14ymedio, Havana, May 1, 2021 — Cuba’s Ministry of Domestic Commerce responded on Thursday to the complaints about the sale of vegetable oil donated by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The product will “be replaced” in stores selling rationed goods when the disruptions in domestic production are resolved, the ministry said in a statement.
The response came after images were posted online of one-liter bottles of Russian-made cooking oil with a label sale indicating their sale was prohibited. The bottles were part of a lot donated by the WFP.
Photos of the bottles posted on Facebook drew strong criticism and calls for the United Nations to issue a statement on the sale of a food intended to be distributed free of charge, regardless of the ministry’s statement that the sale was justified due to technical problems at Cuban factories.
According to the ministry’s statement, packaged goods intended for sale in the rationed market “suffered disruptions” and, faced with the prospect of not being able to provide these items for the so-called “basic basket” of essential goods, “devised alternatives that will allow deliveries to be made.”
The statement adds that the one-liter sized bottles of oil had come from the World Food Program’s stockpiles in the country, adding they will be “replaced” once domestic production has been restored.
During the months of May and June, the oil will be sold in Cotorro, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros, Guanabacoa, San Miguel del Padrón and East Havana.
The ministry did not indicate when the WFP made its donation nor the reason the product has not been distributed to the public until now.
At the end of April the Russian government donated to Cuba, through the WFP, several tons of food valued at more than a million dollars. The event was marked by a ceremony attended by the Russian ambassador to Cuba, Andrei Guskov, along with several government officials.
It is not the first time accusations like this have come to light. After Hurricane Irma slammed the island in 2017, several foreign governments, non-governmental organization and UN agencies sent donations to alleviate shortages of food, medicine, water and construction materials. Several flood victims later complained that the state had charged them for mattresses, stoves and even coal.
In response to the criticism, the government passed a law stipulating that any disaster relief from overseas is to be provided to the Cuban population free of charge. However, recipients will still have to pay for distribution and transportation costs according to Resolution 645, adopted by the Ministry of Finance and Pricing.
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