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Long faces and empty pockets

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
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 plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the

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 , 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 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

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 . It is not that the producers have been given
too much , 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 –

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