Coffee’s Bumpy Road

It’s no secret to anyone that for many years now, Cuban coffee production has been falling sharply. It’s not a problem exclusive to coffee, but one of all production, as a consequence of the original economic model. These days the subject of coffee has been on everyone’s lips, not because of an increase in its consumption, but because of new regulations about it.

For many years the public was given one envelope per person per month, one hundred and fifteen grams, at the subsidized price of twenty cents. A few years ago it was officially acknowledged that it was mixed with peas (something that everyone always knew, as it tasted bad) and it was said that henceforth it would be sold one hundred percent pure, at a price of five pesos in national currency (a 24 times increase). It was clarified that, even at this high price it was subsidized. With its variable quality, doubts were created about its real purity, which remained until last April.

At the beginning of May, through a press release, it was communicated that starting this same month, the delivery would again be mixed coffee, now at the price of four pesos in national currency (the same envelope, 115 grams). The reasons: the high price of coffee on the international market (explicitly discussed) and the deficient national production (noted by two lines, as if in passing). that is, the envelope that a few years ago sold for twenty cents, is not sold at four pesos (a 19-fold increase). In addition, it is clarified that the mix is about fifty percent with a substitute (variable component?), and that it is still subsidized to the tune of 190 million pesos in national currency. If this is so, one might ask: What does it cost the Cuban State to produce a bag of mixed coffee of 115 grams?  Given that they are still selling it at four pesos, they should dedicate around 190 million pesos to its subsidy. I think it’s the most expensive coffee in the world.

What is happening now with coffee has happened in recent months with other products, both in national currency and in hard currency.Two of ours: liquid washing detergent which was distributed at one liter per family (when they had it) at three pesos national currency, is now for sale off the ration at twenty-five pesos national currency (8 times more), and a liter of sunflower oil that was sold in hard currency at two pesos and fifteen cents, is now two pesos forty cents. The list is endless and grows with each passing week.

If the path to perfecting the economic model requires each product to be steeply increased in price, the situation of the ordinary citizen will become increasingly untenable because wages do not increase but are frozen at poverty levels. The average wage, looking at it optimistically, doesn’t exceed twenty dollars (480 pesos in national currency), and the minimum does not exceed ten (240 pesos national currency). The future is as dark as the present.

May 9 2011

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