14ymedio, Havana, 12 August 2019 — Price controls now seem inevitable for privately run markets and services. According to a announcement from the Provincial Administrative Council (CAP), maximum prices private businesses and self-employed workers in Havana may charge will be regulated starting Thursday, August 15. The affected businesses also include supply-and-demand markets and pushcart vendors.
The measure applies to fruits and vegetable but also to pork, a product that often serves as a barometer of the state of household finances. As of Thursday the top price for a pork leg will be set at 5 Cuban pesos, while a boneless cut or a porkchop may cost no more than 45 pesos. Ribs will cost 25 pesos and fat will go for 15 pesos.
The measures will remain in effect until September when CAP will revise prices based on “the time of harvest for those products” according to the announcement.
Other high demand products such as kidney beans will top out at 20 pesos. A malanga — a taro-like starchy vegetable much sought after by families with small children and elderly individuals recuperating from illness — cannot go for more 8 pesos. Nor a plantain for more than 3.5 pesos.
Some retailers will be exempt. They include six markets, most located in Playa or Plaza of the Revolution, that sell process or packaged foods. Vendors at those locations will be allowed to charge 30% above the fixed price at other markets.
The six market locations are as follows:
- 23rd Street between 310 and Cangrejeras, Siboney
- 23rd Street between 214 and 218, Atabey
- 23rd Street between 206A and 214, Atabey
- 15th Street between 222 and 234, Siboney
- 202nd Street between 19 and 21, Atabey
- 26th Street between Linea de Ferrocarril and Via Ciclo, Plaza
Because markets are generally open from Tuesday through Sunday, most were closed on Monday. However, by the start of week the news had already begun spreading among merchants, who did not view the CAP’s decision favorably.
“I supply pork to a market in Central Havana,” says Yasdiel, a young man who transports his merchandise in a mid-20th century vehicle from Alquizar in Artemesia province to Havana. “A pound of meat from a live animal, still on its feet, right now goes for 27 Cuban pesos if I buy it directly from the producer.”
But Yasdiel calculates that the new rates wil leave him with a very slim profit margin. “I don’t know if I want to keep doing this because I won’t make much money,” he says. He points out that he has to pay to have the animal slaughtered, cleaned and butchered. Then there is the gasoline to transport the meat to Havana and his agricultural wholesaler’s license fee.
“We are baffled by these prices,” says Yasdiel, paraphrasing a historic quote from the wars of independence that has been widely used in recent months by officials in reference to the Helms Burton Act and the United States. “I’m thinking of postponing any purchases until they reconsider and get rid of these price controls. I can always sell directly to customers.”
Economist Pedro Monreal, who has harshly criticized these recent economic decisions, has also questioned the CAP’s decision. “This measure makes little economic sense,” he tweeted. “Reducing prices in low-end markets will not have a great impact on reducing mid-range prices, which is what would benefit the consumer.”
Monreal added, “What impacts the pocketbook of most consumers is not the low-end supply-and-demand economy. It’s the broader average pricing in the state-run economy, which is the predominant one.” And price controls have already been imposed in the latter.
Customers do not seem happy about it either. “Ther’ve imposed price controls but only on the upper end. What I am never going to see again is something priced below what they have set,” complained a regular customer at the San Rafael Street market in Havana on Monday. She fears that, when she goes to buy produce on Tuesday, “all the prices will be equally high.”
“If you think charging 4 pesos for a pound of yucca and 3 pesos for sweet potato is a good idea, you don’t know anything about what it takes put food on the table,” the woman adds. “It’s true that controls will keep prices from going up but now they won’t go down either.”
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