14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, December 11, 2018 — The breakdown of mills and the lack of cash flow that Cuba is experiencing have combined to exacerbate the shortage of flour, as was confirmed this Monday by the Minister of the Food Industry, Iris Quiñones Rojas. The small amount of the product that remains on the Island is destined “practically only to guarantee bread for the regulated family basket.”
The head of the sector participated in the Roundtable TV program in a context of growing complaints from consumers and private businesses about the lack of the product in the network of stores all over the Island. Since a few weeks ago the lack of flour has worsened and many products that include this ingredient have stopped being sold.
Quiñones attributed the absence of this raw material to the poor state of the mills meant to process wheat on the Island and explained that since the beginning of the year “the country had to use financial resources that hadn’t been anticipated in the plan in order to import 30,000 tons of flour,” due to a failure to fulfill 70,000 tons from the national plan.
Until now, the only repair parts that have arrived on the Island have been those for the mill in Santiago de Cuba, whose maintenance work is being done without halting the industry to avoid worse harm. However, the Santiago mill doesn’t have the capacity to supply the entire eastern zone of the country and needs the support of the one in Cienfuegos, which is greatly deteriorated and still hasn’t received its spare parts.
Quiñones recognized that recent days have seen “the most tense moments of the entire year when it comes to the supply” of this ingredient, a situation that has forced business to paralyze a group of other productions, especially in the Cuban Bread Chain, which supplies state-owned stores with sweets and breads to be freely attainable all over the country.
Since the beginning of November flour hasn’t been sold in the country’s stores and it has been difficult to buy, in the state-controlled sector as well as in the private, products like bread, cookies, or sweets. The shortage has shot up prices of flour on the informal market, where it rose from 5 CUP (Cuban pesos) to 25 CUP per pound in the last month. Even so, it’s difficult to find.
This weekend various private business establishments that sell bread were displaying a sign saying “There is no bread” on their counters.
The owner of a private bakery on Calle Tulipán, in Nuevo Vedado, was explaining to her customers this Sunday that it would be the last day of the year that she would open to the public until waiting to see if things got better in January.
The self-employed women explains that she has received almost nothing for the past few weeks and that none of her suppliers “wants to risk himself” by making bread, sweets, or cookies even if they have a reserve of flour because the inspectors “are following them” to see where they got it from.
“They told me that a bag of flour is at a thousand pesos right now on the street,” she says. But in addition to the risk that one assumes to get the product in an illegal manner, she maintains that “it doesn’t support the business… I’m closing and that’s it, because selling meringues and candies, all that brings is loss,” insists the woman while she closes with a padlock the grille of the establishment before leaving.
The cry of a bread vendor in the San Leopoldo neighborhood in Havana used to be heard every afternoon, until a few days ago many private businesses that work with flour have closed up due to the scarcity of the raw material. Those who have managed to keep selling have fewer products and the fear that their reserves will run out before the end of the year, according to testimonies gathered by 14ymedio.
In La Timba, a low-income area very close to the Plaza of the Revolution, the pizzeria Loren has been closed for three weeks because of the lack of flour. The owners have taken advantage of it to do some repairs in the place and paint the facade, but worries over the future of the business is souring the close of 2018 for them.
Various private restaurants with a menu based on Italian dishes, especially pizza, cannelloni, and lasagna, have also reduced their offerings. The biggest and busiest are still open, but their owners can’t be sure how much longer they will be able to remain open.
In the Havana restaurant Ring Pizza del Vedado they have opted to not offer cannelloni because they prefer to use the flour they have left for making pizzas, which “has a bigger market,” as an employee explained to this newspaper.
Minister Quiñones predicted that the situation would start to improve before the end of the year. “We are working intensely, all the personnel of the milling industry and of the business group, to make sure that normalcy returns,” she pointed out this Monday.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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