On the Roundtable TV Program the Ministers Have Solutions for All of Cuba’s Problems

Cuba’s Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, says there will be no problems with food. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 September 2019 — The Roundtable TV show once again featured a new parade of ministers summoned to appease the Cuban people, who are greatly affected by the energy situation despite the arrival of a Venezuelan oil tanker on September 14.

In this edition, the participants on the show were: Betsy Díaz Velázquez, Minister of Internal Trade; René Mesa Villafaña, Minister of Construction; Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, Minister of Agriculture; and Marta Oramas Rivero, First Deputy Minister of Transportation.

Díaz Velázquez appeared on TV to tell Cubans that food is guaranteed. And if it is not, it is not the fault of the Government. “There is a level of food (102,000 tons) that supports the standardized family basket and levels of sales released, as a result of measures promoted for four months,” she explained.

On October 1, rice, beans, sugar, oil, powdered milk and peas may be purchased, as can the products that are delivered in cycles, such as coffee, pasta, salt, domestic fuels and the usual level of fruit preserves.

Díaz specified that the authorities strive to maintain supplies to over-the-counter markets, even using urban transport to move merchandise, but when asked about the lack of over-the-counter rice for months, she replied: “That does not have to to do with the current situation, but with the lack of control and indiscipline of the main cadres.”

Some establishments, she also said, such as public pizzerias, have had to adjust schedules and even their refrigeration systems to ensure the storage of products.

With regards to Agriculture, Minister Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero explained that land, planting and harvesting are being prepared for the next campaign that “must be set in motion in February of the coming year.”

Rodriguez, who thanked the collaboration of workers in the sector, said that as of December between 119,000 and 120,000 tons of agricultural products, about 20 or 22 pounds per inhabitant, will be maintained by Acopio, the State procurement and distribution agency.

Although he acknowledged that the lack of fuel has an impact on distribution, he insisted that eggs are available, with a stable production of 124 million units per month, or roughly 11 eggs per person per month for a population of approximately 11.5 million people.

According to the Minister of Agriculture, the sector has the responsibility for concluding the delivery of beans, rice and corn for animal feed planned for this year. This should ensure, according to Rodriguez, the production of pork which, although it has known problems, “increases the deliveries of producers, which goes to the meat industry, and at another level to Commerce and Gastronomy.” The forecasts for fresh milk have also been met, he said, despite problems with transportation.

The Minister of Agriculture said that he has daily meetings with the provincial delegates to make the necessary decisions in each territory.

Rodríguez said that the pumping of water has stopped at peak times and that the producers start irrigating earlier and take advantage of the evening hours. The same pattern has been followed by large factories and workplaces, which have modified their schedules so as not to suspend their activities.

According to the minister, the elements of the plan most closely meeting forecasts are those that are sent abroad, that is the great export commitments — honey, tobacco, coffee and charcoal — as well as tourism.

Construction also played a prominent role in last night’s discussion. René Mesa Villafaña explained that more than 3,500 homes have to be completed, which would lead to an advance on the forecasts of a total of 28,000 homes.

To adjust to the situation, the ministry conducted a study that concluded that it was necessary to stop the activities that consume more energy, especially “those aimed at delaying the movement of earth and asphalt.”

In the case of cement, a major consumer of diesel and electricity, production destined for “prioritized” investments will be maintained, a situation that becomes more worrying in the Cuban capital where several repair works are now underway in anticipation of the celebration for the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding .

According to Mesa Villafaña, with the measures adopted by the sector, energy consumption will be reduced by 3 gigawatt (GW).

Works not stopped include those related to the tourism program, the industrial assemblies of the works of the Ministry of Agriculture, defense works, the civil construction of the Antillana de Acero factories, fuel tanks and other industrial works, irrigation systems and the lining of East-West Transfer channels, and works on the José Martí International Airport runway, in addition to the renewable energy program.

One of the most pressing problems for the population, passenger transport, was addressed by the first vice minister of that branch, Marta Oramas Rivero, who explained that railroad service has been the priority because of its great load capacity and energy efficiency. For this reason, she said, passenger cars have been added to trains “with the objective of protecting people who [previously] had to travel by bus” and who will no longer be able to do so due to cancellations of those bus services.

Other changes to passenger transport have affected routes, stops served and frequencies. According to the official “due to the population’s demand, the stops in Guayos (Sancti Spíritus) and Jaruco (Mayabeque) were added to the Havana – Santiago train.”

More than 11,000 people went to ticket agencies to be reimbursed for tickets purchased before the changes which they were unable to use because of cancelled services, and 4,547 travelers were able to make their trips because alternatives were provided. “There is a total integration between the different means of transport and the reservation agencies,” she said, defending her ministry.

Among other measures, Oramas said that the peak hours would be prioritized, in addition to resorting to ‘trompos‘ — that is privately operated shared ride services — for short journeys, and also animal traction, i.e. the use of horses and oxen for passenger and non-passenger transport.

“Given the current fuel deficit, measures have been taken such as incorporating some 4,000 yoke of oxen into the work of sugarcane and food production,” the president of the state-owned company Azcuba, Julio García Pérez, reported the previous day. Thus, we see a return of one of the measures in force during the Special Period in the 1990s.

Although the deputy minister praised the collaboration of many “solidarity” drivers*, he stressed that there have been multiple complaints by the population regarding state vehicles that did not stop* to pick up passengers and private operators who altered prices, “which is inadmissible,” he said, condemning this behavior. Oramas noted the presence of inspectors and warned that there will be disciplinary measures for offenders. “We cannot allow solidarity to be tarnished.”

*Translator’s note: “Solidarity” drivers are those in private vehicles who pick up people stranded by the cuts in bus and shared-ride services. Drivers of State-owned vehicles traveling on ‘other’ business are now required to stop for passengers in response to the fuel shortage crisis. This kind of informal “ride sharing” is long-standing in Cuba, in the face of decades of limitations in passenger transport of all kinds. The current exacerbation of the crisis is in part due to the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and cuts in its fuel shipments to Cuba.


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