New Ideas Trashed

Daisy Valera
Daisy Valera

A few days ago, after squeezing into a bus along with dozens of people that wanted to board it; I ran into an administrative worker at the university institute where I study.

He told me that he was an accountant (one of the branches of the economy that they study in Cuba), but he wasn’t planning to continue studying because he felt the idea of having to do a master’s thesis would be problematic.

That was how a conversation started about an idea that has been controversial for many years in Cuba: “bread”.

He said that he had worked for one of the companies that control the production of bread in the country and that this had led to him to arrive at some conclusions.

The government sells each Cuban citizen one bread roll a day for 5 cents of Cuban peso, but the cost of production is really up to 7 or 8 cents.

Thus, daily losses are in the thousands of pesos. With this in mind the young accountant had an idea that seemed very ingenious to me. He proposed to sell bread for 10 cents, and allow people to acquire two rolls.

The reasons for not mentioning the idea at work were very clear to him. He felt that to do an analysis about the production and price of bread in Cuba could be seen as interfering with a matter of government policy. Likewise, the idea would not be welcome by the bakers who, for their scarce numbers, already had enough difficulty with less production.

Our conversation ended with a phrase that for some time has been widely used in the country and that I have heard a great many times: He who lives better in Cuba is he who doesn’t involve himself in anything.

A phrase which could be easily substituted for: He who doesn’t want to have problems in Cuba is he who doesn’t try to suggest new ideas.

In the last few years bakeries have sprung up in the country that sell a bread roll for 1 peso (a price 20 times greater), and the sale per person is unlimited.

In a country like Cuba where the variety of food is scarce and prices are relatively high, it is practically obligatory to acquire bread at these higher priced stores at a price that doesn’t correspond at all with the monthly salary. The idea of this young man would not only decrease the state’s expenses but would also bring a solution to a national problem.

3 thoughts on “<em>New Ideas Trashed</em>

  • It’s too late for the cuban state to undo the damage caused by the ultra-Left stalinist error of nationalizing everything in sight, without the requisite rational plan and preparedness. Of course, we can understand the pressures leading to this act: the Empire still waits to pounce, just over the horizon. Literally. However, the Revolution still has enough power and moral authority to continue allowing people to take initiative in their lives — tho’ it would be superb if there was the understanding and know-how in the world socialist movement on how to effectively organize *socialist* economic undertakings on a strict and low budget, maintaining revolutionary enthusiasm in the face of adversity all the while. However, it appears that [pre-]capitalist methods are still pretty much the only ones most people seem to be able to conceive of — methods which generally involve throwing sufficient amounts of capital at any project or problem. This is lowest-common-denominator thinking of course — but it’s what we get as a default when things don’t go right. Ignorance before enlightenment, always.

    Clearly, the people of Cuba need to openly discuss all such pressing issues — with the proviso that everyone understand they’re looking for ultimately *socialist* solutions to these problems. So that short-term petit-bourgeois-type initiative is often acceptible — as long as everyone understands these are stop-gap, sub-par measures (capitalist propaganda to the contrary), and not any utlimate solution to Cuba’s problems. Allowing the big bourgeoisie and their stolen blood-money back into the country is totally unacceptable, of course. Of course.

    Personally, I think cuban mass media (TV, radio, newspapers/magazines) — and the Internet, if it were widely available — would be the place to discuss ideas coming from people like your friend on the bus. And not leave all initiative to just a few people in the bureaucracy. There’s really a world of possibilities out there — not all of them threatening to the Revolution, even if they’re not particularly socialist.

  • I suspect there won’t be anyone available to answer a question that immediately springs to mind. Does the government pay 7 to 8 cents per bread roll to the baker, and then incur the loss by selling it to Cubans at a subsidized price?

    Having a two-tier pricing system whereby a single bread roll can be purchased for 5 cents, and then additional bread must be purchased at a price 20 times higher seems completely illogical. Daisy’s friend’s idea to let people buy rolls at 10 cents each – covering the cost and allowing for a reasonable return for the baker – is eminently sensible. If such a system were to be implemented there should be no need for a 1 peso bread roll, which seems like price gouging.

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