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    Posted on Friday, 05.07.10
    Cubans state radio warns against hoarding
    Associated Press Writer

    HAVANA — Facing a shortage of rice and anxious to reduce the cost of
    importing it, Cuba is calling on citizens not to hoard the grain – no
    mean feat in a country that is the seventh largest consumer of rice per
    capita worldwide.

    "We are demanding discipline and order in purchases," state-run Radio
    Rebelde said during its Friday newscast. "Don't allow, under any
    circumstances, people to hoard rice so they can later sell it at a
    higher price."

    The communist government subsidizes rice and sells it in government
    farmer's markets for 3.50 pesos per pound, about $0.17. But rice has
    become so scarce in recent weeks that "certain unscrupulous people are
    hoarding," reported the station, which broadcasts across Cuba and is
    among the most listened to nationwide.

    Cuban officials have repeatedly said they hope to increase rice
    production and cut imports because of rising prices for the crop, most
    of which cash-short Cuba has imported from in recent years.

    The director of the government food import agency, Igor Montero, told
    the Communist Party-linked workers newspaper Trabajadores in January
    that this year Cuba could be facing rice prices that had nearly doubled
    what it paid until recently.

    Magaly Delgado, a 72-year-old Havana retiree, complained Friday that
    shortages have become so acute that she has turned to the black market.

    "I had to pay 10 or 15 pesos a pound to a reseller near my house," she said.

    Rice is a key component of the monthly ration Cuba's government has
    maintained since 1962, allowing islanders to buy basic foods that also
    include eggs, potatoes, legumes, bread, sugar, salt cooking oil, coffee
    and a bit of chicken, fish or beef, among other items.

    Distribution centers distribute five pounds of rice per person each
    month, charging about an American penny per pound. They then offer an
    additional two monthly pounds for about 4 U.S. cents each.

    But food from the "libreta," or ration book, usually provides most
    Cubans with only about 10 to 15 days of food. That's where farmers'
    markets come in. But rice has been hard to find there of late.

    Rice is also sold in special grocery stores for tourists and foreigners
    who work on the island, but a pound there costs more than $2,
    prohibitively expensive in a country where nearly everyone is employed
    by the government and the average state salary is about $20 per month.

    "The rice ration is sacred and never unavailable," said Delgado, who
    collects a monthly pension worth about $13 per month. "But it's not
    enough for pretty much anyone since we Cubans eat a lot of rice. That
    means you have to buy more."

    Indeed, Radio Rebelde reported that Cubans consume 700,000 tons of rice
    per year, making the island the seventh largest consumer of grain per
    capita on the planet, it said.

    The government imports about 60 percent of the country's rice, since the
    station said Friday that in 2009, Cuba's domestic rice production "rose
    to 281,000 tons."

    President has used all of his recent national addresses to
    decry the amount his government spends on importing food, which exceeds
    $2 billion annually.

    Hoarding is common on an island plagued by shortages of food and other
    basics. Sometimes toilet paper goes missing. Other times it is matches,
    cooking oil or eggs, potatoes, peanuts or, in this case, rice.

    Authorities have sometimes moved to prohibit hoarding. After Hurricanes
    Gustav and Ike wiped out 30 percent of the island's crops in the summer
    of 2008, officials limited how much Cubans could buy at farmers' markets
    and froze prices to keep vendors from gouging.

    So far, there has been no move to legislate against rice hoarding – but
    the station also gave no indication on when shortages of it might ease.

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