‘We Give Priority to the Basic Basket,’ Says a Cuban Minister With Black Humor

The minister said that powdered milk had to be prioritized for the engines of fishing boats. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, October 18, 2023 — Everything is bad in Cuba, but it could be worse. This is basically what Manuel Sobrino Martínez, Minister of Food Industry, said this Tuesday in a brilliant appearance on State TV’s Roundtable program, where he reviewed in detail the systematic sinking of the forecasts for this year and ended up encouraging those who listened. “We would have to take into account how we were if the Government had not taken the number of actions it has been undertaking in recent years,” he said.

Sobrino Martínez has uttered some of the most memorable phrases so far this year, now accumulating in October. The most meritorious was the one that attributed the fall in tourism to the priority given to Cubans at lunchtime. “Today there is an important group of resources that, if tourism had them, would provide a better service and have more tourists; and the Government’s decision has been to give priority to the basic basket and social consumption.”

Presumably fearing the impact of his words, he rushed to clarify that this does not mean that there is “total satisfaction,” but that prioritizing is prioritized. And that only what is left over, if it is left over, goes to other sectors. “Virtually all the food that arrives in the country goes to the basic basket,” he said.

Presumably fearing the impact of his words, he rushed to clarify that that does not mean that there is “total satisfaction

The data show a series of catastrophic misdeeds. Much less food is processed now than in 2021 and 2022, he said, just before attributing it to the “flare-up of blockade measures,” although the sanctions come mostly from previous years. For products, only 67% of the planned wheat has been purchased, because its price went from $280 per ton in 2019 to $410 in 2023.

Milk, which four years ago cost $3,150 a ton, now costs $4,508. Only 21% of what was scheduled has been purchased. Oil doubled its price in that same period, from $880 to $1,606, which means 55% of the projection has been acquired. He didn’t even mention soy and corn; he only talked about their rise in price to $226 and $163, respectively.

So the triumphant data with which he began his presentation, all of it about the enormous food processing capacity that the country has, remained worthless in the face of the absolute impossibility of importing and, much less, producing.

The jackpot was won by fishing – “we are not doing well in 2023, we are not complying, with only 58% of what was planned and with 23% less than what was achieved in 2022” – a living example of the resounding failure of the 63 measures to boost the agricultural sector that, precisely, he came to defend.

The minister, who had initially explained that there are more than 60 boats without an engine because it can cost between $25,000 and $40,000, and those who have them don’t want to sell or demand an advance payment that cannot be made – “we have had to decide whether to buy powdered milk, wheat, or engines” – ended up explaining that the approval of Resolution 52, with which fishing was made more flexible, has led to an increase in the licenses of non-state boats by 4,302, almost double that of the previous year. Did that translate into more fish? The answer is no.

Sobrimo touched on the situation of other staple foods, with a scarce attachment to reality. “In Cuba, more than a million children receive milk every day,” he surprised everyone by saying. Of these, 645,000 have the fluid, produced on the Island, and 365,000 have the powder, imported. If they were charged at a “neoliberal” price, he added, the liter would be sold at 125 pesos. Then he explained the poor hiring, the non-compliance, the drought, the lack of inputs… and it was understood that, as the population reports, milk arrives half the time.

Sobrino continued the task undertaken this Tuesday by his boss to convince the population of the benefits of the ’MSMEs’

The same situation occurs with meat, to which he also dedicated a section, saying that of the 110,000 producers visited, only 36,000 have contracted with the industry, certifying the resounding success of the measures.

Thus, Sobrino continued the task undertaken on Tuesday by his boss to convince the population – disenchanted – of the benefits of the MSMEs — small and medium private businesses. “Not all those companies are giving what was aspired to; there are some that have taken a distorted path, and they are being reviewed. But it would also be necessary to know if those 844 were not impacting industrial food production, what the situation would be.” Again, poor but grateful.

The minister insisted that the private sector is expected to work together with the State to lower costs and contribute to shortages on a small scale, something that, he explained, is already being done with the bakeries. “The State has to buy 700 tons of wheat per day for the rationed bread, while a form of non-state management buys a container that is 25 tons and organizes the production for a month; they are volumes at different scales.”

In that way, working with the many bakeries that have been approved, the product has been delivered, he said. “The vast majority today are linked with non-state forms of management. The bakeries are not being privatized; they are linked. Prices are discussed and negotiated.” Of the 844 MSMEs that are dedicated to food production, 195 focus on bread and pastries; 195 on meat; 188 on fruits and vegetables; 93 on dairy; 30 on soft drinks and beverages, and 24 on fishing.

Near the end of the program, Sobrino still had time to leave one more amazing statement. “We have a favorable situation with coffee,” he said, the same day it was known that the small amount and poor coffee that remains in Cuba increased its price by more than 10% in September, and neither tastes nor smells as it should. But let’s not let the mood decline. “The best answer is in the history of the country and in the spirit of resistance and confidence of the people,” he concluded.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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