Distribution of Donations: Bread for Today, Hunger for Tomorrow

A Youth Labor Army market in Havana lists few foods for sale while empty stalls predominate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 29, 2021 — The Cuban communists announced in the State newspaper Granma that they have begun the distribution of food products that have come from international donations (Russia, Mexico, etc.) into the network of state warehouses.

An insistent rumor had been circulating on social media: the products will end up for sale in the MLC stores — which take payment only in foreign currencies — in order to obtain foreign exchange at a crucial time for the regime. But this has been flatly denied by the Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz, who took the opportunity to link the distribution of donations with the rollout of the August standard family basket – in the ration stores — in 98% of the country’s municipalities, another way for the regime to appease the social unrest that led to the explosion of July 11th.

Under the communist regime, the regulated basket continues to be the only option for those Cubans who don’t have dollars, and therefore can’t shop in MLC stores, or informal markets, where it’s easier to find essential products, but at greatly inflated prices.

This perverse mechanism, which eliminates at its roots Cubans’ right to free choice, has been in force for more than 60 years. Never before in history has a scarcity-based rationing system lasted so long in a country. In Spain, it did so for almost two decades after the civil war. In Cuba there have been no wars, no climatic or natural disasters. Only the express will of a communist regime for controlling the population from the point of view of consumption.

Now, at a critical moment when Cubans’ blindfolds have completely fallen off their eyes, and they’ve identified the communist government as responsible for the national economic disaster, the authorities have once again trotted out the standard family basket in an attempt to sidestep the protests. They have a difficult task.

Basically because when you look closely behind the standard basket, you realize how perverse the mechanism is. Let’s take an example: each Cuban receives from the “ration book” a total of 7 pounds of rice per month. This amount is set by central planning because rice is a product in high demand in Cuba. And they may be right, but what about those Cubans who don’t like rice and would rather eat, say, cookies, or taro, or potatoes? That doesn’t matter to the planner. Cubans, all Cubans, regardless of their tastes and preferences, have to eat rice. And whoever doesn’t like it can do whatever they want with their 7 pounds. But can you come up with a stupider mechanism for regulating consumer choice? It’s hard.

Even more so when, as a result of the donations received, it’s announced that those 7 pounds for the month will be increased by an additional 3,  so that if you don’t like rice, the regime will now give you 10 pounds. The book and its political regulation are above individual preferences. No free choice is possible. Well, a solution may be for you to sell your monthly ration to a neighbor, or give it to someone. But it doesn’t matter what individual Cubans do with the rations that the state gives them. All that matters is the need to deliver that rice, in this case 7 pounds plus another 3.

Who can get their head around this distribution mechanism, with arbitrary allocation, perverse in the 21st century? When will the Cuban communists realize the uselessness of the basket and all the instruments they have to control the population? Someone will say that they have been a success, in view of the last 62 years in which they have done and undone whatever they wanted in Cuba. And therein lies the quandary, that this is over, that there is no way to continue deceiving and manipulating Cubans, and that either they change, or they are going to have a very bad time.

The communist planners know more than we think. If that economic intelligence had been put in the service of a rational and efficient functioning of the economy, it would be a different story.

The Minister of Internal Trade explained that, thanks to donations and the existence of large volume of a certain group of products, food modules have been designed with rice, pasta, grains, and sugar, which will be delivered at a rate of one per household, to all Cuban families, gradually. The territorial sequence established for deliveries is Havana, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Guantánamo and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud, giving priority to the most densely populated areas where the social explosion of 11-J was most intense.

In addition, she said that products arriving in the country through donations that cannot be “confirmed for all the households on an equal basis” (without explaining very well what this confirmation consists of) will not be included in the distribution; and this is where the logical doubts arise about what is going to happen to these “non-approved” products and where they are going to go.

Meanwhile, canned meat delivery is announced in specific places; oil in other areas; cans of tuna, in others; beans; powdered milk to those over 65 in other areas, and thus, by means of a light rain the authorities intend to put out the fires of social protest and at the same time announce that, if you behave well, you will have powdered milk or tuna. A series of political arbitrariness that confirms the perverse nature of the system of the regulated basket, the old ration book.

There are those who think that the regime is going to take advantage, for its own benefit, of the international donations in order to calm the social protests and buy time. Bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. The underlying problems are not solved with donations, but by changing the productive structure of the nation so that Cuba, the Cubans, can be more efficient and productive. Moreover, there are those who think that these donations will merely act as a palliative of the most intense pain that the nation is suffering, and as soon as they are used up, which will surely happen, the discomfort will return because then there will be no one to stop it.

If the regime wanted to buy time with this distribution of products in order to promote structural reforms, its action would be correct. But we fear that the necessary 180-degree turn towards economic freedom that Cuba needs doesn’t enter into its plans. The donations will be bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.

Translated by Tomás A.


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