HAVANA TIMES – When a Cuban goes shopping they never know what they will find on store shelves. There may be plenty of some unaffordable luxury products and acute shortages of basic necessities.
In the centralized system, government buyers purchase for millions of Cubans. Consumer satisfaction is a factor rarely taken into account, since the monopoly on the import and marketing protects the state companies.
Today we publish a report from Café Fuerte on the current shortages of many basic products in the country. We recognize that if the situation is distressing in the capital in the provinces and municipalities it is even worse.
Cuban Government Explains Shortages of 25 Basic Products
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government has acknowledged that the shortage and unstable supply of products sold through its retail network is chiefly owed to a lack of the financial resources needed to guarantee the production or import of these articles, adding that sanctions were recently applied in cases in which such deficient market offers “had no justification.”
The Ministry for Domestic Trade (MINCIN) issued an open letter recognizing that the shortage of some twenty food and personal hygiene products at retail stores had been caused by a number of factors, ranging from “the lack of financial resources needed to guarantee the production or import of products during the first months of the year” to “failure to comply with discipline and the established norms.”
It pointed out that “administrative and disciplinary measures” have been taken in certain cases evaluated, where there was no justification for the product shortage, as “the production conditions were present and the country had made the needed financial resources available.”
MINCIN issued this missive in response to a report published on August 27 by Cuba’s main official newspaper, Granma, following increasingly frequent complaints by the population over the shortage of basic products at hard currency stores and State industrial product markets. The article stated that product shortages have become a “chronic phenomenon” in the country, despite attempts by industry to meet production plans and efforts by retail chains to compensate for unbalances through imports.
Potatoes, Juice and Toilet Paper
The list of under stocked products includes potatoes, fruit juices, salt, domestically produced beers, toilet paper, toothbrushes, matches and plastic bags.
Though MINCIN insists efforts to stabilize the supply of numerous products for the remainder of the year are being made, the panorama described does not appear to point to an immediate solution to the under stocking of Cuban markets.
“With the import of some raw materials and supplies, it has been possible to resume some production processes in the country and ensure a more stable supply of high-demand products. That said, it is both crucial and fair to point out that it will not be possible to meet the population’s growing demands in all areas,” MINCIN stated, pointing to the demands of the self-employed and new forms of employment established in the country as one aggravating circumstance.
A letter issued by Cuba’s CIMEX Corporation followed MINCIN’ communiqué last week. Published in Granma, it leaves a number of “pending questions” regarding the shortage of products distributed by its stores across the country unanswered. The document was signed by Barbara Rosa Soto Sanchez, commercial vice-president of the company.
On the basis of these two letters, a list of 25 products in short or unstable supply in Cuba’s domestic market, and the official prognosis regarding a possible solution to this, can be drawn up.
• Potatoes: Production during this year’s harvest, aimed at 65,700 tons, fell by 48,000 tons in comparison to 2013. These figures make it impossible to satisfy the demand for this product.
• Natural juices and nectars: CIMEX has imported products to meet demands and hopes to be able to stabilize the supply of its products by year’s end. The increase in the number of self-employed workers and the establishment of new food service cooperatives are the main causes of the unstable supply.
• Soft drinks: Consumer demands aren’t being met and production plans go unfulfilled. This has led to under stocking. These products are not being imported.
• Powdered Chocolate: The dairy industry has recovered production indices, but these still do not meet customer demand.
• Domestic beer: Cristal and Bucanero-brand beers were fulfilling their production plan at 94%, which is below the market demand. Shortages are also being caused at markets due to the demand of the self-employed and food service cooperatives. Other beers have been imported to meet demand at stores.
• Salt: No explanation as to its absence at markets is offered. Production and delivery goals continue to go unfulfilled and contractual clauses governing its sale are still being violated.
• Toilet paper: Domestic manufacturers are meeting production plans but consumer demand is not being met. CIMEX imported toilet paper to reduce shortages by 10 % during July.
• Toothbrushes: There have been delays in domestic production and deliveries since May. CIMEX has begun to import this product to stabilize its stocks. Demand is still not being satisfied, however.
• Toothpaste: A drop in market offer was registered in the first months of the year. Supplies should become stable in the second half of the year.
• Deodorant: The industry experienced difficulties during the first months of the year owing to a lack of financing, but production and distribution have become stable.
• Laundry soap: With a production commitment of 17,000 tons for the year, its offer is guaranteed in the market.
• Toilet soap: The production goal of 18,876 tons has been met to meet demand. Product shortages are the result of distribution problems. The soap deficit has been evident in the Cuban peso retail market, where a sustained offer of the product has not yet been achieved.
• Razors: Stocks have run out. The product should be made available at stores this month.
• Colognes and perfumes: A steady supply cannot be guaranteed through domestic production or imports. Of the total of 5,938,600 units put on the market last year by Suchel Regalo and Suchel Camacho, only 37% (2,218,649 units) was available for sale this year. The industry is not expected to recover until 2015.
• Talcum powder: The demand continues to go unmet. Of the 362,000 units of talcum powder produced in 2013, a mere 16% will be produced this year.
• Batteries for electric motorcycles: Cuba’s Minerva factory has not been able to guarantee a steady supply at retail stores operated by CIMEX’ Automobile Transportation Division. Supplies for electric bicycles, including the batteries, are expected to become stable by mid-September with the help of imports.
• 18 and 32-Watt fluorescent lights: Though high numbers of affordable fluorescent lights were imported from January to June for distribution throughout the country, stocks have not become stable in the market. MINCIN reports that under stocking is owed to a failure to import the product on a timely basis.
• Energy-saving bulbs: There has been a shortage of this product since the beginning of the year owing to lack of timely imports. The number of bulbs needed to stabilize supplies in the market will be imported from Vietnam and China. CIMEX claims that the market will recover slightly between May and June.
• Portable radios: No contract with domestic manufactures exists because a steady supply of this product cannot be guaranteed.
• Matches: the product shortages and unstable supply are owed to negligence on behalf of the companies that sell the product. There are no production problems or shortages.
• Grease removing and descaling substances: Lack of inventory and unstable supplies in the market are expected throughout the year.
• Bleach: It will be impossible to meet customer demands owing to technical problems faced by domestic manufacturers. Of the 8,720,879 liters of bleach needed to meet the demand this year, only 29% of that volume will be produced.
• Hydrochloric acid: It will be impossible to meet demands. Of the 4,556,473 liters needed, a mere 7% will be produced for sale.
• Plastic bags: The product is available and instructions to sell it at Cuban peso retail stores have been issued.