Cuba’s President demands officials battle surging food prices

President Díaz-Canel has called on provincial Governors and officials to “battle” the steep rise in the price of foodstuffs and essential items now being seen across Cuba. 

“Abusive and speculative prices cannot be allowed, and we must go out to discuss with those who are currently raising prices, why they are doing it”, he was reported by Granma as having told participants during a videoconference. 

Noting that taxes have not risen, and the state continues to provide free health care and education, Díaz-Canel said that he could not understand the basis on which “a self-employed person or even a state entity now appears to be raising prices” 

According to the Communist Party publication, Cuba’s President said that the issue of high prices was one of the “main causes of disgust that, in recent weeks, the population has expressed,” especially in relation to agricultural products. 

It was a matter, Díaz-Canel said, that would require rigorous confrontation requiring action “with coherence and rigour” in ways that make Cubans a “part of the combat”. He also noted that the sanctions on transgressors needed to be “severe and exemplary” and that the issues be exposed in the media “so that the population knows what they are and can act against any violation”. 

In a related but broader intervention, Vice Prime Minister, Alejandro Gil, the Minister of Economy and Planning, said that three fundamental challenges now faced Cuba: food production, the development of exports, and the unification of the country’s monetary and exchange rate system. 

Speaking at an event to recognise the role of economists, he said that the country’s economic and social strategy, ‘requires freeing productive forces, granting more autonomy to the state sector, and creating similar management systems regardless of the type of ownership’. 

In remarks reported on the Cubadebate platform, he stressed the importance of a new focus on food production and food supply which he acknowledged was experiencing ‘unjustified and speculative inflation’. 

Gil stressed the importance of adding value to exports in order “to create wealth”. To achieve the ‘proceso de reordenamiento’ – the reordering task – the expression being used for the linked economic reforms now underway. It was, he pointed out, essential to end the country’s dual currency system and to make adjustments to the exchange rate, incomes, state subsidies and ‘undeserved income’ if employment is to be created and Cubans are to have a decent life. For these reasons, he said, the application of the measures approved required “acceleration, innovation and dynamism” and a willingness “to face risks” without improvising. 

In a similar vein, Vice President, Salvador Valdés Mesa, speaking in Guantánamo was quoted as telling a meeting on food sovereignty and nutrition that it was “essential for the country to produce more food in the shortest time possible, and take better advantage of the existing potential in all territories”. 

The issue of rapidly rising food prices has become highly sensitive in Cuba as its more liberal internet environment has enabled the posting of many comments online on official platforms and social media. For the most part these are highly critical and questioning about why state enterprises as well as non-state producers and farmers are being allowed to raise the price of goods from tomatoes to confectionery and shampoo. 

Recently, the official publication Cubadebate questioned why prices were rising so steeply when the country’s planned reforms to its currency had not yet taken place. An op-ed piece asked how ordinary Cubans existing on state salaries were meant to cope when prices are already surging for food and services. Price increases the author argued were only meant to occur when the process of monetary unification and exchange rate regulation was in place (Cuba Briefing 17 November 2020). 

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