Cuba extends rationing following introduction of tighter US sanctions

The Cuban Government has said that it is introducing new measures to control the availability of certain basic foodstuffs and other products following the imposition of new US sanctions.

Speaking on 10 May the Minister of Domestic Trade (Mincin), Betsy Díaz, said Government will progressively implement measures to control the availability of certain food products and other basic items but that this will not affect the existing rationing system (Libreta de Abastecimiento).

The new measures, which she said were being introduced to achieve a fair and rational distribution and avoid hoarding, are intended to address retail shortages of certain retail items as the Ministry moves to source product from new and ‘more distant’ suppliers. Díaz stressed that the new system does not mean there will be changes in the availability of products covered by the existing rationing system which provides less Cubans with coupons for the purchase of limited quantities of basic necessities at controlled prices.

Díaz said that the country is experiencing a very complex situation following the intensification of the US embargo and that this causing Government to look for new source markets further afield which were more expensive and that this has had an impact on the levels of supply to the population.

She noted that while the supply of cooking oil, egg, rice and other staples had remained stable or increased, demand has soared sometimes to double that in the same period last year as a result of other shortages or hording.

Specifically, the new measure will see rationing imposed on the sale of chicken, which is almost totally imported, toiletries such as bath soap; while eggs, rice, beans, peas and sausages will be available to buy with a ration card but subject to availability.

Under the new measures rationed products will be made available for sale to non-state entities once the requirements of the general population have been guaranteed.

Díaz said that Government will now be placing an emphasis on the need to develop programmes of municipal self-sufficiency.

Cuban reporting suggested that the problems had been caused by new US sanctions, declining oil supplies and a big fall in services income from Venezuela, as well as having been exacerbated by organisational issues relating to the transportation of raw materials. Cuba annually imports more than US$2bn in food

Meanwhile, a much commented-on online podcast produced by Cuba Debate has addressed the difficult question for most Cubans as to whether the country is facing a challenge of similar proportions to that experienced during the special period in peacetime introduced following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the podcast the issues were debated by former Minister José Luis Rodríguez, Doctor of Economic Sciences and advisor of the Research Center of the World Economy, and Ariel Terrero, a specialist in economic affairs and Vice President of the Union of Journalists of Cuba.

The exchanges make clear that ‘favourable expectations’ following the signing of economic agreements with Venezuela in 2014, normalisation of relations with the United States, as well as visits and exchanges with France, Japan and others at heads of state level about investment in Cuba enabled the country to expand its import capacity. However, it was also suggested that this may have lulled the government into a false sense of security. 

As a consequence, in 2016, when difficulties with the supply of Venezuelan oil arose, a strong imbalance in the national economy occurred reducing growth to 0.5%. This and the subsequent decision of the Trump Administration to dismantle the gains Cuba achieved under the Obama Administration, Rodríguez said, meant that Cuba could no longer move forward as predicted, pay all of it debts, obtain credits and experience economic growth.

Although the exchanges provided no answers to the basic question about the possible reappearance of a special period in peace time, they appeared to suggest that more liberal reforms were required which might change the current rigid top-down planning process so that bottom up flexible worker and enterprise-led planning might be possible. 

The exchange was also notable for the hundreds of sometimes frank comments posted subsequently, often by young people expressing their concerns about the problems facing Cuba and the Cuban economy.

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