Cuba to reform at its own pace despite US sanctions: minister

Havana (AFP) –


Cuba will continue to enact economic reforms at its own pace regardless of the pressure exerted by a US embargo, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil told AFP.

Cuba has been subject to US sanctions since the communist revolution of 1959 but they have ramped up since US President Donald Trump came to power in January 2017.

That's posed new problems for the island nation which insists it will continue to "resist" US sanctions.

Gil said in an interview Wednesday that 2019 was "a difficult year, full of tension."

"It wasn't unusual -- we've lived with this embargo for 60 years -- but this year marked a hardening that forced us to overcome it."

US sanctions affect Cuba's tourism industry, investments, remittances and fuel imports.

"Not only are we resisting but we won't abandon our development. We're implementing the conditions to continue enacting" reforms, said the 55-year-old.

"The hardening of the blockade can impact the rhythm of certain things, making them unfold slower. If the United States hopes, with their aggressive policy, that we'll speed up the changes, they'll achieve the opposite effect."

Gil insisted that no one among the old guard of revolutionaries "is preventing us from advancing," a reference to former president Raul Castro, 88, who remains the head of the omnipotent Communist Party of Cuba -- the only one authorized in the single-party state.

The current economic model was instigated by Castro himself in 2008, allowing individuals to launch private enterprises.

Those working in the private sector now make up 13 percent of the country's workforce.

The government says it has progressed in a fifth of its reforms.

"General Raul Castro said we have to move forwards slowly but surely. It's not a race. We're a socialist country and our primary premise is not to upset the people," Gil said of Cuba's population of 11 million.

"There are some very simple measures we could put in place that would exclude 40 percent of the population and we're not going to do that, just as we're not going to apply neo-liberal policies."

Despite the difficulties, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean expects Cuba's economy to grow by 0.5 percent this year but Gil expects that figure to be "around one percent" in 2020.