Authorities in Havana Investigate the Theft of 1,293 Pounds of Potatoes

Vendors unloading potatoes at the produce market on 17th and K streets in Havana’s Vedado district / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2024 — Local leaders and police officers sprang into action after receiving anguished calls from residents of the Rampa neighborhood in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution district on Wednesday. The cause: the theft of 1,293 pounds of potatoes intended for roughly 431 residents — a rate of three pounds per person — who suddenly found themselves without access to the product.

According to a post on Facebook by the Vedado Administrative Council, after receiving reports that there were no potatoes at the market on 17th and K streets, Council President Pedro Lizardo Garcés Escalona, went to investigate. Practically speaking, the potato supply should have been enough to feed everyone.

After confirming that there had been “violations,” he contacted the Municipal Office of Inspection and the police, who determined there was a shortfall that “could not be accounted for.” The market’s administrator, the post states, was detained and taken to the police station at Zapata and C streets “so that the appropriate investigative process could be carried out.”

Garcés Escalona, who also provided details of the robbery on social media, claimed that during the inspection, “weight tampering” was discovered and that the market had been selling fewer pounds of potatoes than customers had been paying for. However, the amount he reported stolen was greater than the figure reported on the council’s webpage. His was also the figure that was cited in an article published in Tribuna de la Habana. According to the preliminary count, 1,609 pounds of potatoes were missing, enough to feed 536 consumers.

“You shouldn’t play around with the public’s food supply, much less profit from it in the midst of a complicated situation like the country is experiencing”

“You shouldn’t play around with the public’s food supply, much less profit from it in the midst of a complicated situation like the country is experiencing,” said Garcés Escalona.

Potatoes have only been available for purchase on the island for the last fews weeks, a period that corrsponds to their harvest season. A high-demand product, Cubans are willing to pay high prices for them, currently around 200 pesos a pound. As a result, vendors are eager to get hold of them, even if it means acquiring them “under the table.”

An article published in Tribuna several weeks ago focused the theft of potatoes from state coolers, “where tubers are selected as seeds for future harvests or as reserves that that might be needed for rationing in the event of a shortage.”

The article lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, which once provided the island with a year-round supply. Since then, potatoes have gone from being abundant — something that piled up, “rotting away in in sacks in front almost every food stall” — to being a “strategic” food.

The news, which was also reported in state-run media, noted that thefts from government-run food warehouses have become commonplace, with company directors almost always implicated in these crimes. The disappearance of 133 tons of chicken from a Havana warehouse, which was reported on national television, is just the most recent case of  “diversions” in domestic commerce, “one which the public most often associates with corruption,” as Prime Minister Manuel Marrero described it at an auditing conference several days ago.


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