New Zealand Butter / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

atrapadosThe chicken comes from Canada, the label on the salt says it comes from Chile, the “tropical marinade” is “Made in the USA” and the sugar is from Brazil. The milk has a Dutch cow on the tetra pack, the lemon juice was processed in Mexico and the hamburger meat advertises in large letters that it is “one hundred percent Argentine beef.” The cheese package says that it’s Gouda from Germany, and the cookies have some Chinese characters explaining their origin, while the rice was cultivated in the paddies of Vietnam. We are drowning in the foreign!

So I asked an economist friend why the butter from the kiosk in our neighborhood is from New Zealand. Is it because we can’t produce such a basic food? And, I demanded, isn’t there some place closer we could get it from? The young woman, a graduate from the University of Havana, responded with the same phrase as the title of one of our comedy shows, “Let me tell you…” Then she told me that after finishing her studies they assigned her to complete her Social Service in an agency of the Ministry of the Food Industry. There, the fat freight invoices paid to transport goods from distant countries came to her attention. She took a list of some of them to the director, among which was one for powdered milk bought from some distant place in Oceania. The man cleared his throat and told her, “Don’t get mixed up in this because it’s rumored that the factory over there is owned by a Cuban higher-up…”

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that individuals well-placed in the framework of power of this country own industries abroad under cover names. Equally unacceptable would be privileging the importing of products from these companies over ones that are closer and cheaper. That is, that so much money from the national coffers would end up in the pockets of a few — also nationals — who are the same people who decide where to buy from. Like a skilled magician passes a wad of bills, without our being able to see it, from his left hand to his right hand. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why certain brands — really bad and exorbitantly priced — monopolize the shelves in our stores. The old trick of “buying from yourself” would cause the country to incur excessive charges and crowd out domestic products of higher quality and lower cost.

I know, reader, that all this seems to be the fruit of great paranoia on the part of my friend… and on mine as well; but I hope that one day we’ll know, we’ll know everything.

27 December 2012