By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, I tried to do buy some simple things and had to visit the three stores here in my town that sell in CUC. I was unable to find a single jar of jam for my children. There wasn’t any chicken, mincemeat, shampoo or conditioner. Not even ready-made soda which I always used to buy for my kids’ afternoon snack at school.
My wife wanted a lipstick, but they didn’t have that either. My son, who running about broke his flip flops, would still have to wait because the only sizes they had left were too big. I left empty-handed.
I walked through the stands of independent vendors and had a bit more luck. I managed to buy my wife’s lipstick and my son’s flip flops. A seller was also selling pineapple soda, sweets and biscuits. I bought them all. When I did the math, everything cost me about 30% more that it would have done before the government lowered prices.
You used to be able to find jam and ready-made soda almost always in State shops; it was a very rare occurrence when they didn’t have them. The same used to go for chicken and mincemeat. They both used to be sold. However, after the tiny reduction in price, they didn’t even last a week. They disappeared from shops and you’d have to be more than damn lucky to be able to find them again. It’s easier to win a number in the lottery, where the chances here are 1 in 100.
Now, you can only buy chicken at the one State market which attends to the whole municipality (which has 120,000 inhabitants), with just one scale and they only take a little bit out each day. By 9:30 AM, there’s nothing left. You can imagine the line this forms and all the fighting. It costs 19 pesos a pound, but with the price “knock down”, (which is some kind of robbery passing off as nothing out of the ordinary), it now costs 23 pesos.
After having continuously lived in Cuba for all my 41 years, I’m still not used to the lines here and prefer to pay a little extra. Furthermore, I believe that one of the key causes for us not being able to progress as a country is because of all the time we waste waiting in lines. You have to queue absolutely everywhere and these lines are super long and very slow. I prefer to invest this time productively, in my case I work my land, so I can then cover the extra cost of goods I buy from resellers. They have their ways of getting their hands on products and they make a living off of the system’s inefficiency.
On the other hand, we have a saying that says that “whoever made the law, made the scam.” Prices have been knocked down on some products, but they’ve skyrocketed on others. A disposable umbrella, because of its bad quality, recently only cost 4 CUC, but now it costs 8 CUC; a small briefcase manufactured nationally used to cost 10 or 12 CUC and now I see the same ones selling for 16 CUC. And so on. What they apparently stop earning on the one hand, they make up for on the other and even make extra. The 240% traditionally applied on top of the fair and legal price is still applied.
This policy gives us nothing. As I warned in my article “El pueblo recibe falsas migajas”, it was just simple politicking. Its just propaganda directed at the subconsciences of “the popular masses”, who have been cheated and made fun of yet again. As Fidel himself has said on multiple occasions, to solely manipulate and “create conditioned reflexes in the minds of people.” Of course he didn’t use this phrase to criticize himself but to devalue the capitalist system which employs the same methods of building populism so as to boost consumption. http://havanatimes.org/?p=118351
Instead of improving the situation, it’s only created more inflation, more dysfunction in the system and a greater burden for ordinary Cubans. Noone can really enjoy these price reductions because, as I also warned, there is no concrete logic behind this measure, nor are there guarantees of an increase in production which would make it a viable and sustainable practice. Its a bit like the pay rises Maduro implements every so often in order to win popular support in Venezuela, which doesn’t have an economic base to justify it and so only causes more damage and inflation which leads to his own political downfall.
Even if, in the hypthetical case, the price reductions had worked, it would have only helped on a small scale, we wouldn’t have even felt it. Imagine a man who is carrying a bag a 200 lb bags of sweet potatoes on his back and has to walk several kilometers. If we take two or three sweet potatoes out of the bag, we don’t really help him at all. He wouldn’t even be able to feel the difference in weight. We’d only be able to help him if we take out over half of his load, or if we calculate how much he can really carry without passing out and then only give him that to carry, or if we promise him that we’ll take out 10 lbs of sweet potato for every 50m he walks so that his load gradually gets lighter and more bearable, until the day comes when this is a fair amount. I particularly like this last option because it has a tangible, concrete objective linked to a hopeful mindset.
This fed-up, tired and disillusioned man who has to carry such heavy burdens upon his back is representative of the Cuban people. And we’re really over-burdened! And we’ve been waiting decades for a solution! Some of us let go of the sack and flee from our load by traveling over oceans and through forests; but the majority of us call for justice while the debate to figure out how to lighten the load takes years and years for the regime with a divine mandate to think for all of us.
Meanwhile, the price we pay remains high. This article deals with the subject of lowering prices, something which in any normal country would be a cause for celebration, but appears distorted in a dysfunctional social model which builds a socialist utopia that is out of sync with what Cuba really needs.