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.
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.