The Empire of Uncertainty / Laritza Diversent

The Cuban landscape remains clouded by uncertainty, principally due to measures undertaken by the government this year, so that their chicks learn to fly and make their own living. Most alarming to the people, is the elimination of ration quota.

The President of the Council of State, in introducing the issue of ration card in his most recent speech, spoke of transforming erroneous and unsustainable conceptions about socialism, consequences of the paternalistic approach which created the revolution.

After nearly half a century, the historic leadership recognizes that the distribution mechanism is an expression of egalitarianism that leads to practices of exchange. Some of the subsidized products, such as powdered milk for children under 7 and coffee, are resold in the “black market.”

The 115 gram coffee packet, which the state sells at a subsidized price of 5 pesos, formerly cost 10 on the black market. Currently it is over 13 pesos. In the foreign currency market, 250 grams of powdered milk costs more than 3.45 convertible pesos, about 86.25 Cuban pesos.

One kilogram of powdered milk in foreign currency stores costs more than 5 convertible pesos (125 Cuban pesos), has a subsidized price of 2 Cuban pesos. In the informal market it was worth 25 pesos, and is now around 40.

Many wonder if the end of the ration book will be the end of shortages and the criminal measures to control the socialist distribution. But the economic scenario says otherwise. The prices of agricultural products soared in the last quarter. A pound of beans, a staple of the population, which used to cost 6 to 12 pesos, is now from 15 to 23.

On the black market there is the same trend. Oil that costs 1.10 in hard currency (27.50 pesos in national money), was 20 pesos on the black market but is now 25. This shows that scarcity has generated speculation, and hoarding — in the words of the person who is also Communist Party Second Secretary — is also increasing. The same thing that forced the State to establish the ration quotas in the first place. As historic as the very existence of the Revolution.

In 1962, the Revolutionary government, led then as it is now by current historical leaders, promulgated Law 1035 which addressed speculative and hoarding activity defined as the acquisition, transport and possession of agricultural products in excess of eleven and a half kilograms (25 pounds) in one week. The law imposed penalties of 180 days imprisonment.

Since then, the purchase of goods for resale and profit is the crime of speculation. Anyone who holds or transports products in excess of those required for their ordinary needs, commits a crime. The offenses regulated in the Penal Code, are aggravated with penalties ranging from 3 months to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 1500 pesos.

Other government regulations took to the extreme the situations in which these crimes are considered to have been committed. Decree 141 of March 24, 1988, establishes as a misdemeanor against the National Economy, punishable by a fine, the acquisition of goods or other articles for the purpose of reselling them for profit, even of low economic significance.

The People’s Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the transportation of tobacco and coffee in any amount can constitute the crime of hoarding. In 1985, it ruled that the acquisition of any class of goods for resale was the crime of speculation.

The Attorney General’s Office of the Republic, in 1993, declared that proceeding with judicial or administrative measures, in cases of possession or transportation of goods, requires an evaluation, taking into account the quantity, the type of product, the situation regarding its supply through normal channels, whether or not there is sufficient justification for possessing it, and the intended destination and personal circumstances of the offender.

None of these laws has caused people to cease engaging in trade and resale. Even the younger Castro spoke of “eliminating the irrational prohibitions that have been in effect for years, which don’t take into account the circumstances and create a breeding ground for multiple actions outside the law.” Time will tell if in the empire of uncertainty, his words become reality.

January 4 2011