Economics

Papaya Riots Coming Soon to Cuba

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yes, I know she's not Cuban. But bananas is her business!

Cuban farmers must sell most of what they produce at state mandated prices. But after they meet their quotas (typically about 70 percent of their output) they are free to sell the rest at farmer's markets, or agros. At the markets, prices are higher, but there are plenty of choices and the stalls feel abundant compared to the often-empty shelves of the state groceries:

At one such market this week, a chalkboard read "there are potatoes," meaning spuds could be purchased with Cubans' monthly ration cards. Besides that, a single produce stand sold only plantains, taro root and onions.

"They want to make all the markets like this. Sad," the lone vendor said.

Price controls on food come and go in Cuba, with the state permitting market mechanisms in times of extreme scarcity, but then cracking down again once things get better:

Producers, sellers and customers said they heard from party officials that new price controls were set to begin Nov. 1 — but were postponed until January after a public outcry unheard of under the totalitarian government….

The agros [farmer's markets] first appeared in the 1980, when food shortages forced a reluctant Fidel Castro to allow farmers to sell produce at prices driven, at least in part, by the free market. Castro shuttered them six years later to improve foundering state agricultural production.

"They closed them for some of the same things we are talking about now: the black market, middle men making all kinds of money, the government unable to control the market, the food supply," Messina said.

But the small dose of capitalism returned in 1994, when Cuba was again forced to allow more free-market enterprise to keep its people from starving after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which gave Cuba billions in annual subsidies.

The state takes 6 months to pay farmers for official production, so many farmers are tempted by the agro truckers, who generally bribe the police to turn a blind eye and pay farmers in cash upfront. Raul Castro is threatening to crack down.

The whole AP story is worth reading for a good sense of the background on this issue and what's going on right now.

Via Annie

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  1. “They closed them for some of the same things we are talking about now: the black market, middle men making all kinds of money, the government unable to control the market, the food supply,” Messina said.

    Well, duh. The guvmint reformed the system so everyone had access to cheap and high-quality food. Yo can’t leave something as important as food to the gouging profiteeers.

    Those greedy farmers fought against the public option for food, but Rachael Maddow and her crack squad of lesbian/bi-curious rapid-response shock troops put down the protest in a hurry. Tranquility has returned to this island paradise.

  2. So the point is… the system works!

    I hear they have great healthcare too.

  3. Bring back United Fruit, they’ll get papaya production back up.

  4. Exchange “food” for “medical services” and we might be looking at our own future.

  5. Exchange “food” for “medical services” and we might be looking at our own future.

    Exchange “medical services” for “food” and we might be looking at our own future.

  6. Utopia: You’re doing it wrong.

  7. Socialism has made Cuba a basket case. The Cuban CP has held power this long only because it was a strategic asset for the Soviet Union til 1991, and it now gets foreign aid from China, more for long-term business than ideological reasons.

    Years ago, the L.A.Times did a feature on ice cream parlors in Cuba. Cheap ice cream made from powdered milk imported from East Germany helped to fill otherwise empty stomachs of workers in the Cuban worker’s paradise.

    Apparently, the secret police get enough to eat, though.

  8. The free-market agros, where the state allows vendors to set prices based on supply and demand, have been very successful in getting food into people’s hands, Messina said.

    “But it does reduce government control of food,” he added.

    With the proposed change, shoppers accustomed to tables piled high with lettuce, spinach, grapes and green peppers fear either the empty shelves or unbearable lines that are routine at government-controlled produce markets.

    But health care is different … it’s a right! And, ummmm, we’ll have the right people in charge …

    and, ummmm, CHANGE!

  9. But the air at the markets remains tense. Retired beer factory worker Nancy Alfonso triggered bedlam Tuesday when she defended the proposed changes, saying, “the state doesn’t rob, it’s all of these people who do.”

    No matter how dysfunctional the government, there’s always someone to defend it …

  10. In related news, the harvest in North Korea is not looking good, and the Koreans are fleeing into China.

    But Lonewacko should be happy to know the Chinese are cracking down on IllegalImmigrants.

    1. Oh not them again. I thought Dear Leader took care of that pesky “people” problem with the last famine.

    2. She said refugees no longer get shot when they are returned, except those unlucky enough to be caught and repatriated three times.

      Speechless.

    3. “Three Strikes You’re Dead”. They learned it from us, but of course put their own little spin on it.

      1. I thought Dear Leader took care of that pesky “people” problem with the last famine.

        Not for lack of trying. They had a “100 day struggle” recently, busing in students to help farmers with the harvest. The farmers tried like hell to keep the students away from their crops, and keep them busy with BS work – because they were (justifiably) afraid of having their crops stolen.

        Sad to say, but the “three strikes” is an improvement over previous policies. And now, first time offenders are apparently let off with warnings, instead of going to prison camps.

  11. It’s kind of like the “war on drugs” here, only its the “war on privately marketed food.”

  12. Why does this site continue to do hit pieces on Cuba?

    1. Because it’s still alive.

      Now, shaddup or we’ll put you in the trunk too. Right, Tommy?

  13. That’s certainly the gait of the joe I remember. Now, turn around and let me measure your pot belly.

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