Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The sale of potatoes in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 February 2017 – The unrationed distribution of potatoes, a symbol of Raul Castro’s government, has suffered a big setback. During the quarter of February, March and April, the distribution of potatoes was returned to the ration market throughout the country, with a limit of 14 pounds per person and requiring the presentation of a ration book, according to announcements made by the authorities in local media.

The measure has been taken to “ensure the population greater access to the purchase of potatoes,” says the official statement.

The purchase will be “recorded in the ration book and maintains the value of one peso”

The user will receive “14 pounds per capita (two in the first month and six in each of the two remaining months) at ​​state agricultural markets (MAE) and bodegas.” The purchase will be “recorded in the ration book and maintains the value of one peso.”

The areas that do not receive potatoes this month will be able to acquire the pounds corresponding to February along with the six pounds for March.

The potato was distributed exclusively in the controlled way until 2009 at a price of 0.45 Cuban pesos per pound, less than 2 cents US. After that, sales were uncontrolled at a price of 1 Cuban peso ($0.04 US), an amount the state described as subsidized.

Between the years 2014 and 2015, the potato harvest experienced important growth, going from a little more than 53,000 tonnes, to 123,000 tonnes. But domestic consumption also grew with the greater number of tourists coming to the country and the expansion of the private sector, especially those dedicated to food services.

The distribution of the nationally grown potato, with a lower yield than the imported, started this year in the municipalities of Artemisa, San Antonio, Guira de Melena and Alquizar, where the potatoes are grown. In the coming days potatoes will also arrive in the capital, where consumers are anxiously awaiting them.

“Something had to be done because when the potatoes came, the only ones who could buy them were the resellers and the hoarders,” complains Samuel, a retired resident of nearby Estancia Street, outside the Youth Labor Army on Tulipan Street.

For the man, “the measure favors the poorest people,” although he still thinks that “the price is very high” for those who are living on a pension. “I only get 180 Cuba pesos a month (roughly $7.20 US) and it’s not enough,” he says.

“That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,” an official told 14ymedio

However, María Victoria, a worker at a foreign exchange store, believes that “this is a step back, because at this point the ration book doesn’t have them.” The state employee is surprised by the return of the potato to the ration market. “Instead of going forward, I think we’re going backwards,” she said.

In the Ministry of Agriculture, all the workers who enter the imposing building and the drivers who wait outside for some official are talking about potatoes. “That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,” one of them tells 14ymedio, preferring to remain anonymous.

Last April, the Communist Party Congress ratified the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy, among which it was agreed “to continue the orderly and gradual elimination of products on the ration book.” However, the decision has not been implemented so far.