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Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting. The Pandemic Brought a Food Crisis.

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HAVANA — It was a lucky day for the unemployed tourism guide in Havana.

The line to get into the government-run supermarket, which can mean a wait of eight or 10 hours, was short, just two hours long. And better yet, the guide, Rainer Companioni Sánchez, scored toothpaste — a rare find — and splurged $3 on canned meat.

“It’s the first time we have seen toothpaste in a long time,” he said, sharing the victory with his girlfriend. “The meat in that can is very, very expensive, but we each bought one simply because sometimes in an emergency there is no meat anywhere.”

Cuba, a police state with a strong public health care system, was able to quickly control the coronavirus, even as the pandemic threw wealthier nations into crisis. But its economy, already hurting from crippling U.S. sanctions and mismanagement, was particularly vulnerable to the economic devastation that followed.

As nations closed airports and locked down borders to combat the spread of the virus, tourist travel to Cuba plummeted and the island lost an important source of hard currency, plunging it into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.

What food is available is often found only in government-run stores that are stocked with imports and charge in dollars. The strategy, also used in the 1990s, during the economic depression known as the “special period,” is used by the government to gather hard currency from Cubans who have savings or get money from friends or relatives abroad.

Even in these stores, goods are scarce and prices can be exorbitant: That day, Mr. Companioni couldn’t find chicken or cooking oil, but there was 17-pound ham going for $230 and a seven-pound block of manchego cheese with a $149 price tag.

And the reliance on dollar stores, a move intended to prop up the socialist revolution in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism, has exacerbated economic inequality, some Cubans say.

Police officers in Havana organizing a line of people waiting to buy food. Lines are often many hours long.
Credit…Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

“This is a store that charges in a currency Cubans do not earn,” said Lazaro Manuel Domínguez Hernández, 31, a doctor who gets cash from a friend in the United States to spend at one of the 72 new dollar stores. “It kind of marks the difference in classes, because not everyone can buy here.”

He left the Puntilla supermarket with a cart full of fruit cocktail, cheese and chocolate biscuits that he loaded into a 1950s Dodge taxi.

Cuba’s economy was struggling before the coronavirus. The Trump administration has worked hard to strengthen the decades-old trade embargo, going after Cuba’s sources of currency. It also imposed sanctions on tanker companies that delivered petroleum to Cuba from Venezuela and cut back on the commercial flights from the United States to the island.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an end to charter flights, too. After the Cuban state energy company Corporación Panamericana faced sanctions, even cooking gas rations had to be reduced.

Then Covid-19 put a stop to tourism. Remittances sent by Cubans who live abroad began to dry up as the illness led to huge job losses in the United States.

That left the Cuban government with far fewer sources of revenue to buy the products it sells in state-run stores, leading to shortages of basic goods throughout the island. Earlier this year, the government warned that personal hygiene products would be hard to come by.

Cuba is facing “the triple threat of Trump, Venezuela and then Covid,” said Ted A. Henken, a professor at Baruch College and a co-author of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba.” “Covid was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

Credit…Yamil Lage/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The pandemic, and the recession that followed, pushed the government to announce that, after years of promises, it would make good on a series of economic reforms intended to stimulate the private sector.

The Communist Party said in 2016 that it would legalize small and medium-size private businesses, but no mechanism was ever set up to do so, thus business owners are still unable to get financing, sign contracts as a legal entity or import goods. Now, that is expected to change, and more lines of work are expected to be legalized, although details have not been announced.

Cuba also has a history of offering reforms only to rescind them months or years later, entrepreneurs said.

“They go back, go forward, then back again,” said Marta Deus, the co-founder of a business magazine who owns a delivery company. “They need to trust the private sector for all its capacity to provide for the future of the economy. We have big ideas.”

The government puts the blame for the current situation squarely on Washington.

“Why can’t we export what we want? Because every time we export to someone, they try to cut off that export,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel said of the United States in a speech this summer. “Every time we are trying to manage a credit, they try to take away our credit. They try to prevent fuel from reaching Cuba. And then we have to buy in third markets, at higher prices. Why is it not talked about?”

Mr. Díaz-Canel stressed that despite the hardships, Cuba still managed a successful battle against the coronavirus: The health system did not collapse, and, he said, no children or medical professionals died of the disease.

With 11.2 million people, Cuba had just over 5,000 coronavirus cases and 115 deaths by Friday, one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. By comparison, Puerto Rico, with 3.2 million people, had five times as many deaths.

