Cuba says deficit down, tourism up

Thu Jul 29, 2010 10:35pm BST

* Deficit for first half of year was $409 million

* Deficit of $1.73 billion had been forecast

* Number of tourists up about 1 percent after early dip

HAVANA, July 29 (Reuters) - Cuba had some rare good news for its troubled economy on Thursday when the government reported a lower budget deficit than expected and a small increase in the number of tourists visiting the island in the first half of the year.

The first-half deficit totaled $409 million instead of the $1.73 billion originally forecast, Minister of Finance and Prices Lina Pedraza told a National Assembly committee.

Revenue for the period was $21.2 billion, while $21.6 billion was spent, Pedraza said, according to state-run media.

In 2008, the last year for which figures are available, Cuba's budget deficit was $4.2 billion, according to the National Statistics Office.

Cuba has been cutting imports to reduce spending, but Pedraza was said to have attributed the reduction in red ink primarily to more income from taxes and social security contributions.

Cuba was hit hard by three hurricanes in 2008, the global financial crisis and reduced prices for some of its key exports.

A cash crunch forced it to freeze the Cuban bank accounts for many foreign businesses and suspend payments to many creditors.

In the first two months of the year, tourism, which is one of the communist-led island's top sources of income, was down 3.4 percent from 2009, but began turning around in March.

The National Statistics Office said on Thursday that Cuba ended the first half of the year with 1,389,712 tourists having visited, a gain of 13,519, or about 1 percent, over the same period of 2009.

Slightly more than 2.4 million tourists came to the island last year, bringing in more than $2 billion, or 20 percent of Cuba's foreign exchange income. (Reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham)