Cubans told to expect more shortages of food and other goods

Communist Party Leader Raul Castro warned Cubans Wednesday that they should brace for worsening shortages due to Trump administration policies, but said the island won't return to the extreme deprivation of the post-Soviet period.

Leader Raul Castro blames Trump administration for increased pressure on Cuba and Venezuela

Cubans line up to buy food in Havana on April 4. Raul Castro, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, recently warned the shortages of food and other goods could become even worse. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

Communist Party Leader Raul Castro warned Cubans Wednesday they should brace for worsening shortages due to Trump administration policies, but said the island won't return to the extreme deprivation of the post-Soviet period.

In his first speech to the nation in more than three months, Castro said U.S. pressure on Venezuela and Cuba could lead to serious shortages, increasing sharply in coming months.

It has become hard to find basic goods such as chicken, cooking oil, eggs and flour throughout Cuba this year, due largely to a lack of hard currency to buy imported goods or equipment to process domestic products. State-run newspapers cut their page count last week due to shortages of newsprint, and Castro indicated the government would engage in further cutbacks due to cash shortfalls.

Castro said the government has decided "to focus the development of the economy, and to resist and overcome the new obstacles imposed by the hardening of the economic siege. We need to be aware of growing problems, and the situation could grow worse in the next few months."

A man shows a two-sheet edition of Cuba's official newspaper. State-run newspapers cut the number of their pages last week due to newsprint shortages. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

Cuba's centrally planned economy has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in income in recent months due to problems in deals with leftist allies and former allies. Brazil's new right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro cancelled a contract employing thousands of Cuban doctors late last year. The collapse of Venezuela's economy is believed to cost additional hundreds of millions in cutbacks to aid to Cuba, although neither country releases figures.

Castro spoke at a ceremony in which a new constitution, approved in a February referendum, went into effect. The National Assembly is now expected to pass a series of laws updating elements of the Cuban state, ranging from the electoral system to the family code. Cuban officials say there are no major economic reforms pending for one of the world's last Soviet-style systems, despite the increasingly tough situation.

Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro addresses the National Assembly in Havana Wednesday. (Irene Perez/Courtesy Cubadebate/Handout/Reuters)

While he warned of worsening shortages, Castro said that the hunger and desperation that hit Cuba after the fall of its Soviet patron in 1991 would not return, thanks to Cuba's diversified economy — with nearly five million tourists a year and direct investment from Europe, Asia and Latin America.

"It's not about returning to the harshest phase of the Special Period of the '90s," Castro said. "Today it's a different scenario in terms of the diversification of the economy, although we do have to be prepared for the worst."

Men push tricycles loaded with groceries along a street of Havana on April 5. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

Along with sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba's closest ally and economic patron, the Trump administration has made it harder to visit Cuba and has threatened to allow U.S. lawsuits against foreign investors here.

Despite the pressure, Castro said Cuba would not abandon President Nicolas Maduro and his administration.

"We will never abandon our duty to act in solidarity with Venezuela, or renounce a single one of our principles, and we energetically reject all pressure and blackmail," Castro said.