Should Potatoes in Cuba be Rationed Once Again?
April 1, 2015
Dmitri Prieto Samsónov
HAVANA TIMES — I try to avoid and evade the lines of people waiting to
buy potatoes. The tuber arrives this time of year, during Lent,
accompanied by people's undying potential for standing in line and
starting fights with one another, in defiance of all remotely Christian
Trucks arriving from the countryside, loaded with sacks of earth-covered
root vegetables, park by the produce markets and begin to unload their
crates, as the news spreads by word of mouth and people begin to arrive,
taking up their places, in a mathematically probable but always dubious
line (for the queue thickens as it grows outward and decibel levels rise
and rise). Bicycle taxis arrive and leave with a trail of complaints
behind them, the desperate throats growl, gloom and tension builds up,
onlookers hoard potatoes to re-sell them and general frustration swells.
In Cuba, potatoes spell a genuine disaster.
When Cuba exported potatoes to the Soviet Union on a seasonal basis,
people recognized the tuber by its reddish color. Today, the Soviet
Union no longer exists, red isn't a very common color and potatoes are
Last year, I had a couple enjoyable meals with potatoes, which I had
bought from a re-seller at a good price. I don't know what will happen
this year. I work and I'm sincerely put off and depressed by having to
waste time standing in the endless potato line.
Before, one received potato quotas through the ration booklet.
Later, these rations were "removed" as part of the updating of the
economic model and in response to new commercial opportunities.
Today, potatoes are hard to come by, and those who sell these legally
dispense a mere 10 pounds per person (at least where I live).
In my opinion, if the government wanted to implement a popular measure,
so as to demonstrate they are once again on the side of the humble, such
a measure could well be to reinstate potato rations.
They wouldn't even need to lower prices, only ration it, include it in
the ration booklet again – 5 or 10 pounds a month, at 1 peso the pound,
which is the official price.
This way, the vast majority would be able to enjoy the tuber without
having to stand in line for so long, as getting one's hands on it would
at least be guaranteed (or almost so – today, it happens that chicken
quotas are sometimes not enough to go around, but brawls over rationed
chicken are not as violently aggressive as those over potatoes sold at
We would then probably see opportunists frightening people by saying
that, if potatoes were rationed, people would re-sell them at a higher
price to make money.
But aren't potatoes being re-sold today anyways? Don't these people
realize that it wouldn't be enough to go around anyways? Or that, if
someone found it necessary to re-sell their 10-pound potato ration, it's
because that person is extremely underprivileged and that would become
yet another of the miserable opportunities people have to survive nowadays?
Supposing this improbable suspicion turned out to be true, if people
re-sold the potato rations they got through the ration booklet, wouldn't
such re-selling lead to a more equitable distribution of benefits,
favorable to the vast majority, which would have access to their basic
dose of potatoes, than the one that stems from today's re-selling? I
know such arguments stink.
They stink just as much as the argument that potatoes cannot be rationed
because that would run contrary to the logic of the reform process, the
elimination of subsidies, the market economy and other items of idle
chatter coming from the Cuban brand of neo-liberal academism looming
over us. Any reasonable person understands that, in a truly "prosperous
and sustainable" society, there must be enough potatoes for everyone and
that these must be sold at a good a price.
As I see it, Cuba's farm produce distribution system (which includes
wholesale markets, agricultural and livestock markets and grocery and
ration locales, where the ration booklet is used to obtain goods) must
become a cooperative of consumers.
But they have opted for a different "solution": to rely on cooperatives
made up of partners who operate large markets where produce tends to
concentrate, State hoarders and private intermediaries.
In an economy with scarce products, such measures only make things more
unbalanced, for state control is of necessity ineffective and
iniquitous, and, when you add a bit of capitalism to it, it becomes even
more wicked. Only a democratic impulse from "below" can lead to the
equitable redistribution of "market" products – all kinds of products,
Source: Should Potatoes in Cuba be Rationed Once Again? - Havana
Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110348