Cuba’s Council of Ministers, headed by its President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, met in Havana to discuss several issues on the national agenda with the participation, via video-conference, of municipal and provincial leaders across the country.
Díaz-Canel noted that the meeting was taking place amidst an important popular response, above all among youth, in the provinces, and demonstrated at the March of the Torches. The march in Havana, in particular, reaffirmed the commitment of students to join recovery efforts to address damage caused by the January 27 tornado; reiterated support for Venezuela; and called for a Yes vote for the Constitution during the referendum to be held this coming February 24.
The National Water Plan for the period 2018-2030 is the guiding document for the development of our water system, explained Antonio Rodríguez Rodríguez, president of the National Institute of Water Resources.
It charts the course to meet sustainable development objectives and mitigate the effects of drought and the impact of climate change in Cuba, he said.
Among the principal problems identified within the sector, he emphasized the gradual decrease in the availability of water; the poor technical condition of infrastructure and its inappropriate use; and limited metering coverage.
He reported that between 2015 and 2017, more than 680 works were completed, which improved indicators, while investment projects during the period 2018-2021 include work on distribution and remediation efforts in different locations around the country; storage and diversion; flood protection; and efforts to provide metering to all users.
The system’s construction capacity to expand and repair drainage systems and sewers will be expanded gradually, while the use of traditional and alternative means to collect and purify water will be promoted.
Addressing the benefits produced for Holguín by the East-West Diversion Project, Julio César Rodríguez Estupiñán, president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in this region, reported that more than 31,000 cubic meters of water have been delivered to the provincial capital and northern tourist area, while flooding related to extreme weather has been reduced. More than 10 kilometers of conduits have been completed, allowing for an improvement in services to the population and enterprises; while water for irrigation has been provided to more than 3,000 hectares of agricultural land.
Reynaldo García Zapata, president of the Provincial Administrative Council in Havana, reported that rehabilitation of distribution systems, water treatment plants, and conduits has increased, all of which has improved domestic service.
Inés María Chapman Waugh, a Councils of State and Ministers vice president, noted that provinces have local plans reflecting their particular needs, with the clear objective of continuing to develop infrastructure throughout the country.
The challenge now, she said, is to raise the quality of works, noting that research projects are being conducted in conjunction with universities to find innovative solutions to different problems.
The National Water Plan is a reality and its benefits are palpable, President Díaz-Canel commented, recalling that its historical antecedents lie in plans to address the issue of water developed by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz in the early days of the Revolution, which garnered renewed momentum with the interest, support, and vision of Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, at the turn of the century, after a period of severe drought in the island’s eastern region.
With the purpose of organizing a Cuban cyber-security system and taking action to provide better internet security, the Council of Ministers approved a work system and several measures to contribute to accomplishing this objective.
Minister of Communication Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella explained that efforts involve “increasing risk perception, strengthening protection of digital networks, increasing the security of services provided to citizens, and contributing to the privacy of personal data, as well as promoting management of cyberspace with the participation of local structures and entities.”
Measures proposed, he said, address the legal framework; technology; professional development; social communication; and international cooperation. Among a variety of issues, he mentioned the inclusion of offenses related to the use of cyberspace in the criminal code; the establishment of a legal framework to protect personal data; and the design of a timeline to move to nationally developed software. President Díaz-Canel commented on the importance of cyber-security to continue advancing in the process of computerizing Cuban society.
EMPLOYMENT IN CUBA, 2009-2018
An estimated 4,482,700 Cubans were actively employed in 2018. Of these, slightly more than three million work in the state sector and around 1.4 million in the non-state sector, which includes agricultural production cooperatives, as well as those to contract credit and services; basic units of cooperative production; small farmers on land held in usufruct; and the self-employed; among others. The unemployment rate is 1.7%.
This information was reported by Minister of Labor and Social Security, Margarita González Fernández, who presented an evaluation of employment in the country over the past decade.
She explained that those working in budgeted entities represent 48% of the total, with the rest in the enterprise sector. “This distribution,” she said, “must continue to be reversed, in such a way that the budgeted sector continues providing indispensable social services with the minimum staff required to fulfill state and government objectives, and the rest of the workforce be part of the productive sector, as the generator of wealth for the adequate functioning of the economy.”
It was reported that 61% of workers are 40 years of age or older, a trend that will not change in the short term, given the aging of Cuban society. González described the level of formal education within the workforce, noting that 52% of those employed have graduated from high school and 22% from university. Some 22% completed ninth grade and 4% sixth grade.
Generally speaking, she said, employment problems are related to fluctuating work and the negative impact of low salaries, inadequate as the fundamental means of meeting basic needs.
She detailed some measures approved by the government recently directed toward incorporating new investment projects within the 2020 Economic Plan, and others designed to recover existing productive capacity, to generate more jobs; and to prioritize financing of domestic industry to take better advantage of underutilized capacity.
