Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2015 – Early in the morning Josefina heard on the morning news that Artemisa province had started the potato harvest. She heard that the “planned economy” target was almost 8,800 tons of potatoes and that the harvest would run through the middle of April. Almost intuitively, she looked through the blinds of her 8th floor apartment from where she could see that at the nearby farmers market there were two trucks unloading some sacks.
At that moment her daughter Olivia was staging the daily drama of putting on her primary school uniform and Josefina was faced the dilemma or whether to go stand in line before taking her daughter to school. “The potatoes are here!” her neighbor shouted and half the building leaned over their balconies to confirm it. By twenty minutes to eight she had already left her daughter, hair uncombed, at the door of the school, where an aide asked her, “Is it true? Are the potatoes here?”
The line extended around the corner, but her friend who sells plastic bags outside the market beckoned her to come and stand behind her. Half an hour later, Josefina had achieved her purpose. She hadn’t eaten a real potato for six months, and had only rarely had the hard currency necessary to buy a bag of dehydrated potatoes. The additional advantage was that 20 pounds of potatoes only cost 20 pesos in national money*, less than what she would have to spend for a little packet of instant mashed potatoes.
As she was leaving the market she heard the authoritative voice of the administrator shout, “No more potatoes!” A few steps away two burly young men whispered their proposed alternative, “A ten pound bag, only two fulitas (“little dollars”)**.”
*See this article for a discussion of Cuba’s dual currency system.
**In other words, the black market potatoes cost more than four times the official market price… but they are available.