Sunday, November 27, 2016

Food Prices Rise Despite Price Caps

Food Prices Rise Despite Price Caps / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 November 2016 — The seller doesn't
even need to advertise his wares. He just stands at a corner with
several strings of onions and buyers crowd around him. Six months after
the imposition of price caps for more than twenty farm products,
shortages and the high cost of food continue to mark Cubans' daily lives.

The measure, approved in May of this year, for state markets and those
managed by cooperatives, regulates the prices of 23 products, to avoid
"the enrichment of intermediaries." In practice, however, this
government decision had not managed to curb rising prices, which are
expected to reach historic highs by the end of the year.

At the intersection of 19th and B Streets, in the Vedado neighborhood,
one market has earned the epithet of "the rich people's market." Some
also call it "the museum," because it's "look but don't touch," due to
its high prices. The place has a variety of products far beyond the
average offered by markets across the island.

The capped process still have not yet reached these kinds of markets,
where private producers sell their merchandise. A pound of boneless pork
has varied between 40 and 50 Cuban pesos for months, two days' salary
for an engineer. "We sell the meat here depending on how it comes to
us," explains Yulian Sanchez, the market's administrator.

Opinions among customers are divided on the government's measure.
"There's no one here who eats beef or even cracklings," an old woman
complained this Tuesday at 19th and B, while looking for oregano to cook
some beans. "These prices are unthinkable for people," she said,
expressing her support for price caps on all the markets of this type.

Other customers fear a possible extension of price regulations. "What
will happen is that the best things will disappear," says Roberto, a
self-employed workers who regularly buys fruit at 19th and B. "The
minute they capped prices, onion disappeared," he said.

Among the foods with regular prices are also beans, taro, cassava,
bananas, yucca, sweet potatoes, lettuce and pumpkin. In markets where
price controls are already in place, products cannot be sold for more
than the prices established in a resolution of the Ministry of Finance
and Prices.

An army of inspectors verifies that the stands display the regulated
prices and apply fines to offenders that can range from 100 to 700 Cuban

A few yards from Havana's Capitol building, the Egido street market
still displays prices based on supply and demand. Four tomatoes can cost
50 Cuban pesos, a third of the monthly pension of Oscar Villanueva, a
retired construction worker looking over the market stalls on Tuesday.

"With Christmas and New Years it is normal to raise prices, but since
these are already quite high, we have to prepare for the worst," he says.

Anxiety in anticipation of these holidays is apparent among the stands
of the central market. The government has informed the sellers that as
of this coming January there will be a system of price regulation for
several products.

"This is the only place where you can find a variety of fruit. If they
cap the prices it will be like the others," says Villanueva.

The quality of the products at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market at 17th
and K, run by the Armed Forces, is very different from "the rich
people's market," a distant relative of the Egido Street market.

Many consumers agree that price caps are often at odds with the quality
of products. "The fruits they sell are always green and the root
vegetables are covered with dirt," says a regular customer of the market
in Vedado. The woman recognizes, however, that the prices in other
markets "can't go on like this, because soon we'll need a wheelbarrow
full of money to buy food for a week."

"Now they have one-thousand peso notes to fix that problem," a nearby
vendor jokes with the woman.

The hopes of many are pinned on the reopening of El Trigal market in
January, the only agricultural wholesale market in al of Havana, which
in the middle of this year was closed for "irregularities" in its
operation. But it is still unknown if the government will maintain the
price caps, sustain supplies in the market stalls, and improve the
quality of the offerings.

Source: Food Prices Rise Despite Price Caps / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata –
Translating Cuba -

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