In this regard, the President insisted that all bodies and agencies must pay greater attention to this issue, and referred to an environment at some workplaces that does not promote efficiency, saying, “We must create more optimal, favorable, motivating conditions, something that can be attained without superfluous expenses.” He noted that, in some cases, human resources are not well managed, with directors simply waiting for more personnel to be assigned rather than seeking more efficient alternatives.
FOREIGN INVESTMENT, CREDIT FROM ABROAD & EXPORTS
Considering the important role of foreign investment in promoting economic development in the country, members of the Council of Ministers analyzed progress in this arena as regards the health sector, as previously conducted in relation to construction, energy, and mining.
Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, reported that the attraction of foreign capital and the use of credit from abroad must contribute to strengthening the National Public Health System, with a vision toward taking advantage of the potential for exports.
In comparison to other sectors, he noted, economic relations of this type are relatively new to healthcare.
Since the 2013 foreign investment policy was approved, several projects have been identified by the Ministry of Public Health, and all are in the stage of preparing guidelines for negotiations.
In addition to factors that affect foreign investment in general, this sector in particular, he said, has less prepared personnel to address the issue, and has been less proactive in designing and identifying potential business opportunities, and in collaborating to strengthen projects in the development of specialized health tourism that generate productive chains.
As priorities this year in the exporting of services, he identified the broadening and diversification of businesses; assuring timely payment for services rendered; an increase in health tourism; as well as the completion of investment projects with real potential to contribute to economic plans.
He said that the Ministry of Public Health will seek new opportunities in other countries, including within the private sector, and at the municipal and regional level.
Minister of Public Health José Ángel Portal Miranda pointed out that, as the main problems and priorities were identified, collaboration with sectors that have more experience has been strengthen, which should lead to more progress and better results.
This is a sector with ample potential for foreign investment and we should take advantage of all the experience we have in other areas, the President commented. “Combining foreign investment, the use of credit, and the export of services, it is possible to achieve significant revenue for the country,” he said.
The Council of Ministers also approved a policy to improve the government’s public information system. Leonardo Andollo Valdés, deputy director of the Policy Implementation and Development Commission, explained that this includes the National Statistics System and Institutional Information Systems.
The policy reaffirms that the National Office of Statistics and Information has as its mission directing the National Statistics System and taking methodological responsibility for the government’s public information system.
Díaz-Canel emphasized the value of the document approved - which is closely related to what is being done at this time to develop electronic government - and referred to the necessity of using more information in decision making, a practice cadres must further develop.
2018 ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE
The last point on the Council of Ministers’ agenda was an evaluation of the economy’s performance, as of the end of December 2018, regarding which the population received extensive information during the last session of the National Assembly.
Minister of Economy and Planning Alejandro Gil Fernández reiterated that the fundamental economic tasks today are to export more and ensure timely payment; complete investment projects that contribute to development and achieve the levels of production projected in feasibility studies; in addition to promoting productive chains that reduce imports and strengthen domestic industry.
Among other issues, he noted that projections for tourism were 92.8% met, although growth was a minimal 0.9%, as compared to 2017.
Export plans for tobacco, rum, lobster, and shrimp were met, he reported, and planned deliveries to domestic commerce of rice and beans were also completed as projected.
The 2018 planting season concluded with good results, especially in varied vegetable crops, with more than 300,000 hectares now under cultivation, a good indication that projections for the first part of 2019 will be met.
Tensions continue in the availability of feed for poultry and pig farms, as a result of shortfalls in national production of soybean and corn meal, and in imports. In this regard, Ulises Rosales del Toro, a Council of Ministers vice president, drew attention to the importance of planting high-protein crops for feed, given their nutritional value. These can be grown in the country, he stressed, noting that many companies and cooperatives are already cultivating such crops and have alternatives for animal feed.In this regard, President Díaz-Canel commented that, even when solutions like these do not solve the problem in its entirety, they are an important complement, which has demonstrated its potential on more than one occasion. He also insisted on revisiting valuable experiences related to this issue, with many alternatives tried at different times in the country.In the case of the food processing industry, mechanical and electrical problems at mills, and lack of wheat due to financial difficulties, prevented meeting goals for the production of wheat flour, with the consequent impact on the population.
In this regard, Food Industry Minister Iris Quiñones Rojas stated that in January, production will be greater than that of previous months, and, despite the fact that the demand for flour has not yet been met, little by little, the inventory and coverage levels of this product will be stabilized.
As important elements in what has occurred thus far this year, Gil Fernández highlighted the arrival of 405 microbuses and one hundred buses for public transportation, as well as the meeting of projections for tourist arrivals in January. Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz reported that, by the beginning of the year, the Canadian emissary market had stabilized, as well as the Russian and others.Regarding the current economic plan’s performance, President Díaz-Canel pointed out that an increase in exports and their timely payment is key. He insisted on continuing to promote productive chains in export sectors, and in conjunction with foreign investment projects, while guaranteeing the arrival of imports, especially raw materials and equipment needed by exporters and to produce food for the population. “Working to meet projections is the minimum we can propose,” he said.We have reserves everywhere, he said, and they can be found with careful internal accounting, in better use and management of the resources we have available.