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    Long faces and empty pockets / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
    Posted on November 4, 2014

    14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2014 – One of the
    distinctive features of the new era in Cuba is that it is no longer
    shortages but pricing that explains the difficulty of acquiring food
    grown on the island, but at bottom the issue is the same as always: lack
    of productivity.

    For decades Cubans “got used” to the non-existence of certain
    agricultural products. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a
    stronger dependence on the ration market and consumers felt more like
    users than customers. The production plans were conceived to satisfy,
    barely, the rationing plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the
    excess.

    Every time policies emerged that tended towards openings –such as the
    farmers markets of the ‘80s – fruits, vegetables and meats absent from
    the ration book reappeared on the stands, but along with the happy
    return of mamey, lettuce and malanga, also appearing were the long faces
    of those who didn’t even bother to reach into their pockets when they
    saw the exorbitant prices.

    Then the righteous zeal of the Maximum Leader, his unbridled
    voluntarism, decided to prohibit these manifestations of mercantilism
    and beans, onions, and of course meat, were once again lost to us. Like
    the erratic gait of Ruperto, a TV comic character of our time, every two
    steps forward necessarily entailed one step back.

    But the long faces of the “disadvantaged” still demand some Robin Hood
    to bring order to the Sherwood Forest. In letters from readers of the
    newspaper Granma or on the National Television program “Cuba Says” the
    indignant tear their hair out in the face of “the abusive prices that
    unscrupulous intermediaries impose to profit on the needs of the
    population.” It is recognized that the producers and the sellers are now
    sheltering under the law of supply and demand and therefore are
    authorized to set the prices they want, but others think that there
    should be “a limit” because consumer protection should come first.

    On this topic, the commentator Talia Gonzalez said this week on the TV
    magazine Buenos Días, “We have to recognize that the experiment
    undertaken in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque for the
    last year has enabled the expansion of supply and variety in the
    markets, but now there is another phenomenon: the products are there,
    but in many cases they are inaccessible…”

    There has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous
    year, but this isn’t reflected in prices

    Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture affirm that there has been an
    18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t
    reflected in the prices because the supposed increases are destined
    principally to replace imports or to fulfill commitments to schools,
    hospitals and other social sectors, which are not always met.

    The blame for the problem lies entirely in eminently subjective issues,
    such as the lack of control and demands, the arrears in payments or the
    failure to meet contracts, but there is something deeper, closely
    related to the nature of a system that, however much they try to update
    or perfect it, still has the same essence.

    When a farmer realizes that 100 pounds of onions sold at 40 pesos a
    pound brings in the same as 800 pounds sold at 5 pesos a pound he has
    discovered, without needing to be an economist, sociologist or
    politician, that in Cuban society today for every economically favored
    consumer, there are eight who are not.

    That is, if in Cuba there are approximately one and a quarter million
    people with sufficient purchasing power to absorb what little is
    produced, at the stated price, there will be no interest in increasing
    production, unless by some miracle the communist prophecy is fulfilled
    where work will become the first human need, beyond narrow material
    interests.

    What a discovery! The system can’t function as long as it tries to
    maintain a policy of equity and justice, while aspiring to an efficient
    and sustainable economy. It is not that the producers have been given
    too much freedom, but rather not enough. At least as much as necessary
    so that, from the ruins of a proletariat forced into corruption to
    survive and a peasantry fearful of putting their prosperity on the
    display, an empowered and entrepreneurial middle class can emerge. But
    such an idea, so liberal, doesn’t fit in the straitjacket of the
    Guidelines of the 6th Communist Party Congress.

    It is historically proven that productivity grows not only when there
    are the necessary technological and scientific requirements to make the
    performance of the productive forces more efficient, but also when there
    is a need to increase production and that need is backed by the
    purchasing power of consumers. Otherwise the hungriest countries would
    be the most productive but, sadly, the opposite happens.

    At every hierarchical, academic and political level they know that this
    serpent doesn’t stop biting its tale, but in the inaccessible premises
    where the great decisions are taken they are afraid to recognize that
    unviability is a regular part of the socialist system they learned as a
    catechism from the Soviet manuals. They will never recognize it, unless
    the dissatisfied with their long faces move beyond their irritations at
    the prices in the market stalls, and channel their anger and frustration
    where it belongs.

    Source: Long faces and empty pockets / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
    Translating Cuba –
    http://translatingcuba.com/long-faces-and-empty-pockets-14ymedio-reinaldo-escobar/

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