People who tested positive in Cuba were whisked away to the hospital for two weeks — even if they were asymptomatic — and their exposed contacts were sent to isolation for two weeks. Apartment buildings, and even entire city blocks, that saw clusters were closed to visitors.

Credit…Yamil Lage/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Anyone flying in after March also had to isolate in quarantine centers, and medical students went door to door to screen millions of people daily. Masks are mandatory, and the fines for being caught without one are stiff.

With international flights at a virtual standstill, immigration officers are now assigned to stand guard outside quarantined apartment buildings, making sure no one goes in or out 24 hours a day.

At a quarantined building in Boyeros, a neighborhood near the Havana airport, an immigration officer sat in the shade while messengers and family members of those inside dropped off food. Daniela Llanes López, 21, left vegetables for her grandfather, who was stuck inside because five people in his building had tested positive.

“In Cuba, I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who got the coronavirus,” said Ms. Llanes, who studies German at the University of Havana, noting that she does know people in Germany who contracted the illness.

The strategies worked, although when the authorities started lifting restrictions in July, opening beaches, bars and public transportation, the nation’s capital saw an uptick in cases and a curfew was imposed there.

“Cuba is good in crisis and good in preventive health care,” said Katrin Hansing, a professor at Baruch College who spent the peak of the pandemic in lockdown in Cuba. Support for the government was notable, she said; even if the store lines were long, people felt safe from the virus.

Many Cubans are now hoping the economic reforms will stimulate the private sector and allow independent business operators to kick-start the economy.

Camilo Condis, an electrical contractor who has been out of work for months, said the changes must come quickly, and must allow Cuba to function, whether the United States is under a second Trump presidency, or under Joe Biden.

“Like we private business owners say here: ‘All I want is for them to let me work,’” he said.

Credit…Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

Ed Augustín reported from Havana, and Frances Robles from New York.

Source:- The New York Times

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Europe's Economy Risks New Contraction From Virus Curbs – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — The resurgence of the coronavirus has knocked Europe’s economic recovery back a step and raised the possibility of another contraction.

IHS Markit’s monthly measure of business activity fell to a four-month low of 49.4 in October from 50.4 in September. Within the report is a clear, divergent trend of manufacturing strength being offset by damage to services from the second wave of the pandemic.

New government curbs as well as consumer fears of the virus are driving the two-speed economy. In Paris and eight other major French cities, authorities introduced a curfew this month that’s hitting restaurants and bars particularly hard. In Germany, a Bavarian district imposed a two-week lockdown after infections climbed above a rate that triggers an automatic tightening of restrictions.

While the weakness is largely limited to services, the fallout on jobs and spillovers to the rest of the economy will worry policy makers. The deteriorating outlook strengthens the case for the European Central Bank to pump more monetary stimulus into the economy, and governments may have to extend expensive aid programs.

IHS Markit warned that the euro-area economy could shrink again this quarter. Its report said employment fell again in October, confidence deteriorated and orders declined.

“While the overall downturn remains only modest, and far slighter than seen during the second quarter, the prospect of a slide back into recession will exert greater pressure on the ECB to add more stimulus and for national governments to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 containment measures,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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ECB Seen Preparing More Aid as Virus Spread Derails Economy – Yahoo Canada Finance

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CBC

Pressing for inquiry, N.L. child advocate calls Wally Rich’s death a tragedy – but not unique

