Sun, Jul 10, 2016 - Page 16 News List

Raul Castro says Cubans must brace for hard times

Reuters, HAVANA

Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday told Cubans to brace for tough times because the country must cut spending and energy supply as it deals with a cash crunch and reduced oil imports from ally Venezuela.

Cuban economic growth slowed to 1 percent in the first half of this year from 4.7 percent in the same period last year, Castro told the mid-year session of Cuba’s National Assembly.

This was half of what the government had forecast.

The economic outlook throughout Latin America has weakened due to lower commodity prices.

“Rumors and forecasts of an imminent collapse of our economy with a return to the acute phase of the ‘special period’ ... have started to appear,” Castro said according to a copy of his speech provided by the country’s state news agency Prensa Latina.

He was referring to the years after Cuba’s biggest benefactor, the Soviet Union, collapsed.

During that time, in the early 1990s, Cubans had to cope with widespread power outages and food shortages.

“We cannot deny there will be some impact, including worse than currently, but we are prepared and in better conditions than then to revert it,” he said.

Public offices and state-run companies have already cut work hours and are limiting the use of air-conditioning, workers said.

Cinemas have cut the number of film screenings, and petrol stations are running out of fuel more frequently than in the past few years.

Castro said Cuba was struggling to pay foreign suppliers on time, and thanked them for their “confidence and understanding of the transitory situation we are in.”

He reiterated the government is determined to pay the suppliers, even if delayed.

Cuba had at least been able to fulfill its international debt obligations, Castro said.

“We will not give up the aim of continuing to reestablish international credibility in the Cuban economy,” he said.

Lower commodities prices are battering Cuban exports of nickel, refined oil products and sugar, while revenue from the sale of professional services to oil-producing countries such as Venezuela and Angola has suffered, Castro said on Friday.

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