Cuba cancels workers’ day parade as severe oil shortages bite

Ed August (The Guardian) writes about Cuba’s cancellation of the May 1 (International Workers’ Day) parade this year. However, celebrations in local communities, schools, and workplaces will go ahead, under conditions of austerity. “President says island is only receiving two-thirds of the petrol it needs as queues outside gas stations stretch for miles.”

There was a time when International Workers’ Day was marked in Cuba by parades involving more than a million people marching through Havana’s Revolution Square. Many came out of conviction, some because they were pressured, others to enjoy the party.

This Monday, however, the square will be empty, after the Cuban Communist party cancelled this year’s celebrations due to gasoline shortages that are crippling the island’s economy.

For weeks, motorists have been sleeping in their cars outside petrol stations in queues that stretch for miles and last for days.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel has said the island is only receiving two-thirds of the petrol it needs, and that the shortfall is due to supplier nations failing to fulfil their contractual agreements.

Jorge Piñon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean energy and environment program, said this was an allusion to Venezuela. The two socialist nations have had a barter agreement since 2000: Cuba sends Venezuela doctors, teachers and – allegedly – counterintelligence agents in exchange for shipments of crude. That deal is now being strained.

[. . .] This has put Cuba in a quandary: the island has plenty of crude, but it is of low quality and the island’s refineries are unable to process it. Venezuela’s higher-quality crude, it seems, is now going to the US.

Cash-crunched Cuba struggles to buy fuel, or even diluents which could be used to refine high-sulphur crude into gasoline, on the international market.

“Maximum pressure” sanctions, imposed by the Trump administration and mostly left in place by President Biden, play into this, knocking billions of dollars a year off state foreign currency earnings, penalising oil tankers that dock at the island and cutting credit lines.

Economists warn that if the situation persists, food prices will rise and productivity will fall even lower. This year’s sugar harvest is set to be the worst in over a century after diesel shortages have prevented cane getting to refineries.

Despite the malaise, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, the head of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, said on Tuesday that workers’ day won’t be completely cancelled. Celebrations in local communities, schools and workplaces will go ahead, under conditions of “maximum austerity”, he said.

William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University in Washington DC, who has written extensively about Cuban politics, said that turnout for the May Day parade has gradually diminished over the years as the huge excitement and hope about the social changes the revolution brought about in the 1960s and 1970s has been largely replaced by disappointment about the hardship since the 1990s. [. . .]

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