14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 7 January 2021 — “It’s 130 pesos,” Lucinda Torres, a resident of Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, heard the clerk say, as she finished her shopping at the rationed market for the month of January on Wednesday. “Before I came with 20 or 30 pesos and my rationbook and it was enough for almost all my purchases. The prices have multiplied by about 10 times and my retirement has barely increased four,” Torres calculates on the fly.
“I don’t understand what they are doing to us, they want to implant capitalism in us, but in communism,” she says.
This first week of the year has been a headache for many Cubans, but especially for the elderly, who now have to shell out hundreds of pesos to take home the basic basket that the Government sells in the ration stores. Rice is between 6 and 10 pesos a pound, beans are between 14 and 16, minced meat at twenty, one bread roll for a peso, it all adds up to an account that does not make ends meet.
An employee with more than 20 years of experience working in front of the public in a ration store in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución explains to 14ymedio that what causes the most concern are the high prices compared to the quality of service and products.
“Since I hung up the sign with the new prices, people have not stopped complaining, most of all the elderly,” he says. “They are partly right. For example, the rice that came this month is so bad that I don’t even want it for free; it’s broken, dirty and wet. If you’re going to pay a few pennies for it, that’s fine, but not six or seven pesos.”
Similar complaints also came to the ‘normed’ bread sold in bakeries, an 80-gram roll was 5 centavos before, now it’s one peso. Due to its poor quality, this staple food has been the main target of criticism from the population for decades, since it went from the ‘liberated’ (unrationed) market to the rationed market in the 1990s.
In some localities the bread sits on the counters unsold, thus illustrating the displeasure of many. In Ciego de Ávila in recent days, state trade officials reported that they had to “redefine the destination of some 8,000 rolls” of bread because the customers would not buy them.
In that same province, the director of the Business Group of Commerce, Reinaldo Frómeta Romero, explained to the local media that the new food prices in the Family Attention System (SAF) have resulted in many of those registered in that system have not been helped in recent days. In these facilities, many elderly people who survive on low incomes eat their daily meals there without having to spend large sums of money.
In Havana, at the SAF establishment located on 39th Street, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, an employee told this newspaper that almost no one has visited the premises since January 1. According to official data, this project serves 1,445 establishments throughout the country with a total of 77,661 registered users, including 36,298 retirees, 6,251 people with disabilities and 12,773 on social assistance.
“I know almost all of them, they come here every day in search of their lunch and their food. Nothing we sold was more than one peso and now it costs several pesos.” The man shows the price list and the ration of rice that used to cost 20 centavos is now two pesos and the bean ration is three, “a figure that most of those who come here cannot pay daily,” he says.
“Pensions went up, it is true but it happens that many of my clients do not even have a government salary, they survive doing work under the table or collecting raw materials that they later sell,” he adds.
According to official data from the Ministry of Internal Trade, the new menu costs between 8 and 13 pesos, that is, between 496 and 806 pesos per month.
The head of that ministry, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, speaking the Roundtable TV program, said that five provinces reported a reduction in visits to these facilities, due to the increase in prices, among them Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Cienfuegos and the Isle of Youth. In the case three of them, more than 50% of those surveyed did not come to buy food, and in the last two the number was 49%.
The minimum pension that the Government has set starting January is 1,528 pesos but the prices for electricity, gas, transportation, fixed-line telephones, water and other basic services also increased.
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