CubaBrief: How communist central planning creates shortages of flour and milk in Cuba today

Powdered milk and flour: two scarce items in Cuba today

Havana on March 4, 2024 confirmed it had sought help from the World Food Program to guarantee the supply of subsidized powdered milk for children. On February 24, 2024 Emerio Gonzalez Lorenzo, president of the “Grupo Empresarial de la Industria Alimentaria” (GEIA) [Food Industry Business Group] which is under the Cuban government’s “Ministerio de la Industria Alimenticia” (MINAL) [ Ministry of the Food Industry ] announced that “there is little bread in Cuba due to a lack of flour,”  and that this situation would continue until the end of March 2024. Official press channels made no mention of the “25,000 tons of wheat donated by the Russian government that arrived in mid-January” which “exceeds the 20,000 tons that, authorities assured [on February 24th], are necessary to cover the rationed daily bread rolls for a month. If this is the case, the shipment of Russian wheat should have been enough to supply the stores for the remainder of this month and the next”, reported 14ymedio.

The suspension of bread from the ration book, announced by the Cuban government, is not due to U.S. sanctions as the Cuban dictatorship claims. First, Havana “requested (World Food Programme) assistance for the purchase of powdered milk in order to guarantee supply to Cuban boys and girls,” state-run media outlet CubaDebate reported on March 4, 2024, and added that, “a ship carrying 375 tons of powdered milk is set to arrive in the coming days from Brazil as a result of Cuba`s request to the World Food Programme.” Cuban officials on the same day acknowledged that the Cuban government “had also purchased 500 tons of milk from the United States, under exceptions that allow for the sale of agricultural products, as well as from Canada and Brazil.”

The US State Department in its fact sheet on the “Provision of Humanitarian Assistance to Cuba” clearly states: “While the embargo remains in place, the U.S. government prioritizes support for the Cuban people, and U.S. law and regulations include exemptions and authorizations relating to exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba, as well as disaster response.”

Trade in mainly agricultural products with Cuba amounted to $400 million in 2023, in contrast to only $241.8 million during the last full year of the Obama Administration’s thaw with Havana in 2016. Between 2000 and January 2024 the Cuban government purchased $7,647,000,300 in U.S. goods which the vast majority of purchases in agricultural goods.

Chart prepared by CFC intern Carlos Martinez.

The shortage of bread is due to the fact that of the five mills to turn wheat to flour in Cuba, only the one currently operational is in Cienfuegos. There is no shortage of wheat, but of flour due to the Cuban government’s monopoly over the means of production, and its gross incompetence, and inefficiency.

This is compounded by the regime’s track record of giving priority for supplies of flour for tourists in luxury hotels, compared to the hunger of Cuban families who also suffer blackouts, piles of garbage on corners with infestations of mice, mosquitoes and cockroaches, plus sewage leaks and lack of drinking water.

During the next few days the dimension of the disaster will be appreciated. In fact, in several provinces they have already announced that ration bread will only be for children. Hopefully, part of the flour destined for hotels and the government leadership, who lack for nothing, can be allocated to the sick and the elderly.

“After more than six decades of Marxist revolution, class differences, instead of having disappeared, have reached levels not seen during the 20th century. The repressive measures against farmers, published in the official press, will increase the scarcity of the most basic products due to the internal blockade that prohibits Cubans from engaging in private enterprise, and this especially includes Cuban farmers, which is the main reason for the shortages of wheat, milk, and the abundance of hunger in the land.

These are more examples of how communist central planning creates an internal blockade in Cuba.

Havana continues to call Washington’s economic sanctions on Cuba a “blockade.” This is not true as the State Department (and U.S. – Cuba trade statistics over the past 24 years) demonstrate. A meme appeared on social media in Spanish that outlines this reality, and Cuban scholar and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner on July 15, 2021 gave a commentary on the blockade not prohibiting a series of economic measures that are proscribed by the Cuban government. Below is a translation to English of the mentioned meme.

