In March, the Price of Rice in Cuba Skyrocketed by 23.1 Percent Despite Donations From Vietnam

It is almost impossible to buy rice without spending the night in the doorways of the points of sale to get a number in the line. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 26 April 2023 — The rise in prices accelerated in March in Cuba, where eating and drinking is already almost 11% more expensive than when the year began. With an increase of 4.5% in the third month of the year alone, acquiring food and non-alcoholic beverages costs 75% more than in March 2022.

The overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 3.2% in March, compared to 2.6% in February and 2.32% in January; the increase not only does not stop but increases at a faster rate. According to the data published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei) relating to the third month of the year – and just as the fourth is about to end — the data show an increase of 8.4% in 2023, which is 46.4% higher than a year ago.

The continuous rise in the price of rice, a staple in the Cuban diet, is alarming. It increased in March by 23.1%, three times more than in February, when it already cost 7% more than in January, despite donations from Vietnam. The shortage has shot the price up to 200 pesos ($8) per pound in the informal market, very close to the price recorded for a pound of pork.

At the beginning of March, the Government had only 2,090 tons of rice for the standard basket, when 36,000 tons are needed. The 2022 harvest remained at 120,000 tons, far from the 700,000 necessary for national consumption for a year, and the situation will not improve this year, since only 168,032 of the planned 345,948 acres were planted.

The price of white cheese also keeps increasing, and after being the most expensive food in February with 13.3%, in March it rose again by 15.1%.

Liquid milk, increasingly scarce on the Island even in Sancti Spíritus where powdered milk is hardly ever consumed, rose by 8% in March. Poultry (5.1%) and pork (1.28%) close the list of foods that are most difficult to buy, while tomatos and peppers are again in the classification of products that decrease in price, with -17.9% and -15.4% respectively.

Food consumed outside the home, included in restaurants and hotels, once again contributes to the unstoppable rise of food prices. That group is the one that has risen the most so far this year, with 13.3%, adding 3.4% in March. Compared to last year, the increase reaches 63.6%.

Within this category, lunch and dinner have the biggest rise with 4.3%, followed by snacks (3.4%), prepared takeaway foods (3.1%) and breakfast (2.6%). It closes with soft drinks, which rose by 2.4%.

Again, transport, despite its poor service, was the third group of products and services that became most expensive (3%), and the fuel crisis had not yet begun. The price increase so far this year is 6.8%, and the year-on-year variation amounts to 18.26%. The largest increases occur in the inner city, with 11.3% for trucks and vans and 11.4% for taxis. In the case of urban transport, colectivos, “collective” taxis, rose by 4.4% and taxis by 8%. The group closes with busses, which also went up in price, although only by 0.5%.

Education, which usually has more discreet growth, rose significantly this month by 3% and accumulates a rise of 5.3% in 2023, almost 20% compared to March 2022. There were also  price increases for various goods and services (1.57%); housing services (1.1%); recreation and culture; clothing and footwear; and health and communications, all of them below 1%.

It is no wonder that the only thing that drops in price in Cuba is the group of alcoholic beverages and tobacco, although even here the fall is more moderate. After decreasing by 4% this month, prices stand at -14.6% so far this year and -6.8% compared to March 2022. The decline for this group, the only one that has prevented inflation from being even greater, is fundamentally due to strong tobacco, which decreases again in March, although this time only by 5.38%, compared to the price drops of January and February, which were around 8% on average.

The official figures confirm a reality installed on the Island since the entry into force of the Ordering Task,* which despite being designed as a set of measures to last for at least a decade has left a bleak panorama in the day-to-day life of the population without the authorities taking real measures to tackle it. In addition, the situation can only get worse with the lack of fuel in April, a deficit that will affect the production and transport of food, making everything worse.

The Onei data help to follow the evolution of prices, but it is essential to take into account the independent figures that include the informal market as much as possible. The American economist Steve Hanke placed annual inflation in Cuba at 80% at the end of March.  Preliminary data for April reduced it to 62%, which locates  the Island in 13th place in the ranking for inflation.

In addition, the Cuban peso has depreciated, according to his calculations, by 61% against the dollar, and this puts Cuba in fourth place, behind Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Lebanon.

*Translator’s note: The so-called Ordering Task [Tarea Ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency, which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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