vision of Revolution,” he said. In this sense, he emphasized the need to revive the mechanisms of social participation and the work of local and community organizations and structures.
“We have to see what our failures are, what makes these people get to this point (…). We have to identify and cut these causes. We need a greater approach to the neighborhoods, with institutions, structures, mechanisms of popular and mass participation.”
Referring to the attacks and detainees in recent days, Díaz-Canel affirmed that the corresponding sanctions will be applied to those who violated the law, but acknowledged that “it will be necessary to apologize to people who were confused or mistreated” by the forces of law and order during the protests.
Finally, he called for “peace, harmony and respect,” and to “recover the security that people feel living in Cuba,” because “Cuban society does not generate hatred,” he said. In addition, he called for “the unity of the people and the institutions,” as well as “peace and citizen solidarity” inside and outside of Cuba.