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More Food for Tourists Means Less Food for Cubans

December 12, 2016
Plain English Version
Tourists eating at a restaurant in Havana.

A tourist restaurant in Havana.

Cuba is not a well-run country. It is a socialist state. The government sets prices. It controls production. It is a country of shortages.

Most Cubans know about not having enough food to eat. Electricity is in short supply. Household goods, even toilet paper, can be hard to find.

There is hope that things will change for the better. President Obama is trying to open up Cuba for trade with the US. It is not clear what Donald Trump will do about Cuba when he becomes president.

One bright spot in the Cuban economy in recent years was tourism. It brought dollars, euros, and pounds to the island. A market economy has grown based on tourism.  A big industry grew to welcome tourists.

Restaurants feed the tourists. Demand for foodstuffs by private restaurants makes its way into agriculture. This is now a big market for Cuban farmers. They are increasing production.They are selling their vegetables and fruits to the highest bidder.

So two Cuban economies exist side by side. The one created by tourism is growing. The one run by the government is laden with red tape and corruption.

The ordinary Cuban is finding less to eat than a few years ago.

An observer took note. The shelves at a state-run market were almost empty. Available food was starch for the most part. There were sweet potatoes, yucca, rice, beans, and bananas. There were no tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic, and lettuce. There were no avocados, pineapples or cilantro.

These foods were abundant at a nearby co-op market. Foods in this market included grapes, ginger and an array of spices.

The private sector is doing all it can to buy the food grown by Cubans farmers. Prices have skyrocketed. For example, a Cuban told about buying a pound of onions and tomatoes at market prices. She said it would cost about 10 percent of her government salary of about $25 a month. She said, “We eat rice and beans and a boiled egg most days. Maybe a little pork.”

Cubans are trying to find work in the private sector. Wages are much higher there. It will be a long time before Cuba can increase its farm output. In the meantime, the population is growing. Tourists will stay well fed. The Cuban people will stay hungry.

Source: The New York Times December 8, 2016

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