HAVANA, Cuba.- In order to provide an organized response, without improvisation, to the effects the pandemic generated by COVID-19 will have on Cuba’s immediate development, the Council of Ministers approved adjusting this year’s Economy Plan, which will allow to conduct the country more objectively and create the conditions for its recovery.
At the meeting headed by President of the Republic, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez and led by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz – indications were also given for the elaboration of the plan and budget for the coming year, and other issues of impact on the life of the nation.
As Deputy Prime Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez explained, “it is very important in this adjustment process to protect exports, prioritize domestic production of food, medicines and grooming; to intensify resource-saving measures of all kinds, not just energy; and not to stop productive activity nor commercialization of basic resources.”
After detailing Cuba’s foreign exchange entry plan and the affectations caused by the pandemic on tourism, airport services, consular collections, among other important activities, Gil Fernandez considered that “this requires an adjustment of the Plan, based on the reduction of expenditures.”
“We cannot do everything we had planned,” he emphasized, “or to pretend any economic activity to be affected. We have to postpone some, slow down the pace of others and prepare for recovery.”
In this regard, the Deputy Prime Minister highlighted that this adjustment “is not to accommodate economy to the current scenario, but to reduce and eliminate expenditure and impose ourselves on the complex context.”
Therefore, the official added, it does not include the reduction of exports in other areas of the Cuban economy, such as tobacco, rum, charcoal or biotech products, in which reserves must continue to be created for when the international market finally stabilizes.
The also Minister of Economy and Planning referred to about thirty premises for this adjustment of the Plan, including boosting agricultural production; allocating material and financial in foreign exchange resources, preferably for the production of rice, banana, bean, maize, sweet potato, eggs, pork and lesser livestock; prioritizing aquaculture and also domestic production of animal feed.
At the same time, labor relocation and remote work will be encouraged; the sale of food and grooming products will be regulated; and no prices will be increased.
Gil Fernandez pointed out that work was done to have the least affectations on workers and the population, but there would be, because there could be no distribution of wealth that had not been created.
“An economy with zero tourism and an increasing blockade cannot continue to work normally and nothing happens. We must give arguments transparently, so that we all come together; conforming to reality and imposing on it with work.”
After a fruitful exchange between representatives of the agencies with the most responsibility in this adjustment of the Plan –ministries of Agriculture, Industries and Food Industry –, the Prime Minister highlighted the validity of the call made a few years ago by the First Secretary of the Communist Party, Army General Raul Castro Ruz, on the safest income: savings.
“In the face of this impact on the whole economy, we have to save as much as we can, that’s the primary element,” Marrero confirmed.
Looking towards 2021
Uncertainty imposed by COVID-19 pandemic has not allowed the country to walk normally on the usual path of the process of drawing up the Economic Plan and the State Budget for 2021.
In this regard, the Council of Ministers issued a number of indications at its meeting in April to begin this important step, “because even under the exceptional conditions in which work it is being worked, we cannot abandon planning”.
Thus was explained by Deputy Prime Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez, who further stated that “a vacuum cannot be created and, without the traditional way of previous years, we agreed to issue a group of indications by the Government, to begin the process of drawing up the 2021 Economics and State Budget Plan”.
Many of these indications, he added, are a continuity of the measures incorporated in the adjustment of this year’s Plan, and therefore continue to prioritize exports, domestic production, sugar harvest, productive chaining of the state sector with non-state and foreign investment; as well as the investments that are part of the strategic sectors.
They also promote Local Development projects aimed to export, productive chains, local food production and import substitution, as an essential instrument of territorial development.
In the case of the State Budget, the fiscal deficit will be projected in correspondence with macroeconomic balances, starting with boosting business efficiency indicators that generate more inputs; capturing the real revenue potential of all sectors of the economy, including forms of non-state management; and maintaining budget spending restrictions.
Responding with a Different Thinking
In 1875, Apostle of Cuba Jose Marti, said that “All the art of saving lies in anticipating”. Many years later, and under that same premise, the Government designs the best ways to get out of this crisis, which is global and involves everyone.
In a wide and profound speech to the members of the Council of Ministers, President Diaz-Canel confirmed that “under these conditions the State has to assume planning and it has to be smarter and more precise.”
What is this neoliberal world that has erupted with the crisis is calling for now? the President wondered. After minimizing the State, it starts calling it. “And which countries have best endured the crisis? Those in which there has been an efficient state intervention.”
Neoliberal paradigms, Diaz-Canel said, are also suffering a break with all these things. “Therefore we, under these conditions, are in a better position.”
