Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cuba Claims 11.8 Percent Economic Growth

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press Writer

Thu Dec 22, 4:33 PM ET

HAVANA - Cuba announced Thursday it had turned a corner in its recovery from severe financial crisis, reporting 11.8 percent growth in 2005 using its own method for calculating gross domestic product.

Addressing the communist nation's lawmakers as President Fidel Castro looked on, Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said the Caribbean nation had fully recovered from the 1990s, when austerity measures were adopted to survive the economic crisis caused by the Soviet Union's collapse.

"This could be considered the highest in revolutionary history," Rodriguez said of the growth figure, referring to the 47-year-long administration of Castro, who came to power with the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the Cuban revolution.

The economics minister also projected economic growth of 10 percent for 2006.

Rodriguez said the biggest income earners for Cuba this year were tourism, nickel, and the exportation of services — especially doctors and other medical workers hired by other countries such as Venezuela to provide free care to poor people.

Cuba's methodology for calculating economic growth, adopted in recent years, takes into account the country's vast social safety net and subsidized services.

That differing methodology makes Cuba's growth figures difficult to compare with that of other countries, prompting the United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean to omit the island's numbers from its report for this year.

Castro defended the 2005 growth estimate, saying "no one should think that we are giving false numbers here."

Using the same formula last year, Cuba said its economy grew by 5 percent in 2004. The U.N. commission, using traditional criteria for calculating GDP, said Cuba's economy grew 3 percent last year.

The Cuban government has been forced to diversify its economy since the loss of Soviet aid and trade in the early 1990s, when it was almost wholly dependent on sugar exports and barter trade with its former ideological allies.

Tourism in recent years overtook sugar as the island's top source of income.

Prompted by falling sugar prices and inefficiency in cane production, Cuba has
restructured its once all-important sugar industry, shutting down scores of mills and retraining former sugar workers.

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