Cuba Reduces Food Prices: Comments From the Cash Register / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Many people consider the drop in prices insufficient when compared to their wages. (14ymedio)
Many people consider the drop in prices insufficient when compared to their wages. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 22 April 2016 — The Carlos III shopping center in Havana Center opened its doors this morning before an expectant public looking for the price reductions on some products that was announced on Primetime News last night at eight. On leaving the market, many customers expressed dissatisfaction with a measure they consider “insufficient.”

Outside the shopping complex, a parking attendant in his 50’s commented on those who crowded around waiting for the opening. “They are doing this to try to shut people up, people are very discontented.” A young pedicab driver added, “I see it more as tremendous chutzpah, the prices they’ve marked are the same as they were when these stores opened and it was an abuse then.”

A few minutes after the market opened, most of the customers went directly to the food departments, which is where the new prices are most visible. There, looking over what was in the freezer, a gentleman who said he was a maintenance worker at a polyclinic in Central Havana explained, “Marking everything down is good, but for me it is still going to be hard to feed my family as God commands.” A gentleman responded, “I’m self-employed, but it seems insufficient to me (…), I’m going to lose a few pounds but still it’s not enough.”

With an empty bag and a scowl, a retired seventy-something named Lazarus responded to a lady who was talking loudly about “the new measures.” “What measures, madam? So I can lose 40 pounds? All this is a joke and a lie. I get 270 Cuban pesos [about $11] a month for my retirement, I worked forty-some years. How can I live? Thanks to family I have abroad, if I didn’t I would die of hunger.”

The lady, who didn’t want to discuss it, murmured, “Well, any reduction is noticeable, especially on chicken and picadillo [ground ‘meat’, often largely or entirely soy], it’s better than it was, clearly.”

As usual in these circumstances, people are reluctant to speak up to someone who presents themselves as a journalist, but there are always exceptions. “The wages today are not what they need to be for many workers, and almost no one lives on their monthly wages. If we count what people ‘divert’ and ‘steal’ [from their workplaces] and what they ‘invent,’ then they can come to this store once a month and spend 20 or 30 CUCs, but this is what an engineer earns as a monthly salary,” explained a young man at the exit of the market, comparing the average Cuban salary with the price reductions.

Reinaldo, owner of a cafe in Old Havana, also dared to comment. “The truth is I do not see much of note in these price reductions. For me who buys in bulk, at best I would get some business, but for someone who buys one kilogram, they’re going to save enough to buy the kids a few suckers,” he said.

A couple of hours after opening, the Carlos III market, the only work of the Revolution which bears the name of a king of Spain, had returned to normal. A few curious people looking on from the sidewalk asked those coming out of the store if it was true about the lower prices. A gentleman with a sense of humor responded this way: “Did you bring a truck to carry your purchases?”

NOTE: The average monthly salary in Cuba, according to data from last December’s session of the National Assembly, is 640 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of about 26 dollars US. 1 CUC = 1 US dollar.