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island of sadness

Stocking the fridge at her AirBnB becomes a day's work for Yordy Gonzalez. At least she wants to offer her guests cola and water. But buying bottled water is an almost impossible task. "You really have to walk far and look. There's almost no water anywhere." The situation is similar at breakfast. She does get fruit at the market, but eggs are overpriced – and powdered milk is only available for children.

Yordy Gonzalez grew up in Cuba, she experienced the economic crisis of the 1990s when the allied Soviet Union collapsed – this period is euphemistically called the "special period" in Cuba because large parts of the population were suffering from hunger. But now it's different than it was then, says Gonzalez: "There is a sense of sadness in Cuba. You breathe sadness. The country is tired and annoyed."

Queuing is part of everyday life

Queuing has become part of everyday life for Cubans. Some hire family members to snag a choice of chicken, bread, or cigarettes. There are vegetables and fruit on the markets, but after the abolition of the second currency "CUC" the Cuban peso dropped dramatically in value. "People can hardly pay for groceries anymore," calculates the Cuban economist Omar Everleny. The average salary last year was 3,528 pesos. But a kilo of milk powder already costs 1000 pesos, a pound of pig 300 pesos.

In addition, diesel is particularly scarce because the government is apparently diverting fuel to produce electricity. Several power plants are ailing or have failed. In the provinces, the electricity is often turned off at night to protect the infrastructure – and that in the summer heat. Without a fridge and fan at 30 degrees, that gets on your nerves. "People sleep badly, they eat badly. Something has to be done," says Everleny.

Tourism is also weakening

Only what? Tourism, one of the most important foreign exchange earners for Cuba, is only slowly recovering from the Corona slump. But due to the Ukraine war, fewer Russian guests are now arriving. According to Everleny, Cuba is still a long way from the four million tourists who came in 2018 and 2019. The economist has been calling for more flexibility for the economy for a long time. There have been alleviations, but they are too hesitant and too slow.

"It would also be important to put the ideological questions aside," says Everleny. "If a US company wants to invest, Cuba needs to be more aggressive in attracting capital." According to Everleny, investments from abroad are the only chance for Cuba to get out of the crisis. However, the current US President Biden has done little to bring them closer together and has hardly eased the tough sanctions.

More and more are resisting

The pressure is increasing: resistance is stirring in some places. Videos are circulating on Facebook of people banging on cooking pots to vent their anger. President Miguel Diaz-Canel therefore publicly asked for patience and cohesion last week. Above all, he blames the US economic blockade for the bottlenecks – and he warns against taking advantage of the situation to "attack the revolution". An allusion to the massive protests of the past year.

At that time, thousands took to the streets across the country to demonstrate against the shortage, but also for more political and economic freedom. Around 400 people are now in prison, some with prison sentences of up to 25 years, among other things for causing disturbances, insulting officials, assault or vandalism. The hopes of many Cubans for more openness have so far not been fulfilled. Human rights activists criticize the harsh court sentences against demonstrators as a deterrent. Cuba's authorities, on the other hand, speak of legally correct judgments.

Political pressure promotes the exodus

But in the past few months, tens of thousands have left the country. Cuba's Directorate for Migration describes this as a normal flow of migration and a "natural phenomenon" since Cuba is an island. Economist Everleny, on the other hand, sees a new problem in Cuba in the dramatic emigration. Because young people in particular apparently see no prospects in Cuba. "Where will the workforce come from in five or ten years to finance the aging population? Cuba faces a serious demographic problem."

But there is one good thing about emigration. Most Cubans eventually remit dollars or euros back to their families on the Caribbean island. An estimated 50 to 60 percent benefit in some way from these so-called "remesas." This could keep Cuba afloat for quite a while.

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