Dmitri Prieto

HAVANA TIMES – The word “cartel” refers to a form of monopoly, when multiple vendors in a market agree to keep prices high, regardless of demand.

In Cuba, the economist Camila Piñero has drawn attention to the appearance of such arrangements in one of her recent research papers (published in the journal “Temas”) on the emerging sectors of the Cuban market.

But you do not have read academic journals to realize that.

A few weeks ago my father was admitted to a hospital and wanted a hamburger for his dinner. I went looking to see what I could buy from the self-employed street vendors in the zone and the first thing I noticed was that a beef burger in downtown Vedado where the hospital is, cost about 60 Cuban pesos (fair enough, some of them were asking for 58) which is a lot more than normal.

I then went to a well-decorated establishment, equipped with tables, supplying beer in cans with a big flat screen TV running video clips of Marc Anthony. Hoping the quality of beef would match the quality of the singer, if not the TV, I ordered a beefburger ” to go”.

I got the burger in no time, in a disposable bag, and I carried it off triumphantly to my dad.

Oh well. In his opinion, and even though the product itself seemed to contain beef, it was like plasticine and practically tasteless. I tried a piece, and I had to agree with him.

Note, by the way, that only establishments “for the rich” in Cuba, have the aforementioned paraphernalia, by which I mean the TV, Marc Anthony, the beer and the company uniforms with a logo similar to McDonalds.

But the main product they were selling was good for nothing.

I do not know if the other micro establishments “for the rich” in the neighborhood are just as bad.

But for me it was proof of the cartel effect … and that the last thing the Cuban market economy does is guarantee customer quality – or at least a “proper” price-quality relationship.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

7 thoughts on “Cuba and the Cartel Effect

  • Luis, I suppose it is (I have no Internet access) The paper is about the three viewpoints on the desirable transformation of the Cuban ‘socialist’ economy (basically, Camila counts the state-centered viewpoint, the market-economy viewpoint and the self-management viewpoint). This is the URL for Temas: http://www.temas.cult.cu/

  • To be clear, I do not advocate a 100% free laissez-faire market. There needs to be a sensible level of regulation to ensure fairness, competitiveness and to limit corruption. The problem with Cuba is that the limited economic reforms have come with extensive regulations and stipulations from the government. Also, in most cases, as the only vendor for raw materials or supplies are the state owned enterprises, the govt determines costs. Burger shops must buy their bread from state bakeries at retail costs. There are no wholesale suppliers.

    The exception to this is the introduction of fruit and vegetable markets where farmers can sell their produce.

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