HAVANA TIMES – Communist Party leader Raul Castro urged Cubans on Wednesday to “be prepared for the worst variant” of the economy, at a time when the US embargo tightens and the aggravated problems in the balance of payments put the country in check.
Castro addressed a session of the Cuban legislature, known for its unanimous approval of virtually all Communist Party dictates, as it welcomed into effect the new Constitution approved by popular vote in February.
Watching the serious crisis facing the Maduro government in Venezuela, its most important economic ally, Castro broke the bad news instead of President Miguel Diaz Canel, who was among the audience.
“The situation could worsen in the coming months,” said the leader of the ruling Communist Party (the only legal one), in his speech on Wednesday.
He confided, however, that Cuba will not experience a new “Special Period”, in reference to the serious financial, energy and food crisis that the country suffered in the early 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of the subsidies that the island received from the communist bloc.
“Today is another scenario in terms of the diversification of the economy, but we have to be prepared for the worst,” said the 87-year-old former president, who took power from his brother Fidel Castro in 2006 and passed it on in April last year to the hand-picked current president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Castro remains the head of the Communist Party which is the superior force in the country, even above the Constitution, which explains why yesterday’s key note address was his and not Diaz-Canel’s.
In asking the population for more sacrifices, Castro said that to combat the economic crisis that is approaching, the only choice is to “fight to achieve victory.”
He specifically asked the population to redouble efforts to increase production, especially food, adopt savings habits, optimize the use of energy and avoid fuel theft.
These requests have been made repeatedly for decades but have thus far not achieved the desired results.
Castro also called to “resist and overcome the new obstacles that the resurgence of the economic and financial siege facing us”, in reference to the US embargo, hardened again by the Government of Donald Trump, who has reversed the policy of rapprochement of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
In any case, Castro expressed conifidence that “the old desire to overthrow the Cuban Revolution through economic suffocation and hardship failed in the past and will fail again.”
His speech comes at a time of uncertainty about the economy of Cuba, a country that for many years tries to attract foreign investment and replace imports to solve its increasingly serious problems in the balance of payments.
However, in 2018, expected export revenues were not achieved and a high level of indebtedness persists. Difficulties also persist in the materialization of the investment processes due to bureaucratic foot-dragging and stifling rules unattractive to foreign investors, especially regarding the hiring of personnel only through a government agency, which takes the lion’s share of the employees salaries.
This is compounded by the crisis in Venezuela, the main trade partner and supporter of the island, which provides most of its imported oil on highly favorable terms, needed to cover the national demand for electricity and transport. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, health technitians, educators, sports trainers and military and security advisors work in Venezuela.