A new rise in prices, not announced in the media, has been taking place silently, both in products that are purchased only in CUC as well as in others, sold in Cuban pesos. “Silently” in a manner of speaking, because at times the price increases are a scandalous 20% or more over the previous value. That is, to the common tactics of theft applied directly by the merchant to the consumer, which are primarily associated with violations of weight and price, to mention the most common, is added, once again, the “legal fine,” through which the State-cum-owner gives itself the right to arbitrarily alter, at will, the prices of some products it considers “superfluous” or that aren’t considered to be “basic necessities.”
It was, therefore, a surprise to “consumers” — I hate this buzzword that tries to disguise its real meaning: “the consumed” — of various butcher shops in Havana when they discovered that these days a pound of processed cheese, frequently served in Cuban homes with spaghetti as a substitute for the inaccessible Parmesan, had gone up from 20 to 25 pesos, without any explanation beforehand, while some “specialized” butchers who sold visking ham at 30 pesos a pound have increased the price to 35 pesos. All this in a tropical county where only the price of a mango can fluctuate between 5 and 7 pesos in the farmers markets and a medium avocado in-season costs up to 15 pesos. Keep in mind that the average salary in Cuba is about 300 Cuban pesos, 12 CUC at the official exchange rate.
It’s in the hard currency stores, however, where there has been a major increase in prices, this time in unquestionably staple products such as oil, toilet paper and bath soap. Generally such “fines” happen just days apart and are often preceded by the sudden “disappearance” of the product in question for periods of time, just enough to create a modest shortage and increase demand. An example of this is the convenient ground turkey, one of the U.S. products added in recent years to the network of CUC shops, which enjoys great popularity due to its relatively modest price, the versatility with which it can be used in the meager Cuban kitchen, and its good quality. Of the three varieties of this product that have been marketed, the greatest demand is for the one that comes in a package of 400 grams costing, until recently, 1 CUC. After several days disappearance from the shops it has returned, this time for 1.35 CUC in stores such as Yumurí (formerly Casa de los Tres Kilos, at the central corner of Belascoaín and Reina), although in others the increase has been a more modest 1.20 CUC.
People wonder when the this dizzying monetary spiral will end, carried out by the State at the expense of people’s pockets in an economically ruined country, where wages are purely symbolic and where, in addition, an alarming wave of layoffs — which here has been re-baptized with the euphemism “rationalization of places” — has begun, one that will leave approximately one-in-five workers, a million people, “available.” No one can explain how products obtained through trade with a neighbor as close as the United States, can show up in the retail market with constantly rising prices, prices that are similar to those of products imported from China or Vietnam. It’s clear, however, that the desperation of a government lacking capital falls on the people’s nearly empty pockets and, in the medium term, helps to stimulate the black market, corruption and crime in Cuba. That is why, on this Island, our children understand contraband before they know the alphabet, because illegal trade is the only possible source of survival.