October 12m 2008
Cuba is limiting how much basic fruits and vegetables people can buy at farmers’ markets, irritating some customers but ensuring there’s enough—barely—to go around.
The lines are long and some foods are scarce, but because the government has maintained and even increased rations in some areas, Cubans who initially worried about getting enough to eat now seem confident they won’t go hungry despite the destruction of 30 percent of the island’s crops by hurricanes Gustav and Ike last month.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
“Of the little there is, there is some for everyone,” 65-year-old Mercedes Grimau said as queued up behind more than 50 people to buy lettuce, limited to two pounds per person.
“I’m not afraid that I will be left without food, but it’s a pain to think about all the work we are going to have to go through,” Grimau added. “Two or three months ago the farmers markets were well-stocked.”
Cuba’s government regularly stockpiles beans and other basics, and Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said authorities are ready to increase the $2 billion they already spend on food imports annually. The world credit crisis won’t affect much of those imports because U.S. law forces communist Cuba to use cash to purchase American farm goods. But imports from other countries bought with credit could become more difficult or expensive.
The government is delivering all items distributed each month on the universal ration that provides Cubans with up to two weeks of food—including eggs, beans, rice and potatoes—at very low cost. In some hard-hit provinces, extra food has been added.
But the rest of the food Cubans supplement their diets with at supply-and-demand farmers markets and government produce stands has dwindled, prompting the government to limit consumer purchases and cap prices on items including rice, beans, root crops and fresh greens.
Rodriguez has sought to dispel speculation about a replay of the desperate early 1990s, when shelves were bare and people survived for weeks on one small meal daily. Cubans who lived through deprivation after the Soviet Union’s collapse say the current food situation doesn’t come close.