Why Are There No Canned Tomatoes in Cuban Stores?

A recent photo of Cubans in line at a store hoping to be able to buy powdered milk (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 18 October 2019 — In the midst of the serious crisis in the Cuban economy, some news that jumps out from the official Communist newspaper deserves special attention.

President Díaz-Canel said in one of the meetings he has been holding with the different sectors of the economy, that it is necessary to “exploit the country’s potential in industrial matters, due to its high impact on the national economy and its relevance in the [replacing] imports [with domestic products].”

It is not bad that the term “exploit” is installed in the official language of the Castro regime. It was time. Let’s see if they lose their fear, and also start talking about such noble and important and necessary things for an economy, such as enrichment, accumulation of wealth, investment and benefits. Everything will go.

Supporting a country’s industry is common sense. In particular, if one takes into account the structural problems that exist in Cuba in relation to the manufacture of containers and packaging, with the chemical industry, the sugar industry, the non-sugar industry, the food industry in general; pharmaceutical, biotechnological and biomedical products; also with hydraulic resources, construction, transport, light industry and tourism.

Finally, to be used in depth in the development of a relationship of different activities, when the problem of the industry is general and is summarized in two or three words: abandonment, lack of productivity and obsolescence .

And why does this happen in Cuban industrial activity? The answer is simple. Ask the business owner who is solely responsible for this situation. Yes. Ask Díaz-Canel as the representative of the state, the sole owner of the companies that operate in the economy in the field of industrial activity. To date, as far as is known, self-employment is only authorized in the services sector and in activities of low productivity.

The industry, the industrial companies belong to the state, and therefore, the president is responsible for is bad state and malfunctioning. According to the primetime news on Cuban television, which the newspaper Granma cites in the note that serves as a reference to this blog post, “the sector requires a technological renovation because its deliveries do not meet the current demand and a high amount is imported annually of raw materials and products.” Well, if we all agree, why don’t they get to work.

It seems so, and there is, of course, a “planned development project until 2030.” In the Castro regime, where the passage of time has a different dimension to that of other countries and the emergencies end up being filed away, that the solution to the problems of the industry is available at a distant date like 2030 has several readings: the situation can be aggravated, it is not possible to apprehend the result of the investigation and its application to technology, and what is worse, a critical scenario is maintained, in which nobody believes that industry can end up being competitive and manage to meet the basic needs of Cubans.

This comes to mind because in the same edition of Granma another piece of news appears that shows to what extent Cuban industry has fallen behind and been abandoned by its sole owner. I refer to the information according to which, the communist’s newspaper celebrates as a great event, that “despite the deficit of raw material that has faced the industry, canned tomatoes will return to the trade network from the month of November”after having disappeared almost entirely in the last months.

Canned tomatoes. Yes. A basic product, essential to Cuban cuisine, that struggles to return to the underserved bodegas of the Castro regime. I have never seen it. A product that is simple to manufacture, which does not involve major complications and for which Cuba has the resources, since the raw material does not have to come from anywhere.

After 60 years, Cubans are accustomed, to a forced coexistence with products of little or no presence in the bodegas. Now it’s this one, later it’s another.  Canned tomatoes, which are manufactured by a state-owned company, depend on deliveries of raw material, that is, tomatoes.

The planners who know so much, estimated tomato deliveries for the year 2019 to total 79,940 tons. But as always, the planning is not right in their plans and only 22,814 tons were received, a satisfaction of the plan of only 28%, and then, nobody did anything, and that’s why the canned tomatoes disappeared.

You have to get tomatoes from wherever you can, don’t you?

So the question is, who cares that only 6,733 tons of finished products equivalent to 35% of what was planned for, have been achieved? In Cuba, the market cannot punish this type of results with its behavior, because the system does not allow it.  The owner of the canned tomato companies, the Castro state, doesn’t give a damn, that is to say it cares nothing, whether Cubans can put mashed potatoes or tomato sauce on their tables. It is a matter about which no one will ask for explanations.

And they are all so content, because the profitability of the company is under wraps, its marketing (that is, satisfying consumers) is unknown, and therefore, if there are no tomatoes, nor tomato sauce, nor tomato paste. Cubans are left to “resolve” the situation with other things. And so it goes for 60 years. And nobody protests or says anything. Amazing.

There is no justification for the lack of existence of raw materials or supplies for the production of canned tomatoes. If in Cuba they are not produced, for any reason, the supply is sought outside and the product is brought from the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Haiti.  Yes, there may not be foreign exchange, but this is an example that once again the communist state puts its priorities before the free choice of citizens. It is how the game is played in Cuba, or you take it or leave it.

We must tell Cubans that there is another economic model where, when they go to the market every day, they would find what they are looking for without any problems. They can choose from many brands and buy the one that really satisfies them in price and quality. That it is not possible to live with the sword of Damocles hanging over them about what is going to be missing at the bodega today, and that the only person responsible for this situation is the communist state, absolute owner of industry, the land, the infrastructures in short, of everything. The productive capital of the nation.

If that productive capital goes into private hands, the situation would be very different. Products would always be in the retail sales network, industries could invest their benefits in R&D, pay higher wages to workers, be more productive, meet the population’s choices and consumption needs and export surpluses with which to get more income.

That model exists and Cuba enjoyed it before 1959 . Going back to it is possible and necessary. Instead of wasting time with harangues and slogans that do not go anywhere, calling for reducing imports, working more, etc., etc., what needs to be done is to reintegrate the productive capital of the nation into the private sector and let it run freely.

The example of the situation of the industry and canned tomato is well worth it. You have to get out of the Castro time capsule and take a deep breath. The future is much better than the past.

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