Cuba Is Still Waiting for the Party

Erasmo Calzadilla

One of the many understocked government fruit and vegetable markets. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — As the end of 2015 neared, our winter felt like summer and Venezuela’s Bolivarian project seemed to collapse.

Back home, things aren’t looking so well. State produce and livestock markets, chronically understocked, face crises as the prices of crops grown on the island skyrocket once again. People complain but nobody protests. This is the context that the last regular session of Cuba’s National Assembly convened in.

The bi-yearly farce of these National Assembly meetings is a loathsome spectacle and the bigwigs know it. To make it less evident, they televise carefully selected clips: an isolated question here, an isolated reply there. This is how I came across the remarks made by the Minister of Agriculture.

When I saw him standing in front of the microphones, I thought he would speak of the produce crisis – explain its causes and advance possible solutions. But no, my bad, what the minister did was offer a meticulous breakdown – so meticulous it was almost unintelligible – of the ambitious investment plans for next year. In passing, as though complaining, he mentioned that not enough resources had been allotted the sector to properly care for the crops in 2015 (among other things, there wasn’t enough fuel).

I have a terrible memory, but it’s not so bad I’ve forgotten the highfalutin words spoken by Minister of the Economy Marino Murillo (alias “Bull Neck”) exactly one year ago. Referring to Cuba’s economic aims in 2015, the minister had promised: “The energy resources needed to fulfil economic and agricultural plans are GUARANTEED.”

With Venezuela treading the tightrope, these were daring pronouncements indeed. Perhaps the minister bet on the Cuban people’s characteristic forgetfulness. I also recall that journalist, a would-be mathematician, who published a note in Cuba’s official newspaper saying: “Prices are decelerating and will continue to do so thanks to the measures adopted by Murillo.”

Let’s come back to the end of 2015. People are going nuts over understocked State produce and livestock markets and high food prices, but the regular session of the National Assembly seemed oblivious to these issues. Then, near the end, when it seemed as though everything was going to end in harmony, a representative from Yaguajay poops the party: “Prices continue to rise, we have to do something,” he said.

Surprised at the untimely interjection, Raul Castro washed his hands of the issue: “I am not an economist,” he said, handing the hot potato over to his minister. Begrudgingly, Bull Neck acknowledges the problem and concurs that something must be done. Ultimately, they managed to steer people’s attention away from the issue and to blame the ruffians who re-sell fruits, vegetables and legumes. The curtain went down and applause was heard.

My Take

Raul, Murillo and the gang of economists who advise them set their aims on the re-flourishing of the world capitalist economy, in the hopes that Cuba would finally be able to board the ship. In keeping with this, they designed and began to implement an intensive, oil and technology-dependent agricultural sector, a development-at-all-costs model that does not even renounce to the use of transgenic crops (with a few strokes of organic farming here and there).

The key piece of the puzzle was the supply and demand market. This market was greenlighted so a system of rewards and punishments would give the system its finishing touch. But things didn’t go as planned, demand was never (not even remotely) satisfied and the free market fell under the control of the local business cartels.

What went wrong? It was a chain of events: the world capitalist economy did not re-flourish, hard currency revenues vanished, Cuba was unable to buy supplies and equipment and even oil was scarce.

The lesson of this story is: to plan for the future, neglecting the imminent, worldwide energy crisis, guarantees our failure.

11 thoughts on “Cuba Is Still Waiting for the Party

  • In response to your headline, if not the content of your article, I would say that “It’s my Party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to! You would cry too if it happened to you!” “I see the Party Lights, wee-ooop!” Alas, they never get closer. Seems to me that it takes a while for a large ocean liner to leave the dock and turn around in the bay. Ditto the Cuban ship of state. After an absence of three years, on my most recent trip a few months ago I observed a lot of new businesses have opened, or are daily opening, their doors. While mostly services, such as restaurants, casa particulares, barbers and hair stylists, taxi- and bus particulares, etc. there were some other enterprises, such as artists, furniture makers, repair shops, streetside sellers of cheapo Chinese crap, etc. Perhaps easier for me to see the dramatic changes compared to 2012 or 2010, 2008, 2006 and earlier visits.

  • Good point Dann! Cuba has a tough task going forward but in some instances is advanced vs. other Latin countries. Potential to be a powerhouse!

  • “I grew up in the fifties and out of the hundreds of kids I went to school with, knew only one who came from a divorced, we called it separation, family.”

    Me too, but in my case I was the one with a single parent. Sometimes I had a lot of explaining to do because other children did not grasp the concept. 🙂

    However, in all countries the necessity of having two or more jobs is usually a question of poverty – even in two-parent families:

    “Arguably, workers are more likely to take an additional job if they are not paid well. None of the states with the highest multiple jobhlding rates had average weekly wages at or above the national wage in 2012. In fact, average wages in several of these states, including South Dakota, Montana, and Maine, were among the lowest in the nation.”
    States Where the Most People Work Two Jobs:

  • Dann, that is sometimes the case. The woman’s situation is the result of divorce and not having a mate to assist in raising a family. That’s another topic but sadly very common today. I grew up in the fifties and out of the hundreds of kids I went to school with, knew only one who came from a divorced, we called it separation, family. Forget about children born out of wedlock. A whole new paradigm but in Cuba, it’s very tough indeed. The bright spot is education, medical and at least no one starving. I’ll get crucified for that last sentence!

  • bjmack: “one thing about the US is you can work three jobs and get what you want.”
    Unfortunately, this rather bleak description of conditions in the USA isn’t even true. Some people need three jobs, not to get what they WANT, but in order to be able to buy the bare necessities of life:

    “In truth, the fact that this divorced mother of three has to work three jobs (!) in order to make ends meet is not an occasion for exultation (e.g., “That’s fantastic!”) nor for self-congratulation (“That’s uniquely American!”), but is rather an indication that there is something fundamentally and structurally wrong with the American economy and with American culture. By contrast, it is reported by reputable historians that in “Merrie England”, which was Catholic as opposed to Puritan England, the average peasant only had to work for 15 weeks of the year under pre-industrial conditions in order to provide for his family and that he also enjoyed 150 official holidays each and every year.”

    Ta-Nehisi Coates recently published a book criticizing the delusions of the American Dream …

  • Not a thing – I was asked a question so I gave my answers and I have manners – Si !!!!!!!

  • OK Gordon you have told us many times that you married into a well-placed family in Cuba. So what does that have to do with the article?

  • Their mother is a Sanchez – Grandfather was Celia’s uncle – ( Dr. Paul Sanchez ) and very active in the revolution when Dr. Castro – Granma returned to Cuba in 1956. Machado arranged for the chilrden’s mother to be adopted by his family in Niquero. At that time Machado was Minister of Health.

  • Once again, your comment is relevant how? OK, at least you didn’t tell us again that your kids are related to that old farther Machado.

  • Tough all over but one thing about the US is you can work three jobs and get what you want whereas in Cuba, the situation, as Erasmo so well expounds on, is fatal! The system is bad and man is time running out!

  • Not looking good at all in western Canada and many other places – 2016 could be a very rough year.

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