Crisis forces Cuban government to cancel symbolic May 1st parade

The mass meeting at the Plaza de la Revolución will be replaced by small marches in the municipalities due to the critical situation of fuel shortages

Motorcyclists cross in front of a mural with the Cuban flag on Wednesday in Havana.
Motorcyclists cross in front of a mural with the Cuban flag on Wednesday in Havana.Ernesto Mastrascusa (EFE)

Cuba is slowly coming to a standstill due to the serious fuel shortage crisis, which seemingly has no solution in the short term. The queues to refuel at the few gas stations in Havana can last several days, in some provinces the sale of gasoline and diesel has been rationed, and even their dispatch to private vehicles has been banned in order to prioritize those for public use, such as ambulances, cabs and funeral cars. Some universities have returned to online classes, as students and professors are finding it increasingly difficult to attend classes, and in the midst of this crisis, one of the worst in recent memory, the Government has just announced the suspension of the massive May 1st parade in the capital’s Revolution Square. Instead, small marches will be held in the municipalities, to be attended on foot. This is the first time since the triumph of the revolution that this symbolic celebration is cancelled for economic reasons, although in 2020 and 2021 it was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Workers’ Day parade is not just any commemoration in Cuba. Since 1959, on this date the authorities have always organized a large mass event in the Plaza de la Revolución, mobilizing tens of thousands of people in the workplaces, making hundreds of buses available to the participants and devoting millions in resources to ensure the celebration’s success. This even happened last year, when the crisis was already biting hard, but the State spared no expense, and a million Cubans attended the march in Havana, according to official figures.

In the official political imagination, the May 1st parade has always functioned as the main “show of massive support for the revolution and socialism”, and it has been presented as such even in the most difficult moments, such as after the historic protests of July 11, 2021. Until just a few days ago, when the new Parliament was constituted and President Miguel Díaz-Canel was reelected for a second term, last April 19, the government’s decision was to maintain the mobilization of support despite the fuel supply problems. But at the last moment the authorities have reconsidered this position and have opted for the “rationalization of resources” in view of the critical situation, which threatens to paralyze the country if there is no prompt solution.

“The fuel situation dictates the announced modification,” said Ulises Guilarte, secretary general of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, the single trade union in the country, in announcing the news. In its place, he explained, there will be small acts “convened as platforms to denounce the obstacles to the development programs due to the ironclad economic blockade” and to demand the removal of Cuba from the list of countries which sponsor terrorism, in which the Biden Administration still keeps the island. On this May 1st, Guilarte said, “the main recognition will be for the people for their capacity of resistance and commitment to contribute to the economic and social development of the country.”

Cuba has gone through numerous fuel shortage crises in recent times, but none like this one, all analysts agree, and the worst of all is that there is no discernible light on the horizon. The explanations given by the Minister of Energy and by the President of the country himself blamed the deficit on the “non-compliance” of the supplying countries, which, they said, are also going through a “complex energy situation”, in a veiled reference to Venezuela. The only thing that has been reported is that the shortage will last at least until next month, but without clarifying how the country intends to return to normality.

The current fuel crisis, to which the domestic gas supply crisis, high food prices and the return of blackouts - which, although they have decreased, are still continuing - must be added, are all increasingly affecting every Cuban and sector of the economy. Public transportation is running low, there are fewer and fewer cabs and they charge more and more, and the owners of restaurants and bars say that these days their businesses are operating at 50%, because people who have enough purchasing power to be able to consume in them do not go out to save gasoline. Likewise, the owners of the new small and recently created private companies indicate that it is increasingly difficult to work and that they have had to drastically reduce their productions, and the same happens with the large state companies, which have had to reduce plans and shifts, while the distribution of goods has also been affected because the trucks and transportation that should do it do not have fuel.

The director of an important Cuban popular orchestra explained just yesterday that in the last month he has had to suspend three rehearsals, because he cannot demand that his musicians use the little gasoline they have to get there - in the case of those fortunate enough to have their own vehicle - or spend a fortune on a cab. “We have already decided that for a while we are not going to perform,” this artist explained. Last week, a long-scheduled concert of the National Symphony Orchestra had to be cancelled at the last minute, and so on every day and everywhere. In this very difficult context, the initial decision of the authorities to hold a large May Day parade in the Plaza raised strong criticism on social networks, and many asked to dedicate the little fuel available in the country to the real priorities and not to organize political and propagandistic events. In the end, this was the case.

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