14ymedio, Havana, November 1, 2023 — On Wednesday, the provincial government of Cienfuegos decreed a cap on the prices of food sold in both state and private markets. It is expected that the measure, which does not take into account the abysmal difference between the real cost of the product and that imposed by the authorities, will cause friction between sellers, customers and inspectors, as has already happened in other provinces .
Alexandre Corona, provincial governor and signer of the resolution, assured that the decision was the result of consensus during a meeting with market administrators, producers and heads of market plazas. According to the official, before the agreement they tried to pay special attention to the farmers. “We talked to them and came to the conclusion that (the new prices) were affordable, since they were getting a 30% profit,” he said. About the opinion of private traders, or whether a round of consultations was also held with them, not a word was said.
According to the authorities, the foods with modified prices will be sweet potatos, which will be sold at 15 pesos per pound, although currently in the Plaza La Calzada supply and demand market in the city of Cienfuegos they are offered for 90; cassava, previously 70 pesos a pound, will now be 15 pesos; bananas will drop from 80 pesos per pound to 15; pumpkin, previously at 70 pesos per pound will now sell for 15; and guava, with an informal price of 60 pesos per pound, will drop to 15.
In the prices that this newspaper compiles weekly in the markets of several provinces, La Calzada square has stood out in recent months for having the highest prices, even for some products such as beans, and higher than in Havana. The cuts imposed by the authorities represent between 75% and 83% less than current prices.
The prices of bananas (20 pesos per pound), plantains (10), green papaya (6), rayona papaya (9), corn meal (30) and sweet corn at 10 pesos were also hit. However, the prices for a pound of rice (72), black beans (70) and red beans (75) will remain the same.
“Only products acquired in other provinces to be sold specifically in La Plaza del Mercado, in the main city, may be marketed for the value of the purchase price plus 40%,” stressed Corona, who added as one more exception for pushcart sellers (street vendors) that they will be able to sell their products for 30% more than their capped value.
Municipal administrations may also impose prices that they deem appropriate, as long as these fluctuate below the value assigned to food by the provincial government.
Although the authorities insist that the resolution was taken in full agreement with producers and merchants, suspicions that one party or another may try to “play head games” is a widespread concern. According to the local newspaper 5 de septiembre, Norjis Lázaro Estepa, owner of the local development project Finca La Muralla, fears that the “unfair competition” that exists from street vendors and some state companies will continue to affect his profits.
This is the case of Frutas Selectas, which “has managed to sell sweet potatoes for 45 pesos per pound and has contracted fields of food at prices that leave us at a total disadvantage. Sometimes they even earn more than the guajiros [farmers],” he denounced.
For their part, the authorities insist that the announcement of the new measure responds to the need to control what is sold in the province and avoid illegalities. This function, however, carried out mostly by inspectors, is not without obstacles.
“Sometimes, the trucks that arrive on Saturday at La Calzada with sweet potatoes and cassava, for example, choose to leave as soon as they are flagged for some type of violation,” explained Paulino Díaz, head of the Comprehensive Supervision Directorate, who demanded more respect from the merchants for the “institutionality.”
According to the directors, between these behaviors and the “trafficking” in the fields — almost impossible to control — large quantities of essential foods, such as rice, ’escape’ to “unforeseen destinations.” For example in the case of cassava, they explain, it is known that it is hoarded by pig farmers, who use it as food for livestock, depriving a good part of the population of the product.
“The situation even led to surveillance at border points with neighboring provinces,” they say. What officials do not suspect, or have decided to ignore, is that the difference between the state prices and the informal prices will, in a short time and as has happened on other occasions, affect the consumer directly, who after buying at good prices for a few weeks , will have to look for those same foods in reseller markets for three, four, and even five times their value.
Something similar happened last July in Sancti Spíritus, when merchants refused to accept the price controls imposed by the authorities and ended up abandoning their stalls in the Market Square, in the center of the main city, and sold their merchandise ’on the left’ in the street.
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