Cuba Buys 500 Tons of Powdered Milk From the United States

The authorities talked about how expensive milk powder is in the international market / Escambray

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 1 March 2024 — It has been two days since the Spanish agency EFE released the news that Cuba had asked, for the first time in history, for help from the United Nations World Food Program in the face of the milk shortage, but the Government still does not say a single word. This Thursday, the Minister of the Food Industry, Alberto López Díaz, gave a press conference to reassure the population that children up to to seven years old are guaranteed powdered milk in the coming days, although the explanations were confusing.

The arrival of a Brazilian ship with 375 metric tons of the product “guarantees the distribution” for that group for an unspecified number of days. The minister also cited several contracts that add up, if the figures are correct, to 1,750 tons of powdered milk. He added that, since the country consumes 2,000 tons per month for children, medical diets, pregnant women and “social consumption,” these imports “guarantee stability in the distribution for March and April.”

The figures weren’t released immediately, but it was striking to begin with that, among the imported products, are 500 tons coming from the United States, “by virtue of the exceptions established by that Government to sell certain products to the Island, through immediate payment and in cash.” Although the authorities have recognized that they are allowed to buy certain products from the U.S., denouncing at the same time that the conditions are anomalous in international trade, they rarely refer to a specific acquisition through the exemptions from the embargo, in force since 2001.

He added that, since the country consumes 2,000 tons per month for children, medical diets, pregnant women and “social consumption,” these imports “guarantee stability in the distribution for March and April.”

The other contracts cited by the minister and disclosed by the official press consist of another 500 tons from Brazil, 245 tons from Canada and 600 tons from “other suppliers.”

López Díaz said that the problem is being progressively solved thanks to the “interest of the country’s top management in such a sensitive issue,” and stressed that powdered milk is marketed at high prices in the international market. Residents of Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey were more fortunate, he said, since there were no “affects” in these territories because they have fresh milk available.

The shortage of milk became more pressing last year, when almost all the provinces had to adjust their quotas, reduce the number of prioritized groups or replace the milk with products that were sometimes only remotely similar. The farmers complained about the “ordering task”* of January 2021 and the high inflation, which has devastated what was left of the Cuban economy.

Most say that the State does not compensate them or even cover the expenses generated by raising livestock, and they are paid little, late and poorly. Added to this are the consequences of non-compliance with the contracts for reasons beyond their control. The Government can impose fines and sanctions if the agreed-upon quota is not delivered, which is sometimes impossible due to the malnutrition of livestock from the lack of feed and the shortage of fuel for transport. There is also the general economic insecurity, which has caused an increase in the theft of animals.

“If you paid the farmers more and on time, you would see better results, but hey, they work and aren’t paid, and you can see the results today,” a user on social networks responded to the ministry’s note.

In mid-February, complaints from the population about problems with milk powder reached Cuban television. The Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, explained that most of the product is acquired in “distant markets, which makes the price more expensive and the delivery delayed.” The current distribution of this product to children up to seven years old comes from the country’s reserves, “the valuable contributions of the World Food Program (WFP) with donations, and loans from economic actors (private companies).”

The minister made a reference that at that time went unnoticed, since the WFP’s collaboration with Cuba – as with all countries with food needs – is historic. However, what had never happened and what the Government continues to avoid talking about is the request for urgent help.

“We confirm that the WFP has received an official communication from the (Cuban) Government requesting support to continue the monthly delivery of one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of milk for children under the age of seven throughout the country,” the delegation on the Island told EFE, which had access to the information through its sources.

The agency added that “it is the first time that Cuba has requested support by issuing an official communication at the highest level of WFP management” and did so, according to the agency, by sending a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment to the executive management of the WFP in Rome at the end of last year. Thanks to that, “144 tons of skimmed milk powder were sent, benefiting almost 48,000 children between seven months and three years old in Pinar del Río and Havana,” 6% of the minors that the Government wants to reach.

This Thursday, BBC World tried to obtain a statement from the Cuban Government, which so far will not discuss the issue.

In his press conference this Thursday, Minister Alberto López Díaz also mentioned the situation of the rationed bread, which is scarce if not absent “in the face of the unavailability of flour,” although, “according to the productions of each territory, the local authorities have been making determinations.”

Flour is abundant in Cuba, as 14ymedio reported yesterday, thanks to imports from private companies, some of which are linked to the State itself. With milk, the situation is the same. The private and informal wholesalers dominate the social networks, but to obtain the products you have to be able to pay for them, exposing the increasingly visible gap between the social classes that the Revolution supposedly abolished.

*Translator’s note: The Ordering Task that came into effect in 2021 eliminated the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso (CUP) as the only national currency. It raised the prices of basic goods and services, generating inflation, and created stores that take payment only in hard currency, which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards. Other measures targeted different elements of the economy.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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