By Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s Communist government said on Tuesday it was studying the potential use of cryptocurrency as part of a series of measures to boost its economy amid a deepening crisis exacerbated by U.S. sanctions.
Cryptocurrency, which allows financial operations to be carried out anonymously, has been used in the past to get around capital controls. Cuba’s top ally Venezuela introduced a cryptocurrency last year aiming to avoid U.S. sanctions and weather hyperinflation, although it never properly got off the ground.
Cuba’s inefficient state-run economy is facing a crisis due to a sharp decline in Venezuelan aid, lower exports and the tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo under President Donald Trump.
The new measures, announced on a roundtable on state-run TV by President Miguel Diaz-Canel and his government, will raise income for around a quarter of the population and deepen market reforms of one of the world’s last Soviet-style command economy’s started by the island nation’s previous president, Raul Castro.
The aim is to raise national production and demand in order to boost growth as U.S. sanctions target tourism and foreign investment. Diaz-Canel, working to establish his legitimacy after assuming the presidency in April 2018, said the government was working on the details of the implementation.
“We are studying the potential use of cryptocurrency … in our national and international commercial transactions, and we are working on that together with academics,” Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez said.
The most popular measure in the new package will likely be the hikes in some pensions and wages for workers in public administration, social services and state-run media, bringing the medium monthly wage in those sectors up to the equivalent of $44.5 from around $25 previously.
Many Cubans say the measure still will not be sufficient to breach the gap between salaries and the cost of living. Nonetheless it should boost purchasing power, as long as inflation is kept in check.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s an advance,” said Pavel Joaquin Hernandez, 46, a general practitioner who will go from earning the equivalent of around $40 per month to $64.
Cuban economist Omar Everleny said the raise was crucial given how demotivated workers were, with many emigrating.
“For the first time, (the government) is linking the fact that everything can be achieved if workers are motivated,” he said.
Gil Fernandez said the government was also broadening a series of measures aimed at decentralizing and thus improving state-run company performance and stimulating local production, substitution of imports and increasing exports. For example, he said, financial service companies would be established to provide cash in the face of opportunity more quickly than the centralized planning system.
The government would also expand a system allowing some companies to keep a percentage of the hard currency they earn in order to reinvest it immediately rather than have to apply for credit.
State companies, agricultural entities and other economic actors that supply a growing number of firms in the Mariel Special Economic Zone, a project resembling China’s first capitalist oasis, would receive a percentage of sales in hard currency, Gil Fernandez said.
The government was also studying how to allow the growing number of small private businesses to export through the state-run businesses, he said.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Leslie Adler)