Friday, April 29, 2016

Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough

Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 25 April 2016 — It is a Black Friday of a different sort.
In the United States the morning after Thanksgiving marks the beginning
of the Christmas discount season, where people wait in long lines to buy
electronics, computers and clothing. But in Cuba on Friday, April 22 — a
date when the military government has reduced prices by 20% on a variety
of grocery items — there are no lines

As usually happens at Brimart, a grocery store in the heavily populated
Tenth of October district where products are sold for hard currency,
employees open the doors fifteen minutes late.

Seven people are waiting outside. Four of them know about the sale on
chicken and ground meat but are only planning on buying their usual
items, which in the case of Mireya, a housewife, consists of a kilogram
of chicken thighs, two packages of ground turkey and, if available,
three containers of natural yogurt smoothies. "With the 0.70 centavos I
save on the chicken and ground turkey," she says, "I plan on buying my
granddaughter a piece of candy."

Arnaldo, a carpenter, found out about the sale before going into the
store. "I'm going to buy chicken, ground beef, cooking oil, detergent
and soap," he says. "With what I have left over, I'm going to buy two
Planchaos (small cardboard containers with two quarter bottles of rum).
The only way to disconnect from this country is by getting plastered and
watching the paquete."*

Among the products listed as being on sale, Brimart only has chicken
thighs, whole chickens, ground beef and one-liter bottles of cooking
oil. Shortages are noticeable. However, the shelves are full of rum,
whisky, wine, beer, canned tomato puree and plastic bottles of vegetable

"I was expecting a big crowd, but it is as slow as ever," says Olga
Lidia, a state worker. "A lot of people are happy about the sale. It
has a positive impact on the household budget. But the reality is that
the discounts are on items sold in a currency to which a lot of people
don't have access."

Rachel, a store employee, confirms they are waiting on shipments of a
wide assortment of canned goods, cookies and cold cuts but, she notes,
"according to the manager, they have not arrived yet due to the
transportation problem."

On the lower level of the Carlos III shopping mall, there are people
eating hamburgers and drinking draft beer in the food court, while in
the meat and cheese department a man with a furrowed brow is looking at

"What sons-of-bitches," referring to government officials, he says.
"They lower the prices by a few centavos on ground meat and chicken —
the food of the poor people — but beef, good fish and imported cheeses
still cost an arm and a leg."

Noel, an economist, believes this is new measure is a populist move. It
is more a political ploy than anything else," he notes. "They know how
disgusted people on the street are. The price reductions they have put
in place won't even put a dent in the 240% to 400% markups on goods sold
in convertible pesos. These twenty-percent reductions are a way to curb

Although Susana, a professor approves of the reductions, she claims they
will be of no benefit to her. "We teachers earn between 500 to 600 pesos
(twenty to twenty-five dollars) a month. That is barely enough to eat
on. The government should be thinking about raising salaries and
lowering prices of household appliances," she says as she eyes a washing
machine costing 757 CUC, the equivalent of three-years salary for an
elementary school teacher.

Gilberto — the manager of a market inside a store in the Flores
neighborhood in Miramar, a suburb west of the capital — cannot guarantee
that people will always be able to find the lower-priced items on sale.

"Because supply outstrips demand," he explains," and generally owners of
food and hospitality businesses buy in large quantities. All this
suggests the government reduced prices after taking into account its
stores' inventories."

Selma, the proprietor of a cafe, does not think prices will be lowered
at food service establishments.

"If the price of these foods stays low and the prices of other items are
gradually reduced, then that might lower the costs for family
businesses, but we'll have to wait and see. In Cuba prices are lowered
on things that are in short supply, like potatoes. They used to sell
them by the pound and now you can only get them once a year," says Selma.

In several of Havana's hard currency stores, things have been in short
supply for the last ten months. Chicken breasts, yogurt and domestically
produced cheese are scarce almost everywhere.

Dariel, the head of business that occupies one floor of a building in
the old part of the city, sees the glass half full. "They say that there
will be ships coming into port loaded with food and other things to sell
in stores," he says.

It seems Cuba is always waiting for its ship to come in.

*Translator's note: the "package," a weekly compendium of foreign TV
serials, soap operas, sports shows and films sold illicitly throughout Cuba.

Source: Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan
Garcia – Translating Cuba -

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