14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 March 2016 – Expectations soared two weeks ago when Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura affirmed on national television that the first distribution of potatoes was imminent. This Thursday afternoon the first lines formed at Havana’s markets, in hopes that Good Friday would bring, in addition to a holiday, the return to Cuban plates of the precious tuber.
As the evening progressed, the crowds of people anxious to return home with full bags grew. Their main fear was that the so-called “agros” – the farm markets – wouldn’t open, due to the religious celebration, but starting at midnight dozens of trucks were loaded up at the warehouses and parked outside the capital city’s main markets. “Operation potato” was underway.
In order to obstruct the work of the inevitable resellers, sales were limited to ten pounds per customer, and the order was given to maintain a strict watch so that buyers didn’t go through the line again and again. In any event, because it was Good Friday, some were accompanied by their children who didn’t have school.
The price announced on the signs of the stalls was one Cuban peso a pound (about 4¢ US). But a few yards from the official vendors a bag with ten pounds was selling for 20 Cuban pesos or its equivalent, two Cuban Convertible pesos. The customers for these “parallel offers” were those who preferred to pay more to avoid the long lines, or to say it in another way, those who could permit themselves the luxury of substituting cold hard cash for waiting time.
Although the drought and the subsequent unseasonable rains have ravaged the fields, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are optimistic and have predicted that, thanks to “staggering the cultivation,” there will be more potatoes this year than last. An announcement consumers have received with suspicion, preferring to buy every potato they can now… before the tuber rejoins the long list of products that are unavailable.