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Is Cuba's Threadbare Economy Limping Toward Venezuela-Style Shortages?

One of the few flour mills operating in Cuba this week.
Industria Molinera de la Habana
One of the few flour mills operating in Cuba this week.

Cuba’s economy barely grew at all this year. Officials this week say the communist island will probably show the same dismal performance next year. And the one thing that is growing in Cuba are shortages.

Cuba’s communist economy is always a threadbare show. But lately it’s more anemic than usual. It hardly grew 1 percent in 2018, and official forecasts now say it’ll be lucky to grow that much in 2019.

The state-run system is notoriously inefficient. It relies too much on tourism and other low-revenue industries. And its chief economic ally, Venezuela, is in the middle of a catastrophic financial collapse.

Now Cuba is starting to look a bit like Venezuela in one ominous respect: shortages. The government already has onerous austerity measures in place. But in recent days international media have sent out images of frustrated Cubans waiting in long lines for basics like bread and medicine.

Flour is especially scarce on the island because a number of mills have broken down. Only a few bakeries there are open. Cuban officials blame the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, insisting it prevents the island from affordable access to items like industrial replacement parts for the mills. But even President Miguel Díaz-Canel told a national economic commission in Havana this week that Cuba's bureaucracy needs to “get rid of the clutter on the road” that’s obstructing production.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.