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.