Cuba’s +/- Spaghetti

Dmitri Prieto

The +/- Spaghetti and the hard currency packaging.

HAVANA TIMES — Every day I’m more and more surprised by the dilemma posed by the various approaches to product distribution in Cuba.

The rationing book refuses to disappear since no alternative has yet been developed to protect those who are the most disadvantaged.

In the state-run “bodegas” (small grocery stores), they continue selling a limited amount of basic foodstuffs, and Cuban families will send their emissaries with the trusty ration book to buy those items at prices little more than symbolic.

Some of these products (actually most) can also be purchased at un-subsidized rates from private vendors (resellers) as well as in state-run markets charging either in “national currency” or hard-currency CUCs.

There’s no guarantee that in a given month a product that appeared in the book will be identical to the one supplied the preceding one.

The most classic (and pathetic) example of this occurred a year ago with salt.

Each shipment of salt was from a different country (mainly from South America, though on one occasion they sold Spanish salt).

The irony of this case with salt is compounded by the obvious fact that Cuba — an island surrounded by salt water — was importing salt.

A few days ago I was surprised by another phenomenon: Using the ration book you can buy (at a token price) one package of spaghetti per household member, yet the package was almost identical to some of those sold in the hard currency CUC “shoppings” (grocery stores), since this is a Cuban product.

But there was one interesting difference: the weight of the bodega bought spaghetti is offered with the qualification of it being “+/-10 grams” of what’s indicated on the package.

In other words, this in-kind “tax” (spontaneous theft) that the agro-food chain is charging buyers to support each of its links has now become legal – at least that’s the interpretation that many people have drawn concerning the new “explicit guarantee” of “consumer rights.”

What about you?  What do you think?


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.

3 thoughts on “Cuba’s +/- Spaghetti

  • November 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing your nutritional knowledge, john. The coop in our town has an annex which sells some food at discount (often out-dated, or about to become out-dated). I was able to purchase many packets of thai red rice at a deep discount, also yogurt, scottish oatmeal, organic coffees and teas,etc. etc. At the main branch of the coop, across the street, I could never afford their prices, so usually shop at big box corporate supermarkets for the rest of my food, but stick to the fresh fruit and veggies, organic meats. Also, during the Summer and Fall, there is a large farmer’s market in town, but even here, when labeled organic, prices are often outrageous. Of course I have my own garden, (using only compost) in which I grow tomatos, cucumbers, swiss chard, leeks, pepers, carrots, zuchinni, kale, basel, garlick, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, etc., and manage to preserve at least some of this for the winter.

  • May 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    moses should change his nom de plume to diogenes and come to cuba with a lamp to find an honest man. diogenes lived in a barrel like a dog/cynicus in the agora/market of ancient athens. he couldn´t find an honest man. the greatest gift that he may gie us is to see ourselves as others see us. robbie burns.

    Mahatma Gandhi was arrested by the british for making salt. there was a salt monopoly in india. making salt is not high tech and sea salt sells for a premium price. when mined rock salt became popular so did goitre. iodine deficiency which is common in mountain areas a long way from the sea. why import salt? i´ll tell you how to make salt. you wait for dry weather. you get a container with a large surface area like a baking dish. you fill it with sea water. then wait. you then have expensive sea salt. repeat. if you want to go commercial you get a steel container made much bigger. the traditional way in asia is a evaporation area similar to a rice field beside the sea. you let the sea water into the field to evaporate. repeat until the salt is thick enough to scoop up. you need an I.Q. of at least 53 to do this!

    In capitalist countries various products have various amounts in the container. which is cheaper? the family size at 375 grams for $2.69 or the small economy size of 200 grams at $1.19? this system is designed to confuse. it is designed to get you to buy the big size at a higher unit cost. in many countries now it is the law that the unit cost must be shown. at 390 grams you have 2 1/2% less spagetti. this is a small deception compared to the cheating that goes on in other countries but if the state run bodegas had the unit cost on the spagetti packet the state bodega spagetti would still be far cheaper than the 1.90 CUC spagetti. dimitri, don´t leave 2 1/2 of your spagetti in the pot on on your plate unless you have an obesity problem. wholemeal bread, rice and spagetti is cheaper to make and healthier. bran is cheap as kellogg´s with their high profit all-bran know. all-bran also contains a lot of sugar which is also cheap. quaker oats is healthier. multi-grain bread is also cheaper and healthier which would reduce the grain import bill. a mix of whole grains with the cheapest grains predominant. corn/maize bread is cheap but without added B vitamins it can lead to pellagra. wheat has been much cheaper than rice for years now. in chile there is wheat breakfast cereal. because of high rice costs the filipinos are getting back into camote. and camote survives typhoons/hurricanes and is more nourishing than rice. wheat can be used as a rice substitute too. wheat is more nourishing than rice, especially the high starch miracle rice. an obese filipino resort owner told me that red rice was pig food. the next time i went to his resort i brought a packet of red rice from a manila supermarket which was sold at a premium price. all the colored and aromatic rices have a premium price but lower yields than miracle rices. it´s a miracle anyone eats it in my opinion. sticky rice also sells for a premum price. americans import black/purple rice from china. in australia there´s thai red rice selling for a premium price.

  • May 19, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I believe that theft and deception is such an integral part of the Cuban psyche that it has to be “unlearned” when Cubans emigrate abroad. Most Cubans, in Cuba, feel a sense of pride when they can afford to simply go to a department store and pay the full ticketed price on an item. If they can’t afford it but are forced to do so anyway, they feel dread. I think that for all the advertised hype about the success of the Revolution, the damage done to Cuban character was too high a price to have paid.

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