By Emiliano Rodríguez Mega and Ed Augustin
April 30, 2023
Severe fuel shortages have forced the Cuban authorities to cancel the widely celebrated International Workers’ Day parade, which had been set for Monday. The event typically draws hundreds of thousands of people dressed in red, waving flags and banners in support of socialism and the Cuban Revolution.
But Havana’s Revolution Square, which features a giant statue of the island’s national hero, José Martí, will look nothing like that this May Day.
In recent weeks, Cuba has struggled with fuel shortages across the island caused by supplier nations not delivering, according to its president. The country’s weakened economy has also made it difficult for the government to import its own diluents to refine the low-quality crude oil it receives or to purchase higher-quality crude that requires less refining.
Cuba usually consumes between 500 and 600 tons of fuel daily, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, said earlier this month. Now, he said, the island has less than 400 tons a day.
“We still don’t have a clear idea of how we are going to get out of this,” Mr. Díaz-Canel said.
Although the main May Day event in the capital has been canceled, Ulises Guilarte, the head of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, said last week that celebrations would still take place in local communities, schools and workplaces under conditions of “maximum austerity.”
Given the heavy rains and strong winds in Cuba on Sunday, however, even some of these smaller events may end up postponed as well.
For the past month, Cubans have experienced acute fuel shortages that have crippled the island’s already suffering economy.
Traffic has ground to a halt. Mile-long lines have sprung up at gas stations, with some drivers even sleeping in their cars. Taxi drivers charge exorbitant fees. Some universities have gone back to online classes. Restaurants and bars have been losing clients. The National Theater of Cuba in Havana even called off a concert by the national symphony orchestra because of the lack of fuel.
Now Cuba has canceled the May Day parade.
The last time the parade was canceled was at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, 2021.
Mr. Díaz-Canel has denied that the crisis is a result of Cuba’s inefficiencies or state-owned institutions. He has instead attributed it to countries — such as Venezuela, a longtime supplier of fuel — that “have not been able to fulfill their commitments” because they “have also been in a complex energy situation,” he said.
This is not Cuba’s first fuel shortage. But with no relief in sight, analysts and residents fear it might be one of the worst.
In recent years, the combination of tighter U.S. sanctions and the pandemic eviscerated one of Cuba’s lifelines: the tourism industry. Food has become even more scarce and more expensive, lines at pharmacies with scant supplies begin before dawn and millions of people endure hourslong blackouts each day.
Since the start of 2022, more than 330,000 Cubans have migrated to the United States, most of them arriving at the southern border by land, according to U.S. government data.
In previous years, workers in Havana would have been setting up scaffolding and screens in preparation for the parade. On Sunday, however, Revolution Square looked barren. Only a handful of cars were parked there — a mural of Che Guevara looking out over them through the rain. One of them was a black 1959 convertible Chevrolet.
“There’s little work, as there’s little tourism, and you can’t work much since you have to save fuel,” said Yosvel Sosa Vargas, 37, who rents the Chevrolet and works as a driver for tourists.
Mr. Sosa Vargas said he would not participate in the celebrations.
“This year, if I’m not working, I won’t come,” he said.