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Friday, January 13, 2006 

Cubans Look Forward to a Better 2006
Elsy Fors



Havana, Jan 13 (Prensa Latina) Cubans celebrated the arrival of the New Year, named officially the Year of Energy Revolution in Cuba, hoping the recovery of the national economy and overall boost given by Venezuela and China to the island will make their lives better.

Over the holidays, thousands of social workers, the youth force used for special tasks by the government in its anti-corruption campaign, are visiting Havana homes to survey how many electrical appliances families have and if they are high-consuming models, in order to eventually substitute them and have an exact idea of power demand.

The sale of pressure cookers in national currency in the capital was a welcome surprise for the cooking of holiday meals, while millions of workers and pensioners received an income raise in December.

As for macro-economy figures, 2005 ended with an 11.8 per cent growth in Cuba´s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), even bigger than the previously expected 9 per cent.
The target for 2006 in GDP growth is planned at 10 per cent.


The year´s name follows the huge investments made in the power industry to increase generation and improve the national grid.

"We are assured of having four times the electricity generation capacity that the country is going to need," President Fidel Castro affirmed, expressing his conviction that measures adopted in this area will have a worldwide impact. "It is very unlikely that we will not already have 80 percent of the newly installed generating capacity by June or July 2006, added to 80% capacity in emergency plants," he commented.
"That will make it possible to put an end to power outages and assure all activities.
Cuba uses 3.8 million tons of oil to generate electricity in a deficient and vulnerable power system that runs at only 60 per cent of its installed capacity.


Putting people first

Some analysts say that salary and pension hikes further justify the increase in electricity tariffs.
Every dollar added to the barrel of oil will augment the island´s imports of hydrocarbons by 33 million dollars.


Savings in energy and material consumption will be essential to achieve a similar GDP increase in 2006, said Economy and Planning minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez. Emphasis will be put on developing human capital and the services sector which continues to be the most dynamic branch of the economy.

What is ordinarily considered budget expenditures in other countries, like culture, health and education, Cuba considers as investments. That is why national investment will grow a significant 72 per cent, mainly destined to the construction of social works and housing targeted at 110 thousand units this year.

Only in the health sector, a total of 121 intensive therapy wards were put into operation, 19 lodgings associated to hospitals, 206 optical stores, 24 eye surgery and treatment centers, while 400 new ambulances were added to the existing fleet equipped with the latest revival technology.

2005 is a new year for centralization in many industrial and state management activities. On the contrary, health, cultural and educational activities have seen a movement to decentralization, in order to cover all municipalities and communities.

In foreign trade, exports grew at a rate of 27.9 per cent, while the plan for 2006 is for foreign sales to grow 17.7 per cent. Higher imports were attributed to the increase in international fuel prices, but this year´s estimate is expected to be reduced by 1.5 per cent.

Industry output will increase most significantly in the steel and mechanical branch, cement, chemicals, and pasta and yogurt production in the food industry.

Nickel production is expected to grow 1.1 per cent over last year´s level.

Again, tourism, nickel, biotechnology products and pharmaceuticals are expected to lead the pack of foreign currency earners, followed by professional services rendered to other countries.
Cuba welcomed 2.3 million tourists last year and expects to do better in 2006, according to an official report by the Tourism Ministry. The closing date for this number was December 30.


Drought and Hurricanes Bash Agriculture

Cuba has endured the most severe drought of the last century from 2003 thru 2005. By the end of last year, losses were estimated at 1.3 billion dollars. Water reservoirs saw their reserves cut to only 26.7 per cent, while 42 per cent of underground water sources were in unfavourable conditions.

Losses in products due to the lack of rain amounted to 681,818 tons of vegetables and fruits, and 77 million liters of milk were lost, as well as 57 thousand tons of grain. Then most hurricane-intensive season in record did the rest to destroy entire crops, including sugar cane, which produced the poorest harvest in recent history.

The agricultural sector, excluding sugar cane, is planned to grow 8.1 per cent in 2006, according to official forecasts.

Damages caused by natural phenomena, however, are said not to have reduced food items for human consumption due to the increase in imports by 43.2 per cent, which made up for domestic shortages.

In particular, imports from the United States, according to Cuban Alimport data, reached 493.1 million dollars by mid-December and were expected to exceed 500 million by the end of 2005. Already for the present year a contract for 500 thousand tons of wheat has been signed with the US Association of Wheat Producers.

Cuban nutrition levels reached a daily average intake of 3,356 kilocalories and 88 grams of protein, which represented an increase of 1.5 and 2.9 per cent respectively, compared to 2004.
Eggs were once again acclaimed as the most important protein source in the Cuban diet, having increased by 23.5 per cent in 2005 and targeting production at two billion units for 2006.


Damages from hurricane Dennis amounted to over 1.4 billion dollars and 11 fatalities, mostly in the eastern provinces. The cost of damages left by hurricane Wilma amounted to 704.2 million dollars and losses from Rita were valued at 207 million.

Nevertheless, the storms that swept through the island had some good consequences. At present, water reservoirs are at 77 per cent of their capacities and 98 per cent of underground water basins are once again normal.

Cuban Provided Disaster Relief

Cuban doctors and teachers have spread their wings and now can be found in such distant places as Pakistan, Malaysia and New Zealand, besides all of Africa and Latin America.

Three thousand doctors and paramedics from Cuba are now working in Guatemala and Pakistan to aid victims of natural disasters, a hurricane in the former and earthquake in the latter.

After noting that Cuba could increase its contribution toward improving people’s health in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Cuban president proposed international agencies a project for the creation of a program that would facilitate benefiting millions of people with ophthalmologic surgery.

He explained that instead of bringing patients to the island to be operated on, doctors would be sent to those nations, which would represent savings of no less than $1 billion. In addition, Cuba would help to train thousands of specialists.

The Cuban president announced that several governments have been contacted and that it is possible that by the first half of 2006, Cuba may establish 15 ophthalmologic centers like the one recently opened in Bolivia.

Currently, thousands of Cuban professionals are in dozens of countries, caring for some 59 million people as part of the Comprehensive Health Program.

After being commended by UNESCO, the literacy program elaborated by Cuban specialists adapts contents to each country´s peculiarities, showing positive results from New Zealand to Venezuela.


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