Cement, rubber, and tobacco products, processed foods, textiles, clothing, footwear, chemicals, and fertilizers are the staple industries. Cuba has also invested in metal processing, spare parts industries, and factories turning out domestic appliances, albeit often of shoddy quality. It also has steel mills, bottling plants, paper-producing factories, and animal feed factories. Even Sony TVs, Cuban-designed computers, and vehicles are assembled from foreign parts.
Many factories date from the antediluvian dawn. An exception is in pharmaceuticals, where its investments in biotechnology generate more than US$300 million a year.
Cuba boasts large resources of chromite, cobalt, iron, copper, manganese, lead, and zinc, all concentrated in northeastern Cuba. Cuba is also the world’s sixth-largest producer of nickel and has about 37 percent of the world’s estimated reserves. Nickel exports earned US$1.5 billion in 2008, down from US$2.2 billion in 2007.
In April 1960 the Soviet ship Chernovci arrived with a 70,000-barrel load of oil—the beginning of a 10,000-kilometer petroleum pipeline that was maintained for three decades. Cuba traded nickel, citrus, and sugar to the Soviet Union in return for 10–12 million tons of crude oil and petroleum per year. As much as half of this was re-exported for hard currency to purchase necessities on the world market (by the mid-1980s, oil surpassed sugar as the island’s major money-maker).
Today, Cuba meets the bulk of its needs with some 100,000 barrels a day of discounted Venezuelan oil, paid for in part in medical and other services.
Cuba does have oil, and crude is currently being pumped from 20 oil fields concentrated near Varadero. Production rose to 75,000 barrels per day in 2007—enough to cover 50 percent of the island’s needs. However, Cuba’s crude oil is heavy, with a high sulfur content. Seeking higher-quality oil, the Cuban government has opened up a 112,000-square-kilometer zone of the Gulf of Mexico for deep-water exploration by foreign companies.
In December 2004, Fidel announced discovery of a crude oil deposit (he claims that as much as 20 billion barrels are to be found off Cuba’s northwest coast). Venezuela funded a new refinery, which opened at Cienfuegos , in 2008.