A Pound of Sugar Approaches 200 pesos ($8.30) on the Informal Cuban Market

Sign in window: “We buy sugar.” A private business buys sugar from customers to make their chocolates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 26 February 2023 — Rice and sugar seem to have launched a competition in Cuba to see which increases the most in price on the informal market. While rice already exceeds 200 pesos ($8.30) a pound in several areas of the Island, sugar, once the national emblem, is on its heels and also sells for around that number and, in some provinces, even exceeds it.

“I sell 17 pounds of sugar at 180 pesos if you buy them all; if you only want a part then it’s 190,” reads an ad published in a sales group on Facebook that in a few hours accumulated dozens of comments. “It’s in Central Havana and I don’t have home service,” said the informal merchant, who shortly after updated the information with a brief message: “Sold, and I don’t have any more.”

In the previous harvest, the production of Cuban sugar mills barely reached 480,000 tons of sugar out of the 911,000 that were planned, a failure to meet the target that caused a deficit of 60,000 tons for national consumption and seriously affected exports.

Given the disastrous numbers, the product has been even more restricted in the ration stores in recent months. “They only sold me one pound, and they say that this month it’s not my turn anymore,” a lamented a retiree this Friday, noting that she buys her basic normal basket in a place on Conill Street, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución.

“During the Special Period (the crisis of the 90s) at least there was no shortage of sugar,” said the woman. “Many people survived those years thanks to sugar water, so now the situation is worse because we don’t even have that.” Comparisons between the current economic difficulties that the Island is going through and those suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union are frequent.

“In my house we permanently had a bowl with sugar on the table so that everyone who came to visit us could eat a few tablespoons to be able to continue on their way,” recalls Evaristo, a resident of the neighborhood of El Cerro who this week bought “ten pounds of sugar at 170 pesos” and considers himself “lucky” because “you can’t find it now at that price.”

Recently, the Ministry of Internal Trade recognized that the delivery of sugar from the rationed market will depend on the existing availability in the country. The first results of the 2022-2023 harvest indicate that production will again be down in the dumps and far from the goal of 455,198 tons.

There is also no shortage of those who see in the product deficit a possibility of doing business by importing substitutes. “I sell 500 grams of aspartame, a sweetener that sweetens more than sugar. It is ideal for businesses that prepare sweets. The bag costs 60 dollars. I only accept this currency,” reads a very popular classifieds portal.

Others, given the price similarities between some foods, propose a barter. “I will trade five pounds of rice for three pounds of white sugar,” suggests someone in another Facebook group where the exchange of goods has gained space. The galloping loss of value of the Cuban peso makes many prefer to offer their merchandise in exchange for other foods rather than receive the national currency.

Inside people’s homes consumption is cut, coffee is taken more bitter, and fruit desserts in syrup are scarce. “Now I can’t even think of offering you anything sweet when you visit. The little sugar we have left is for the family’s consumption. There is not one more spoonful for anyone,” says Evaristo, who was born in 1959, when Cuban sugar mills achieved more than 5 million tons of sugar.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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