Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

11 de Enero del 2000

JOURNALIST DESCRIBES HOW GOVERNMENT STARVES CUBANS: What Cubans eat and how often; what food they get with their ration cards and what they pay; and what comes from the "black market."

By Adalberto Yero, Cuba Free Press.

Santiago.- Here in Santiago, the government-run grocery stores, butcher shops and agro-markets take Cuban pesos for the products they sell. Some say the government subsidizes such items but others doubt it. [The writer believes the food sold in these public markets is not really subsidized since the same items can be had at the "private" State-run markets for 50 percent less.]

Those government stores did not provide any of the seasonal foods traditionally - certainly before Castro - associated by Cubans with New Year's Eve festivities. The impact of this on the city's dwellers can only be appreciated when one takes into account that Santiago is the second largest city in Cuba, with a population of 500,000. It's an urbanized area so people have no nearby, easily accessible fruit orchards or vegetable gardens or cattle farms where they might complement (although illegally) the meager offerings of the government food supply system.

Why do the people suffer this hardship? Toward the end of 1999 and into year 2000, the state-run food distribution centers did not have eggs, fish, poultry, beef or any other cattle product. Only pork could be had and that only at the same price as at the "private" state-run butcher shops. But at the so-called private shops the meat is fresher and ration coupons are not demanded of the privileged few who can buy there.

For the past 10 years, those other stores which are open to the population at large and require rationing cards have been selling eggs and hake (a fish) and another fish known in Cuba as "jurel." Both are extremely bony. Also sold at these "public" stores for the lower class of Cubans are "ground meat" and "mortadella." But neither has meat, being made from soy beans.

As to the amounts per capita of these and other "delicacies" allowed to the public rationing system during the last five years, here are two examples: every 15 days, four or five eggs and two or three vegetables or roots such as mandioc or yucca (yuca in Spanish). Why are eggs rationed? Who knows? Since the "revolution," eggs have been one of the very few foods not rationed, just as before the revolution. And the price of eggs has been fixed at 15 cents of a Cuban peso per egg.

As for other rationed items, since 1990 the per capita allowance of chicken has been six ounces every 3 or 4 months. Beef is doled out at four ounces every six months, except for those younger than 14 and the selected elderly who are on a physician-mandated diet. Both these groups get slightly more than the general public. Last year, per capita allowance of fish was eight ounces along with four ounces of "ground meat" soya and six ounces of the "mortadella" soya.

The state markets selling rationed foodstuffs at so-called subsidized prices did not receive any seasonal merchandise for New Year's Eve festivities and limited themselves to selling four pounds of potatoes per person. In December, Instead of receiving the additional seasonal merchandise as in past years, these stores received goods which had been earmarked by the government for sale during this month. This meant that the merchandise will in no way last through this month of January 2000.

The so-called "shopping baskets" sold in December of 1999 consisted of the following (per capita): Six pounds of rice at 25 Cuban cents per pound. Two pounds of refined sugar at 15 Cuban cents per pound. Four pounds of unrefined sugar at 10 Cuban cents per pound. Twenty ounces of black beans. Four ounces of coffee at 80 Cuban cents a pound.

These are almost exactly the same goods sold to the Santiago public during the month of January of each of the past 10 years. Also during the past 10 years the state-run food markets have been offering exclusively a variety of banana much disliked by the populace and called "platano fongo." It sells at 30 Cuban cents per pound. Potatoes are sold at 40 Cuban cents per pound. Both products are available two or three times a month at a projected two to four pounds per capita.

It should be noted that prior to 1990 this platano fongo was used exclusively as food for pigs. But since then it has become the vegetable most consumed by city dwellers, because of its lower cost when compared to other vegetables and because it can be prepared for the table with less waste than yucca or sweet potatoes, which are frequently diseased.

I remember speaking years ago to a Catholic priest who said, half in jest, that in the future a monument would have to be erected to the platano fongo for having saved the Cuban people from starvation.

At the so-called "private" markets for the privileged few the currency of exchange is the Cuban Peso but if the seller happens to be a producer of the merchandise rather than a government employee, the seller can accept either Cuban currency or foreign exchange at the buyer's option.

Every single day of the year these "private" markets have an abundance of all types of beans grown in Cuba plus rice, all sorts of vegetables, all tubers and spices, as well as pork and lamb. But of course the prices are well beyond the means of the public as a whole.

The "subsidized" government-run food outlets have been in existence for 40 years in all of Cuba's towns and cities. For the last 20 years they have been the only commercial establishments throughout the country. Before the Soviet empire crumbled, these stores were somewhat better supplied but the products had great shortcomings as to quantity, quality and variety. These outlets obtain their merchandise from state-run farms, government -run farming "cooperatives" and only marginally from those few small farmers allowed by the government to farm ("exploit") small plots of land which are owned by the government as is all land in Cuba.

Most Cuban land is not under cultivation except for the areas devoted to sugar cane, coffee or tobacco. There is no longer land devoted to cattle - which explains the scarcity of milk that plagues the population. At present, milk consumption is restricted to children under age seven and elderly people on the physician-mandated diet.

Cubans have had no milk by-products for many years. What milk there is has been imported and is not offered by the "private" government outlets.

The City of Santiago has about eight "private" government-food outlets, mostly all having the same prices. Some examples of the prices follow in Cuban pesos per pound except as otherwise noted:

Pork including bone and fat, $17.
Lamb, $15.
One banana, $0.50.
"Malanga" (a tuber), $3.50.
Yucca, $0.80.
Sweet potato, $0.80.
Seven "fongo" bananas, $1.
Cucumber, $2.80
Eight tomatoes (for salad), $ 5.
Rice, $5.
Any kind of beans, $10.
One onion (for salad), $4.
One onion (for cooking), $ 2.50
A handful of chilies (for cooking), $ 1.
One head of garlic, $ 2.50
1/4 of a small pumpkin, $ 1.
Ten small limes, $1.
Three small plantains, $1.

All products listed above are consistently found at the "private" outlets as well as eggplant, all citric fruits, tomato puree, string beans, okra, corn meal and all fruits in season. There are long lines at the "private" establishments only when there is a big sale on some product, such as when the "fongo" plantain is for sale. This type of market does not carry beef, milk or its by-products, chocolate, coffee, salt, sugar, wheat flour or pasta. None of these products are sold in any of the stores that take Cuban currency with exceptions noted above.

Adalberto Yero, Cuba Free Press.

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