In assessing the steps to be taken by Cuba, the Head of State underlined that the recovery phase must be designed first of all: “How we are going to open up in tourism, how we are going to open up on flights, from which countries, with which sectors; how we are going to open up economic and social activities, to what magnitude, with what concepts.”
Diaz-Canel directed to study “what experiences we have had in these months of pandemic confrontation have to stay forever. And what inadequacies and vulnerabilities have also showed to us in all its dimension in the battle against the disease.”
“We cannot settle,” he added, “with the adjustment to the Plan and planning for 2021, because we are facing a global crisis. In this difficult context,” he clarified, “we have to go out with different things, and prepare a Strategy for Economic and Social Development, where it is ratified that we cannot continue to do things in the same way.”
Diaz-Canel raised the need, for example, to lead the work of the Standing Committee for Implementation and Development on the basis of assessing “how, in a faster, more determined, more organized way, we implement a group of issues whose implementation is pending in the Conceptualization of the Economic and Social Model”.
Among these elements not yet put in motion, the Cuban President mentioned some forms of management and ownership; the resizing of the business and private sectors; and the proper relationship between both, of which, he pointed out, “we have good experiences at this time of the pandemic.”
“It is not a question of improvising, but introducing in economic schemes and development policies, the new actors and practices that have been approved in the Conceptualization, in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, and in the foundations of the Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030”.
“All that we do now,” he said, “is going to lead us on the way to the Party’s next Congress.”
In the midst of this problem, Diaz-Canel said, that is when we have to be the most innovative, when we can advance in the most of the delayed issues. “We have to have courage and we have to do different things, doing the same thing we’re not going to solve it, and we’re not going to move forward.”
The Cuban President listed a long list of issues that need to be assessed and included in this strategy to mitigate the effects of the current crisis and covering all sectors of the Cuban economy. At the same time, the Head of State emphasized, “Social justice, equity, social opportunities for lower-income people and public policies must be maintained to help the most vulnerable.”
Other Important Subjects
At the meeting, the Council of Ministers addressed other issues of impact in today´s Cuba, which go beyond COVID-19 and they encompass such dissimilar edges as culture, employment, e-commerce, urban planning and foreign investment.
Within this agenda, Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso Grau presented the Policy for the Protection and Safeguarding of the Cultural, Material and Intangible Heritage of the Nation, which updates a law with more than 40 years of promulgation and harmonizes with UNESCO international conventions.
The legal rule that will implement this new policy is part of the Legislative Timeline approved for the present legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
The meeting also knew of the early assignment of Higher Education graduates and mid-level technicians who finish their studies in 2021. In this regard, Minister of Labor and Social Security Marta Elena Feito Cabrera explained that the number of possible graduates is 51 thousand 925, and so far 46 thousand 789 of them have an employment response. The rest, she said, are looking for options and in the end everyone will have a job.
The Minister added that with them the country’s demand is not yet met and the availability of university graduates in profiles of Electrical Engineering, Architecture, Automatic, Mechanical and Civil; as well as mid-level technicians in Railway Transport Exploitation, Sugar Machinery, among other specialties.
Later, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, spoke of the behavior of the country’s comprehensive export strategy for goods and services during 2019, in what constituted the first year of implementation and did not achieve the expected results, because of external factors such as blockade, and internals such as the still limited action of entrepreneurs.
In addition, Malmierca Diaz detailed another report on the development of foreign investment, external credits and exports in the higher organizations of Business Management, served by the Minister of Energy and Mines, whose body has experience in these issues, generates significant revenues to the Cuban economy and has potential to diversify its exportable offer.
For her part, Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano Portela reported on a study of the behavior of indiscipline, illegalities and manifestations of administrative corruption in 2019, a subject to which the country continues to pay all attention.
The members of the Council of Ministers also learned of the work carried out on the computerization of internal trade, an activity that in the context of the pandemic has shown its fissures, but above all its importance.
Similarly, they discussed the confrontation of urbanism illegalities during 2019, a matter that is moving forward, but the problem is not eradicated at the root. These urban violations, Marrero Cruz said, occur in plain view, “this is a sign that there has been no surveillance system in the communities, nor by mayors and governors.”
This is an issue that we have to solve already, he indicated, because of the economic and political impact it has on the country.
“The way to do this fight,” the Prime Minister assured, “must change, we must seek and demand a greater result; that we are not aged in urban illegalities and that new ones do not emerge. For that methods have to be modified,” he concluded.
Taken from the Presidency of the Republic web site