Cuba’s Rice Hunt 

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

HAVANA TIMES – Everybody here knows that rice is the mainstay in the Cuban people’s diets. So much so, that there is a saying that goes: he won’t eat anymore rice, to refer to the death of an unpleasant animal.

Well, what’s happening with rice in Cuba today reminds me of that dark time in the 1990s that was euphemistically known as the “Special Period in Times of Peace.”

Markets are empty and many farmers normally only plant enough for their own consumption. You can’t find this precious grain pretty much anywhere. If by some luck, you do find somebody willing to sell it to you, after traveling half of the world to find it, your pocket will need to be ready to take a big hit, because you can be charged 20 CUP (0.80 USD) or more per pound, a little more or less than most Cubans daily earnings.

Many people blame the global economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic for this situation, which has caused serious problems for rice imports. However, these shortages existed some months before the new Coronavirus stepped foot in our country, which makes me think it was because of the Cuban government’s lack of financial liquidity. The reality is that things have now gotten worse, and the end doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.

In April, Cuba’s official press published an announcement that Vietnam was donating 5000 tons of rice. According to the prime minister of this Asian country, this gift is to “alleviate the severity of the blockade’s sanctions and to tackle problems that the new Coronavirus poses.”

Regardless of this gesture, we know that this amount isn’t even enough to lighten our current situation, much less help us fix the problem. It only serves to highlight chronic shortages, not only of rice, but of any food product, as the manifestation of an economic crisis that our country has been suffering for decades.

What is the government’s explanation for this tough situation? Let’s take a look, shall we.

An article recently published Granma, the Communist Party daily, with the headline “Food production is a matter of national security” deals with the subject of rice production, as well as of other foods.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the causes of the current shortage are problems with farm supplies, which led to harvests falling short of targets, some 22,000 hectares, in the winter season, and that the spring planting of 4,600 hectares was late..

In order to give a glimpse of hope, he argued that meetings had been held with national government rice companies, advising that they meet with rice farmers. “People want to produce rice, we have a rice program, we have land, water in some places. Cuba needs to produce rice,” he said.

In another article published by the official Cubadebate website, under the headline “Can Cuba produce all of the rice it needs?”, this minister deduced that it can, saying that we can produce the 700,000 tons the country needs per year, thereby eliminating imports of this much-needed staple.

Going beyond government explanations and unfulfilled promises, the reality is that we have been suffering widespread shortages for decades, and not just of food. However, in this regard, it is utterly unacceptable that citizens are unable to find enough to eat in a country with water resources and vast fertile lands. The real cause of so much hardship lies in an economic model, which has only proven its incompetence, without a shadow of a doubt.

Pedro Morejón

I am a man who fights for his goals, who assumes the consequences of his actions, who does not stop at obstacles. I could say that adversity has always been an inseparable companion, I have never had anything easy, but in some sense, it has benefited my character. I value what is in disuse, such as honesty, justice, honor. For a long time, I was tied to ideas and false paradigms that suffocated me, but little by little I managed to free myself and grow by myself. Today I am the one who dictates my morale, and I defend my freedom against wind and tide. I also build that freedom by writing, because being a writer defines me.

3 thoughts on “Cuba’s Rice Hunt 

  • “According to the Ministry of Agriculture . . . “People want to produce rice, we have a rice program, we have land, water in some places. Cuba needs to produce rice,” he said.”

    No kidding? And Cuban farmers didn’t know that fact?

    That is the problem. According to this political elite the problem does not lie with the inefficient, incompetent, totalitarian state , but with others, namely in this case, indirectly implying the fault lies with the down to earth Cuban rice farmers. After all the Agricultural Ministry did hold “meetings” with national government rice companies (are they not part of the inefficient bureaucracy?) and advised they meet with Cuban rice farmers. So, don’t blame the government if things didn’t work out. Not our fault.

    Cuban rice farmers do not need more meetings nor ad infinitum advice. Enough is enough. It’s been years and years of “meetings” and propaganda advice yet the country currently cannot produce enough food, rice in this instance, to meet the drastic devouring demand of its hungry population. No, not more meetings or advice is needed. Urgent action on the fertile ground is what is required – at all costs.

    Cuba does a fantastic job of sending – exporting – its medical expertise abroad where ever there is a worldly crises and is applauded worldwide for its commendable efforts and its humanitarian work. Great! Fantastic!

    Why hasn’t this emergency method of expertise exportation been applied in the Cuban food industry? This could have been done decades ago so that the food crisis isn’t as paramount today. Why not send a squadron of Cuban agricultural experts along with Cuban farmers to Vietnam, a Cuba ally, and grasp the technical expertise to grow rice efficiently and effectively and follow the Vietnamese method of market supply and demand in their successful agricultural sector? Likewise, bring into the Cuban country side a group of Vietnamese agricultural professionals to work alongside their Cuban counterparts and together bring about much needed rice to feed the country. Seems like a win – win scenario to me.

    Of course this scenario would require a small move towards capitalist principles which would not suit the present administration‘s philosophy; therefore, the government simply sends out an elite to talk the talk and do little with walking the walk and in the meanwhile the population suffers shortages of food, rice, in this instance.

    No, Cuban rice farmers do not need more meetings and advice coming from a political bureaucracy (national government rice companies, for example) whose only purpose is to follow the Party line and blame government inaction, incompetence, ineptness, inefficiencies, you name it, on those very people who have the wherewithal and motivation for change but are castrated by government inaction.

    Reply
  • Pedro – you are right on again and I am glad you have the strength of character to report again about this horrible situation where fertile Cuba cannot even supply itself with the #1 food staple, RICE – very sad.

    Reply
  • Stephen has given a great analysis, but misses a key point.

    The Castro regime prides itself upon giving advice – not taking it!

    That policy was firmly established by the fore-finger wagging Fidel Castro, whether to crowds assembled by the workers union to sweat under the hot sun of Revolution Square for up to seven hours, the General Assembly of the United Nations for the record-holding four and one half hours, or indeed in Vietnam where he openly criticized their policies for not adhering to true communism, but adopting capitalist forms of motivation.

    Cuba gave advice to Vietnam on how to grow coffee, but denies the need to seek advice from the better informed upon how to grow anything including rice the lower grades of which they import from Vietnam to supply the rations. Hence the need to daily sit and pick it over, removing the impurities. But the sacks provide a useful source of material to make shopping bags.

    Stephen is logical, but in the Cuban regime’s policies, logic has no place. It may seem irrelevant, but many years ago, the Leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in paying tribute to the great Conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, said: “Tommy’s gift was that he let them play.”

    That is what is anathema to the Stalinist Cuban regime! People must not be allowed to play to the limit of their personal abilities, they must conform to the PCC edict which instructs but never learns.

    Reply

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