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HAVANA — Cuba clicked into crisis mode Friday, postponing a key Communist Party congress aimed at charting a post-Castro future and announcing that its woeful economy is even worse than expected.
Cubans will have to make do with less, top communists suggested, as they insisted the armed forces are strong enough to deal with any unrest.
The island's top two political bodies — the Council of Ministers and the Communist Party's Central Committee — huddled in secret on how to guide Cuba through what President Raul Castro was quoted as calling a "very serious" crisis.
Such frank language is uncommon in a country where the state controls all news media, restricts free speech and assembly, and tolerates no organized political opposition. But it's no secret that the global financial crisis has pounded the desperately poor nation — and people do not need to be told how tough times are.
"The congress? I don't care about that. What I want is something concrete," said high school student Silvia Medina, 17. "We young people want to know what's going to happen. We want some light on the horizon. We want a better life, where we don't have to work so hard for so little."
Officials made clear there would be no tolerance for dissent, pointedly announcing the armed forces are as strong as ever.
Indefinitely postponing the much-anticipated congress, traditionally held every five years or so, came as central planners dropped 2009 growth projections from 2.5 percent to 1.7 percent. That's down from a high of 12.5 percent in 2006 — and from projections as recently as December that Cuba would grow 6 percent this year.
By most forms of accounting, performance would be even lower, because Cuba counts as output all state spending on free health care and education, as well as the subsidized food it gives citizens in monthly ration books and other social programs.
The problems began last summer, when three hurricanes caused more than $10 billion in damage. The global economic crisis cut into export earnings and caused budget deficits to soar, leaving Cuba short on cash.
Some of the measures taken to remedy the crisis have backfired. To try to conserve energy and lower Cuba's oil bill, the government has idled state factories during peak hours, stilled air conditioners at government offices, businesses and stores, and shortened work hours for some employees.
That has led to a drop in productivity, exacerbating scarcities of products including cooking oil, laundry detergent and yogurt — even though all are sold in government stores that cater to tourists and are too pricey for most Cubans.