14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 14 January 2019 — The lack of goods in Cuban agricultural markets after the year-end celebrations is almost a Christmas tradition, but this time, the recovery is slow in coming. The Ejército Juvenil del Trabajo (EJT / Youth Labor Army) market on 17th Street in El Vedado is one of more than 170 places that sell agricultural products in the capital that has for the past two weeks lacked adequate stock.
“A combination of several factors are affecting us a lot in obtaining provisions,” Gerardo Gómez explained to 14ymedio; Gómez is a private truck driver who supplies merchandise to the market on San Rafael Street, one of the most important in Havana after the closure of Cuatros Caminos.
“There is always, at the end of the year, a reduction in the offerings, because there is little work done in the fields and the truck drivers also do not like to transport during the holidays,” adds Gómez. “But this year we have the additional issue of problems with transportation because police controls have increased at the access roads to the city.”
In recent months the authorities have stepped up inspections of cargo vehicles entering the capital to reduce the arrival of products in the informal markets. The controls also seek to reduce the consumption of fuel stolen from state companies that often ends up in the hands of private carriers.
Last December, a series of measures came into play that regulate the consumption of gasoline and diesel for private transportation owners destined for the transfer of passengers. “That is affecting us a lot because there was a lot of merchandise that also came in via the almendrones (a name that refers to the ’almond’ shape of the cars from the 1950’s used in this service) or the trucks that transport people (many trucks in Cuba are used for passenger service),” said the driver and mentioned smaller products such as onions and garlic.
Gómez adds that this situation is worsened because “there is a serious problem with animal feed and that is why very little meat is coming to this market”. On the premises at San Rafael Street the price of a pound of boneless pork reached a historical record at the beginning of January, when it rose to 60 cuban pesos, the equivalent of three days’ salary of a professional.
In a small paladar (private restaurant) near the market, the owners juggle to provide salads. “We were able to find fresh lettuce and cabbage but we had to buy canned pepper and beans from the stores,” says Carmina, who works at the Sabor Criollo restaurant.
The canned vegetables that Carmina acquired came from Spain. “They are expensive but what else are we going to do if we do not find the product in the agricultural markets,” laments the woman. Cuba spends more than 2 billion dollars every year importing food and more than 80% of the food consumed on the Island comes from abroad.
“Even the carrots we had to buy in cans because the supply in the markets is very unstable, sometimes they have it and sometimes they don’t. Now we have to go very early to the markets to obtain something because there is little merchandise and it runs out quickly,” she laments.
On December 25, Cuban first vice-president, Salvador Valdés Mesa, visited the Villoldo complex, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, where the state agricultural market La Palma is located. His presence was reported in the official press — which also tweeted the news with a link to the article and photo of Valdés Mesa — and this generated an avalanche of criticism from readers because the photo showed him standing in front of displays full of products.
Now, the market shown in the images as overflowing with products, is also suffering from the reduction in supply. “What we have right now is plantains, green tomatoes and some very small eggplants”, one of the workers of the place tells this newspaper by telephone. “We do not have pork for sale but perhaps by the weekend we will get a supply,” he concludes.
Employees and customers are hoping the situation improves. “We are giving it time to see if sales pick up,” says Luisa, 72, who goes the Tulipán Street EJT market. “It is true that at every year-end many products are unavailable but we are almost to the middle of January and the supply has not improved”.
The retiree says she is hopeful about the application of the new tax on idle land that took effect earlier this year in the provinces of Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas. “There are many people who have land and are not using it to plant food,” laments Luisa. “This can push them to produce.”
However, Carmina believes that the problem is more complex than unproductive lands. “The entire supply chain is damaged, because of the lack of feed for the animals or fertilizers for the crops, the transportation does not work efficiently and the prices are very high,” she summarizes.
At the paladar where she works, they are seriously considering “removing some dishes from the menu because they can’t guarantee their availability with this lack of supply”.
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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