As renewed scrutiny grows around the death of 15-year-old Wally Rich, Newfoundland and Labrador’s child and youth advocate says the situation is a tragedy, and her office’s ability to investigate is held up in bureaucratic limbo.Rich, from Natuashish, died by suicide while at a group home in Labrador in May, nearly three years after the provincial government promised an inquiry into Innu children in care.Jackie Lake Kavanagh, the child and youth advocate, said any ability to do her own investigation into Rich’s death is on hold, as by law she cannot look at or investigate a matter until the Child Death Review Committee has completed its own review. She has yet to receive a file from that committee, she said, and added the awaited inquiry is also standing in the way.She wants to see if Rich’s case will be included in that inquiry, which will determine whether she can proceed with her own investigation. That’s one more reason she feels the years-long delay for the inquiry is unacceptable.”When you look at the sense of urgency, this should have been happening already, and Innu children are struggling in the system and this is a prime example of it,” she said. Kavanagh said it’s inexplicable to her how the province hasn’t moved ahead with the inquiry yet. “This inquiry was committed more than three years ago, and if you look back beyond that, the Innu people were demanding and asking for that inquiry before it was committed. So, it goes back much more than three years,” said Jackie Lake Kavanagh. “I think the piece that they want is, they want answers, they want accountability and they want reconciliation, and they’ve said that. And I think those are very reasonable requests to make.”Troubling statisticsAs of March, there were 165 Innu children in provincial care. It’s clear to Kavanagh that Rich is not the only one who encountered problems with the system.”It’s not unique which is really, really tragic,” she told CBC Radio’s St John’s Morning Show.Her office is seeing troubling statistics in the province.Legislative changes to the Child and Youth Advocate Act in 2018 meant her office has to be notified if a child is critically injured or dies while in care and custody, or within the last 12 months of care and custody.”Between April 1, 2019 and the end of September this year, we have had 75 reports, and 60 per cent of those have been around suicide attempts or suicide ideation,” Kavanagh said. “That’s really, really significant in this little province of ours.”Kavanagh said Indigenous children and their communities have been marginalized for a long time, and the impact of intergenerational trauma is working its way through younger generations. She said Rich’s death is heartbreaking, and it’s part of larger, systemic issues that are pervasive across Canada.”When you look at the situation across the country, in fact, between 10- and 24-year-olds suicide is the second leading cause of death, and that is really, really troubling,”  Kavanagh said.”I think all of us should be left with a whole sense of unrest about that.”Kavanagh said a lot more work needs to be done, particularly a plan dedicated to youth and children in the province’s suicide prevention strategy as well as services dedicated to Indigenous children based in their culture. Where to get help:Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/ (chat)In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.caCanadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisisRead more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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What would delayed election results mean for the economy? – Marketplace

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It’s likely we won’t know who won the presidency on Election Day this year, and some people are concerned about the possibility of a contested election. Last week, Fitch Ratings wrote in a report that it will be watching the election for “any departure” from the U.S.’s history of accepting election results and the orderly transition of power. If there’s any departure from this norm, it could affect the country’s AAA credit rating, which influences the interest rate the U.S. pays on its national debt.

All the uncertainty surrounding this presidential election could affect the economy in other ways, too. “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal talked with Wendy Edelberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of its Hamilton Project, about what might happen. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: So broad brush, lay it out for me. We have been told that we’re probably not going to know who won the election on election night. What do you think that means writ large for the American economy in the next two months?

Wendy Edelberg: I suspect it means that it will take too long to get the kind of fiscal support that we need to support this really fragile recovery. And that frustrates me because doing it now is too late. Doing it a month from now is much too late.

Ryssdal: So I will stipulate that that is a thing that could or will happen on election night or afterward. What happens if it becomes contested and challenged and acrimonious?

Edelberg: So right now, measures that tell us how uncertain things are for businesses, for investors, for households, those measures are through the roof. And uncertainty is generally really bad for economic activity. It prevents firms from putting investments in place and expanding and putting in hiring decisions. And it prevents households from making decisions about the future. And we’re just going to create one more really significant headwind if November and December, for that matter, is that much more an environment of uncertainty, layered on top of the immense uncertainty we have because of the pandemic.

Ryssdal: I say on this program all the time, and regular listeners know this, the stock market is not the economy. I do wonder though, beyond the real economy measures that you have laid out in that answer, what do you imagine stock markets will do? Just because a lot of people look at that as an indicator.

Edelberg: So you’re absolutely right. The stock market is not the economy and the stock market is giving us all sorts of incorrect signals right now. And it wouldn’t really surprise me if it continued to give us really incorrect signals. As much as uncertainty and a contested election would be really bad for small businesses, for individual households, it may well be good for some of the large firms that are driving the stock market gains. That’s really hard to know. And I’m also guessing that people who hold equities are pretty aware of the issues that you and I just talked about. And so my thought is that that’s mostly baked into the stock market. And so those investors are expecting things to be pretty chaotic for a couple of weeks after the election, and I would expect things to basically move sideways, which is to say the flip side, that if we get a clear outcome, and uncertainty is largely resolved very quickly, yeah, I can imagine that being fabulous for the stock market.

Ryssdal: Huh. Let me point out that if he loses, President Trump will still be president for two and a half months, right, Election Day to the 20th of January. Contested election aside, challenged election aside, random tweets aside, he’s still the president with full executive authority to influence this economy.

Edelberg: So maybe this means that with all of these issues leading up to the election off the table, because that uncertainty is resolved, I don’t know, maybe we can hope, maybe policymakers will then come together and do the right thing. I’ve been asked before, “What would you tell policymakers on January 20th to do to support our economy?” And the first thing I’ll say is get in a time machine and go back six months to support the economy then. So I have grave concerns about policymakers waiting until January to pass the kind of fiscal support that the economy needs right now.

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