On May 16, the Central Bank of Cuba will begin issuing licenses for the use of cryptocurrencies in economic activities. The authorities are going to allow the cryptocurrency because of the consequences of the coronacrisis and US sanctions, which have been destroying the country's economy for 60 years.
Cuba is a "passing prize"
The first settlements on the island were founded by Spanish colonists in the early 16th century and ruled for almost three centuries. Then the metropolis brought African slaves and began to use the land for sugar cane and tobacco – the "oil" of that time.
Cuba received relative freedom only at the end of the 19th century after an uprising of local residents and a long war for independence. Spain lost its influence in the Caribbean region, and the United States took its place. Nominally, the United States developed the economy and industry of Cuba, investing hundreds of millions, and then billions of dollars. In fact, they used it as a semi-colony: troops could enter at any moment, local authorities and production controlled it.
Before World War I, about 90% of Cuba's exports were tobacco and sugar. Most of the agricultural territories were given over to them. Products for domestic consumption had to be imported – there were not enough of their own. At the same time, companies from the United States received privileges and imported goods to Cuba without duties.
The country's economy suffered severely during the First and Second World Wars: first, the flow of goods from Europe stopped, then pro-American officials banned exports from the Soviet Union. As a result of the crisis, the poor could not get vital things, and the elite lived in comfort and luxury.
In 1940, President Fulgencio Batista came to power – later he would be called a puppet of the United States. Under Batista, the capital of Cuba, Havana, became the "Latin American Las Vegas." The business was controlled by American monopolies and mafia clans. Businessmen from the United States owned 90% of the mining industry, 80% of utilities and fuel companies and half of sugar production. Batista received millions in bribes, and America turned a blind eye to numerous crimes: from the organization of brothels to drug and human trafficking.
13 years later, a group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro rebelled against Batista. Impoverished and intimidated by the authorities, people joined the fight against tyranny. Castro promised to distribute land to peasants, ensure independence from the United States and improve the financial situation of Cubans. The resistance has been active for almost six years. A guerrilla war has begun in Cuba. By 1959, Castro's forces were able to capture the capital, and Batista lost control of the state and fled to the Dominican Republic. At the same time, the former dictator took most of the gold and foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank of Cuba.
"Friendship against the USA"
The Castro government reformed the economy and nationalized most of the companies owned by Batista supporters. 60% of agricultural land was transferred to peasants, the rest went to the state. The authorities began to control the turnover of currencies and trade. Residents of the United States were forced to pay 100% tax on luxury goods and 25% on minerals.
In response, the U.S. government stopped importing oil to Cuba and reduced the sugar trade. An economic war has begun between the countries. Castro continued to nationalize American companies, and the United States imposed an embargo: they stopped trading with the Island of Freedom, and any country that provided assistance to Cuba fell under sanctions.
The USSR took advantage of the situation. The Soviets gave the Castro government $100 million in loans at 2.5% per annum. Specialists in geological exploration, builders and the military were brought to Cuba. The USSR provided the new ally with equipment, weapons and agricultural products, and in return received sugar, coffee, minerals and representation in the Caribbean. During the period of active trade with the Union, Cuba's economy grew. In the 80s, the country began to build solar and wind power plants, recycle recyclables. Over 20 years of cooperation, Cuba has turned into an industrial and agrarian power. But its economy continued to depend on its "curse" – cane sugar.
At the same time, the United States declared Cuba a "sponsor of terrorism" and tightened the embargo again. However, by this time the diplomats were able to establish trade with Latin American countries. Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela became new partners.
"Island of freedom" without Union
Cuba's economy began to collapse after 1991. Despite diplomatic ties with Latin American and Caribbean countries, the country was dependent on the Soviet Union and still suffered from US sanctions. When the USSR collapsed, the Castro government had to switch to economy mode: there was nowhere to bring equipment and cheap oil in exchange for local goods. The sugar industry became the basis of the economy again, but tourism began to develop in Cuba in parallel.
The United States has adopted additional sanctions. Now foreign companies trading with the "disgraced" country were threatened with restrictions. In Cuba, there was a shortage of food and medicines, interruptions in the supply of fuel and spare parts for equipment. GDP began to decrease. During the three years of the crisis, it has decreased by a third. To compensate for the losses, Cuba was looking for foreign partners and investments. Three free economic zones were organized on the island and part of the trade bans were lifted. The government began to create a socialist economy with elements of market relations. State-owned enterprises have introduced self-financing.
The first effect of the reforms in Cuba was felt in 2001. Up to this point, the country's economy was shrinking by an average of 3-7% per year, and after that it began to grow. The country has reduced the state monopoly on foreign trade and began to recognize cooperative, private and mixed forms of ownership. After 2010, the government allowed local entrepreneurs to work and introduced a progressive taxation system. Cuba began to actively trade with countries that were less dependent on America. In particular, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez supplied up to 53,000 barrels of oil to the island daily, in response Cuba sent teachers, doctors and engineers to the new partner. By 2013, about 100,000 Cubans were working in Venezuela. One of the important sectors for the economy has become "medical internationalism". Local doctors started working all over the world.
Hurricanes, COVID and new sanctions
Cuba still continues to suffer because of the US blockade. The damage has already exceeded $104 billion. And taking into account the depreciation of the US currency — up to $ 1 trillion. After America imposed sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba's main partner began to have serious problems. They were reflected, among other things, on the Cubans. If earlier it was profitable to work in an oil-rich country, then after the Venezuelan crisis, this market almost closed. In addition, interruptions in oil supplies began.
The country's economy was also affected by Hurricanes Dennis and Wilma in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008, Sandy in 2012. Each of them disabled infrastructure facilities, destroyed buildings and destroyed crops. The military had to deal with the consequences of natural disasters.
Another serious blow was the coronavirus pandemic. Many medical professionals were working abroad when COVID was discovered in Cuba. And local doctors lacked medical equipment: there were many elderly people living in the country who were at risk. Officially, the country has coped with the crisis: it was able to introduce an effective system of protection against coronavirus, developed its own vaccines and started immunization. More than 5 million Cubans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. At the same time, the Cuban economy was in a precarious position: the flow of tourists dried up, and investment declined.
Dinner for two for a month's salary
Now the "Island of Freedom" has a single currency – the Cuban peso (CUP). $1 = 23.98 CUP or 70-100 CUP at the "street rate". The authorities ask tourists to exchange American currency for euros in advance – banks do not accept and do not exchange USD.
The average salary in Cuba for the last 4 years is about $33-45. At the same time:
- a kilogram of vegetables, a large loaf of bread or a bottle of water cost $0.5;
- a dozen eggs – $0.7;
- a liter of gasoline – $1;
- payment for communal services – $5-10;
- unlimited internet – more than $100 per month;
- dinner for two in a restaurant for tourists – up to $25;
- economy class car rental - $20;
- 1 sq.m. of housing – from $1,500 to $5,000, in tourist areas – higher.
Tourists and journalists who have visited Cuba note that it has become unprofitable to work in local industries. Most people live at the expense of relatives who have gone to work in other countries. It is enough to send $50-100 per month to provide for the family.
Cubans themselves believe that the authorities have begun to resemble the "puppet government" of Batista. On the islands, "two parallel Cubes" coexist again: elites and Latin American businessmen live in luxury, and ordinary people are forced to live in shacks or sit on the necks of those who left the "Island of Freedom".