Potatoes Become a Luxury Item in Cuba

In several provinces

Daniel Benitez  (Cafe Fuerte)

Photo: Juan Suarez
Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Potatoes have become something of a “luxury” item for millions of Cubans living in provinces where this root vegetable isn’t grown.

This week, Cubans were informed that, following a decision by the Ministry of Agriculture, the sale of potatoes (at one peso the pound) would be authorized only in those regions where the tuber is produced.

Because of this controversial measure, the black market is currently supplying 10 provinces with potatoes at anywhere from 10 to 15 pesos the pound. In fact, potatoes currently being sold at unsubsidized prices in regions without potato fields are being handled, not by State entities, but by third parties.

An article published by the provincial newspaper Escambray complains about potato shortages in Sancti Spiritus (formerly a potato producer), a province now facing production restrictions after failing to meet production aims in the 2013-2014 period. Owing to this restrictive measure, locals have had to turn to re-sellers to be able to put this food product on the table.

Asked by the journalist about why this province in central Cuba isn’t being sent some quantities of the product, Vice-Chair of the Provincial Administrative Council Rolando Roque explained that it was not his entity’s call, that the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible “for producing and balancing sales.”

“It’s Out of Our Hands”

A similar response was offered by assistant representative Leonel Valdivia at the Provincial Agriculture Department. The official addressed the situation this way: “It’s not up to us to decide, to say ‘give me so many potatoes for Cienfuegos or Villa Clara.’ The potatoes were grown with different destinations in mind. The seeds are imported and production depends on supplies that the country has to buy.”

This is the reason why, in places where potatoes may be sold at market price (Mayabeque, Artemisa, Ciego de Avila, Cienfuegos and Matanzas), and in the capital, one can come across this high-demand product for as much as 120 Cuban pesos (CUP) the sack, a price that, according to some calculations, could bring re-sellers profits above 1,000 CUP. This is indeed tempting for the skilled vendors who load up on hundreds of sacks a day.

In the meantime, as people await a national permit, the manager of a produce and livestock market in Ciego de Avila commented that, though potato sales are regulated, bribes from those who rent trucks or travel by train (chiefly from Camaguey) to buy and load up on as much of the product as they can, are very common.

People’s despair does not appear to have an immediate solution. Potato production plummeted in Cuba during 2014. According to official statistics, a mere 53.3 thousand tons of potatoes (some 59.3 thousand tons less than the year before, which reported 112.6 thousand tons) were produced, a 52.7 percent drop in production.


4 thoughts on “Potatoes Become a Luxury Item in Cuba

  • Cuba imports “seed potatoes” from Canada. As you pointed out, these are not seeds, but whole potatoes. Potatoes do not grow “true to seed”, so they must be planted “vegetatively”. To plant for a new crop, the potatoes will be sliced up such that one sprouting “eye” is in each piece. The pieces of potato are then planted in the prepared soil.

    You can readily see how managers in control of large consignments of seed potatoes would find a way to divert a percentage of the seed potatoes to the black market. Big profits could be made. As a consequence, the the following year will be much smaller. The shortages will be blamed on the weather, pests, or the US blockade. The real reason is corruption.

    Given how the Cuban import market is 100% controlled by the Castro regime, this rotten potato scam could start high up the chain.

  • When I read comments here at HT about how the US stands to gain from scientific and educational exchanges with Cuba, I can’t help but remember news stories like this one. For goodness sake, the Castros can’t even grow potatoes. Given the climate and the soil conditions, how hard could it be? How do we take advice from a country like this? By the way, potatoes are not grown from seed.

  • Potatoes as a luxury item. The symbolism is perfect. What better representation for the failur of the revolution is there?

    I’m sure some Castro apologist will try and blame it on the embargo. LOL

  • Potatoes are not grown from seed, but from cut segments of actual potatoes. The new plants sprout from the “eyes” of the tubers. Therefore, if potato production has plummeted so suddenly, it suggests that last years seed-potato reserve was sold for consumption rather than being kept for re-planting.

    Why would they do such a reckless and stupid thing? Most likely because the managers who make these decisions are corrupt and found a way to sell the reserved planting potatoes on the black market.

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