“The blockade does not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does;
The blockade does not confiscate what farmers harvest, the dictatorship does;

The blockade does not prohibit Cubans on the island from doing business freely, the dictatorship does;
The blockade did not destroy every sugar mill, textile factory, shoe store, canning factory, the dictatorship did;

The blockade is not responsible for Cubans being paid with worthless pesos and stores sell you products with American dollars; the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for sending Cubans US dollars that they give to you in worthless pesos in the Western Union, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for the dictatorship building hotels and the roofs that fall on Cubans’ heads, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for hospitals in Cuba that are disgusting, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for not having water in homes, for not maintaining the aqueduct system, the dictatorship is;”

Daily Herd Management,  March 7, 2024

Cuba Turns to World Food Program for Milk Supply as Crisis Deepens

By Reuters March 7, 2024

Cuba on Monday confirmed it had sought help from the World Food Program to guarantee the supply of subsidized powdered milk for children, according to a report in state-run media, a sign of deepening economic woes on the communist-run Caribbean island.

Cuba first announced in February that it was struggling to shore up milk supply as domestic production falters, the latest shortage to strain a decades-old subsidies scheme created by the late Fidel Castro.

“Cuba requested (World Food Programme) assistance for the purchase of powdered milk in order to guarantee supply to Cuban boys and girls,” state-run media outlet CubaDebate reported on Monday. 

A ship carrying 375 tons of powdered milk is set to arrive in the coming days from Brazil as a result of Cuba`s request to the World Food Programme, CubaDebate said.

Spanish news agency EFE first reported Cuba`s decision to seek aid from the World Food Programme last week.

Cuban officials said in February the country had also run short of wheat, forcing it to slash the supply of subsidized bread.

Both bread and milk for children are key components of Cuba`s “rationbook” system introduced after Castro’s 1959 revolution to provide subsidized staples for all.

The system however has fallen into disarray as economic crisis handicaps the communist-run government’s ability to make good on its commitments, prompting shortages in food, fuel and medicine.

Cuba blames the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and stiffened sanctions against the island implemented under former U.S. President Donald Trump for fueling economic crisis and handicapping its purchasing power on global markets.

Cuba nonetheless said on Monday it had also purchased 500 tons of milk from the United States, under exceptions that allow for the sale of agricultural products, as well as from Canada and Brazil.

https://www.dairyherd.com/news/exports/cuba-turns-world-food-program-milk-supply-crisis-deepens

Havana Times, February 25, 2024

Cubans and Tourists Without Bread Until the End of March

despite a donation of Russian wheat

Of the five mills on the Island, only one, the one in Cienfuegos, is operational

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – Once again, there is little bread in Cuba due to a lack of flour. The “complex situation,” as the official press defines it, will last until the end of March, according to Emerio Gonzalez Lorenzo, president of the Food Industry Business Group.

Although state media say that the “impact” on the rationed bread rolls began to “show” this Saturday, it is something that consumers have been experiencing daily for months, even in establishments aimed at tourism.

Similarly, the report on national television said that the last shipments of raw materials arrived at the end of January “and ensured the activity of mills and bakeries for most of February.” At no time does it mention that 25,000 tons of wheat donated by the Russian government that arrived in mid-January.

That amount exceeds the 20,000 tons that, authorities assured this Saturday, are necessary to cover the rationed daily bread rolls for a month. If this is the case, the shipment of Russian wheat should have been enough to supply the stores for the remainder of this month and the next.

The Government, as usual, blamed the situation on “financial restrictions mainly due to the intensified US embargo, [which they call a blockade] and the logistical limitations that Cuba suffers to bring wheat from distant markets.” However, following that, the president of the Food Industry himself said that of the five mills on the Island, only one, the one in Cienfuegos, is operational, and it cannot produce more than 250 tons per day, out of the 700 demanded for the rationed bread rolls.

The substitute products added to bread – such as cassava, squash, or rice – are not a solution either, as they only make up 15% of the total needed to make the bread rolls, according to official notes. And neither is buying bread from private vendors: although they claim that “the purchase of imported flour by non-state forms of management is being negotiated,” this contribution amounts to only 3,000 tons per month, and, as Gonzalez says, in any case, “the tons that arrive at the port will not cover the needs.”

It is not the first time that there has been a shortage of flour and, consequently, bread on the Island. At the end of last year, the regime justified this shortage by saying that the war between Russia and Ukraine had increased the cost of wheat imports, something that was denied by economists like Pedro Monreal. Based on data from the Business Insider website, the expert asserted that the price of cereal was at its lowest point since 2020.

https://havanatimes.org/features/cubans-and-tourists-without-bread-until-the-end-of-march/