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WikiLeaks cables assess Cuba's recession survival

As an economic crisis began gripping Cuba in early 2009, U.S. diplomats in Havana reported the island was better equipped to withstand the blow than when its Soviet subsidies collapsed in 1989.

Havana had diversified its foreign trade and built up its tourism industry in the intervening two decades, they reported. Cuba also was receiving billions in remittances and the government was planning to slash public spending.

The judgments that the communist system would struggle but change and survive were contained in four cables filed by the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana in 2009 and made public by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

One dispatch that June noted that the crisis had begun to bite in Cuba. The world economy had gone into a tailspin, drying up new loans that Cuba desperately needed.

Income from tourism, remittances and nickel exports were down and the island was still trying to recover from the three hurricanes that devastated it the previous year.

The problems already had sparked rumors that the island was headed for another “special period,’’ noted the dispatch, referring to Cuba’s economic implosion triggered by the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s.

But “the reality is that Cuba and Cubans are not as vulnerable as they were ... before the end of Soviet subsidies’’ because by 2009 they also were getting income from tourism and remittances, the dispatch added.

While the former Soviet Union represented 80 percent of Cuba’s total trade in 1989, the island’s top five trade partners in 2007 -- Venezuela, China, Canada, Spain and the United States -- represented only 60 percent, the cable noted.

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