Cuba’s economy is largely state-controlled, with the government owning most means of production and employing a majority of the workforce.
Key sectors of the island nation’s economy that generate foreign exchange include the export of professional services (largely medical personnel to Venezuela & Brazil); tourism, which has grown significantly since the mid-1990s, with 3.5 million tourists visiting Cuba in 2015; nickel mining, with the Canadian mining company Sherritt International involved in a joint investment project; and a biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector that supplies the domestic health care system and has fostered a significant export industry.
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Remittances from relatives living abroad, especially from the US, have also become an important source of hard currency, amounting to more than $2 billion annually (Cuba does not report official statistics about remittances). The once-dominant sugar industry has declined significantly over the past 20 years; in 1990, Cuba produced 8.4 million tons of sugar, while in 2015 it produced 1.9 million tons.
Although any change to the government’s one-party communist political system appears unlikely, Cuba is moving toward a post-Castro era. Raúl Castro has said that he would step down from power once his term of office is over in February 2018. Moreover, generational change in Cuba’s governmental institutions has already begun. Under Raúl and beyond, the Cuban government is likely to continue its gradual economic policy changes, moving toward a more mixed economy with a stronger private sector, although it is uncertain whether the pace of reform will produce major improvements to the Cuban economy. The Cuban Communist Party’s seventh congress, held April 16-18, 2016, confirmed that Cuba will continue its gradual pace toward economic reform.
The Obama Administration’s shift in US policy toward Cuba is opening up engagement with the Cuban government in a variety of areas. Economic linkages with Cuba will likely increase because of the policy changes, although to what extent is uncertain given that the overall embargo and numerous other sanctions against Cuba remain in place. The human rights situation in Cuba will remain a key US concern. With diverse opinions in Congress over the Administration’s policy shift, debate over many aspects of US relations with Cuba is continuing in the 114th Congress, especially on US economic sanctions on Cuba.
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More resources are available in the report.