HAVANA, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Cuba is deploying oxen to replace tractors, using wood instead of gas at many state bakeries and advising citizens to save electricity by making the most of daylight as it grapples with an acute fuel shortage amid U.S. sanctions.
The government says it is prioritizing what little fuel it has this month to sustain critical services such as hospitals and sectors such as tourism, which generate much-needed hard currency. In other areas, it is seeking alternatives or scaling down.
Some cement factories have decreased production, the construction minister told a state broadcaster this week. A large steel factory in Havana has stopped operating altogether, a worker there told Reuters.
Supervisors at two large hotel construction sites in Havana said building brigades from outside the city had been ordered to stay home because of a lack of fuel for transport and for working all the machines at full capacity. The sites were operating with one shift instead of two or three. Other branches of the dominant state sector are also telling workers to stay at home until further notice because of drastic cuts in public transport.
"If they don't need me right now, then I'd far rather not have to fight to catch a ride from a bus top overflowing with people, especially given this heat," said Rosario, 32, who said her state news outlet had sent her home with her full salary.
She declined to give her full name for fear of retribution.
Some state workplaces, universities and schools have simply cut hours to save electricity and provide some relief to public transport at peak commute hours.
Cuba's Communist government last week announced that U.S. sanctions on oil shipments to the island meant it had not secured enough for September.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel said this was not a return to the depths of the crisis Cuba suffered in the 1990s after the collapse of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union. Sufficient fuel shipments have been secured for next month.
Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia's Universidad Javeriana Cali, said a rare advantage of a centrally planned economy like Cuba's was that is did enable the government to "orientate what little resources it has to the country's essential priorities" in a crisis.
EVER WORSENING AUSTERITY?
Many Cubans fear the government is bracing for the economic situation to remain dire or worsen.
Diaz-Canel has repeatedly said Cuba could learn from the energy efficiency measures and should seek to keep some in place after the crisis is over.
"It's just not clear how things will get better given the uncertain circumstances," said Pablo Ramirez, 57, as he waited in line at a gas station in the hope of a fuel delivery.
Queues at gas stations in Havana snake for blocks, with some Cubans even sleeping in their cars overnight to have a chance of filling up.
Ramirez said his family needed their car to buy produce for their restaurant.
"It's just very tiring and frustrating," he said.
The government has been implementing austerity measures since 2016 because of a decline in cheap oil shipments from ally Venezuela and the Trump administration's tightening of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, although nothing as severe as these.
"We have adopted measures like including around 4,000 yoke of oxen in the sugar cane work and production of food," Julio García Pérez, president of state-run sugar monopoly Azcuba, told state-run media.
Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero said on Wednesday that irrigation machinery was being turned off at times of peak electricity usage to reduce the burden on the power grid.
Diaz-Canel has said that he hopes to avoid the long power outages that characterized the euphemistically named "special period" of the 1990s by using such measures, but that if any are required they will be planned and announced ahead of time.
Ordinary Cubans, meanwhile, are handling the shortages as best they can.
"I'm thinking of getting a bike," said schoolteacher Yanet Sanchez, 27, after queuing for three hours to get from central Havana to her western neighborhood by bus, a trip that should take just 20 minutes. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Gerry Doyle)