Is Cuba on the Verge of a Food Crisis?

The independent agricultural organizations of the Communist Party have denounced the limits imposed by the state when it comes to producing, distributing and selling their products. (S. VAlice)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor, Valencia, 29 May 2020 — On several occasions, I have pointed out that the crisis provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic is creating serious problems for the communist authorities in Cuba with regards to feeding the population. The lines to buy a quarter of chicken or a bottle of oil generate disturbances of public order, and break with the necessary confinement of the population to confront the virus.

The lack of food in Cuba has been a structural element that repeats itseld as a consequence of a horrible design of the structure of property ownership in the Cuban countryside. Under normal conditions, when the harvests are insufficient to feed the population, the situation is resolved by resorting to emergency imports of grains and poultry, designed to deal with possible famines.

Now, the scenario is different. With no foreign exchange to make such purchases, and considering that other countries may have the same difficulties in producing food, the alarm has gone off, and this is reflected in a note from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) that has just been dessiminated. This body concludes that “if measures are not taken, 14 million more people could be pushed into poverty and hunger in 11 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.”

Similarly, the agency notes with concern, “We still have time to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from becoming a hunger pandemic in the small island developing states in the Caribbean.”

Accustomed to receiving positive evaluations on the United Nations human development indicators (which seek, with little success, to substitute GDP as a reference for the economies), the communist regime in Havana absolutely does not appreciate being part of a group of countries identified by WFP for their serious food problems that can lead to famines.

But this time, WFP’s projection has been rigorously prepared, comparing the food security evaluations carried out in 2019 with the analysis of a set of economic indicators after the Covid-19 outbreak, with the results of remote surveys completed in 2020.

Through this comparative analysis it has been possible to assess the impact of the pandemic on access to markets, food security and livelihoods in the different countries. And after carrying out this analysis, the results have not been positive for Cuba.

ECLAC estimates, showing a decrease in GDP of -5.3% for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020, set off alarms, which, together with the loss of foreign investment, tourism revenues and remittances from abroad, make the situation even more complicated and difficult for the Castro authorities to manage.

In sum, the WFP report warns that the situation that may occur in Cuba, in terms of food security, will not be very different from the one that ends up happening in, for example, the Delmas 32 neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, the capital from Haiti, or in the Dry Corridor of Central America.

By placing Cuba on the same list of countries with food threats and possible famines, such as Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and small island developing states in the Caribbean, the perspective of the communist regime should necessarily change and it needs to do so as soon as possible. WFP warns that hunger in Cuba can reach  the same serious conditions as in these countries, which are usually the usual reference for attacks by the communist regime, considering them “neoliberal.”

In addition, if this were not enough, the report warns of the serious additional effect that the hurricane season in the Caribbean can cause in Cuba, which, as every year, begins in June, and that poses an additional risk for the production of food for the population.

For all these reasons, the Program calls on these countries to provide “additional support for the beneficiaries of national social protection programs and expanding their coverage to more groups, such as migrants and people without formal employment.” However, the lack of financial resources is considered as a negative point in achieving this objective.

For this reason, the report refers to the need to resort to the assistance of international financial institutions and the community of advanced countries, to respond quickly and adequately to the hunger caused by the Covid-19. It is evident that this is going to demand from the Cuban communist authorities a different position than the one they maintain towards institutions, such as the IMF or the World Bank. Will they be willing to do so?

According to the WFP report, it is the responsibilty of these countries to manage this scenario, overcome it and avoid possible food risks to the population, according to the WFP Report. In the official Castro press the authorities’ harangues to farmers to increase production have multiplied in recent weeks, but no measures have been adopted to make the supply of food more flexible and increase.

At the same time, the independent agricultural organizations of the Communist Party have denounced the limits imposed by the state when it comes to producing, distributing and selling their products. The situation in the Cuban countryside has reached a remarkable degree of deterioration and may go further, as a consequence of the effects of the Covid-19.

The communist government of Havana must be aware that, in the absence of efficient policies that allow the country’s organization of productive agriculture to transform, the situation may end up being much worse than it is today. Perhaps the time has come to put ideology in its right place and bet on efficiency and productivity. Time is running out.

Editorial Note: This text was originally published on the Cubaeconomy blog  and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.


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