HAVANA —Cuba has upped already-high gasoline prices by about 10 per cent
amid sweeping changes to the economy, a move that could lead to grumbling among
cash-strapped islanders, particularly private taxi drivers who are not allowed
to raise their own prices.
Rising international prices are
blamed for the move. It was the first time prices have risen since September
2008, when crude oil internationally sold for about a third more than it does
The cost of diesel fuel – used by
many of the old cars that populate Cuba’s streets – rose to $4.50 a gallon,
about 42 cents a gallon higher than previously. The highest octane fuel rose
even more to $6.54 a gallon, from $5.72 a gallon.
The prices approach those paid in
Europe and are apparently the highest in the hemisphere, topping pump prices in
Brazil and Bermuda. They are a fortune for Cubans who make the average salary
of just $20 a month.
But the changes are not likely to
affect many islanders, a reason why past gas hikes here have not led to unrest,
as they sometimes do in other developing countries.
Few people on the island own a car,
and those lucky enough to have been issued a vehicle through their state-run
companies usually have a monthly quota of gas paid through work.
The government heavily subsidizes
the public transportation system on which most Cubans rely, and it did not
announce an increase in those prices.
Those who will take a hit are the
thousands of private taxi drivers who use gas-guzzling American clunkers from the
1950s or rusting cars from former Eastern Bloc countries to ferry people along
set routes to and from work.
In most cases, the price they
charge is set at about 50 cents. Even before the price hikes, many complained
that high fuel costs meant it didn’t pay to cruise the city looking for a fare.
Taxi drivers said it would be even
harder for them to make ends meet if the government does not authorize higher
fares, particularly since they already pay a steep price for permission to