I’m not going to talk about the chicken that can’t be found anywhere, nor the famous Brazilian rice so demanded and that has almost disappeared, nor the packages of mincemeat, before a second-choice recourse and now pursued from shopping center to shopping center, nor the possible power cuts. Even less those who opportunistically will now try to obtain capital gains from scarcity. Temporarily regulating the supply of products can be an effective palliative for specific situations and you have to use it, but always with the understanding that it has to be temporary. And yes, in the end I’ll have to talk about chicken.
Much has already been written about this so-called new special period, from the perspective of harsh news and also from others, which are closer to its causes and possible consequences. I only intend to address some issues related to this new situation of economic crisis in the country.
The name of the special period “in times of peace” was assumed by the political leadership in Cuba to describe the economic crisis that became fully evident in the early 1990s. It assumed that name that had already been used to define the situation that Cuba could face in the event of a military confrontation with the United States and in a situation in which we could not count on the help of the USSR. It was an especially hard period whose effects we have never been able to overcome completely.
Today’s young generations are the generations of the special period, they have lived with different markets, more than two currencies, multiple exchange rates, growing inequalities, sustained migratory processes (internal and external), birth and growth (very slow) of foreign investment, revival of tourism and then its opening to national tourism, the expansion, despite all the constraints, of a private sector that has shown a very high resilience and a special ability to reinvent itself continuously.
They are generations who saw with amazement the flag of the United States of America in the former interest section turned into a ghost embassy; who understand as natural their relationships with their peers who no longer live in Cuba and communicate through the internet and through there find work opportunities anywhere in the world. Their borders have expanded at a faster rate than the connection capacity to that same internet. They don’t depend on “Uncle Max the traveler” to tell them about the outside world, they are in both worlds every day, round the clock.
They are also generations that have continued to enjoy social benefits that have made their lives more bearable, that have enabled them to succeed even in the “outside world” and that many of them aspire to be able to do so in their own country.
I say this for starters, because in my opinion, perhaps the most important thing that makes this new period special is exactly the great difference that exists between the Cuban population of today and that other that suddenly faced what for many has been the hardest economic crisis the country has ever faced.
The previous generations, their parents and grandparents, now see how a new season of an old and unfinished series is looming over them, that of the special period. But neither is that generation the same as it was before, without ceasing to be what it was. It has learned that it now has responsibilities for itself that before the State covered and that it doesn’t anymore and will not do so. And this, in my opinion, is the second decisive reason to understand what’s special about this period. Both are also the generations of a new Constitution of the Republic, a tremendous privilege and a great responsibility.
Like almost all economic crises, the ability to access supplies, especially food, is one of the most sensitive issues. But unlike what happens in crises in other countries, where the adjustment of the crisis is made based on the reduction of nominal and real incomes, the reduction of added demand and prices, in Cuba the crisis manifests itself as a supply deficit and not as a substantial reduction in the purchasing power of the majority of the population. And the rationing in the delivery of a group of products covers here the movement of climbing prices, which would be the other way in which that crisis would be expressed and that would only allow access to them to those groups with higher incomes. It is paid in price, the lines, uncertainty and hoarding. The other consequence, we all know, is the growth of a black market for those goods, very difficult to avoid.
The solution, under conditions of restricted resources, is tremendously expensive because it involves stabilizing an offer that is constantly destabilized by the anxiety to continue buying in case of future shortages. Attacking the consequences will be necessary, but as long as the reasons remain unchanged, we will be exposed to situations like this once and again.
Those of us who lived from our bicycles that other special period remember that it was especially hard on three elements: access to food, transportation, and electricity supply.
As for food, today when we are chasing after some “chicken thigh or breast” of those running through the city, we would have to ask ourselves why after more than three years of having in the portfolio of investment opportunities offers of businesses in the production of chicken meat, no project has materialized.
If the production of animal protein is one of our greatest needs, why haven’t these businesses been prioritized? Why haven’t they been made sufficiently facilitated?
The same could be said of beef production, some of them snarled in regulations from more than six decades ago, which do not generate enough incentives for producers and make beef production an unattractive and high-risk business for producers and low return for the direct producer. How much more should be waited? Why, if those regulations do not work, do we cling to them? Why think that we will have different results if we keep repeating the same thing year after year?
In power generation, where the situation is undoubtedly better than in the 1990s, not only because the industry has been modernized, but also because the recovery of national oil and accompanying gas decisively helps the stability of generation, we continue, however, being far from the full use of solar energy.
It is true that new projects for solar parks have been completed, it is true that in 10 years our energy matrix must be another. However, looking from the window of the 12th floor of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Havana, from where I write this article, I have at my feet thousands of square meters of roofs in the city of Havana, the same that is celebrating its 500 years, and in none do I see a solar panel, nor a solar collector to heat water.
What has not happened? Why so much resistance to families being able to generate themselves part of their energy and even contribute to the national distribution network? It is true that adequate technological solutions are needed, but in the last 10 years it was not possible to find them. What happened to us?
And what about exports? Those for which today so much is asked and demanded. Our enterprises need someone to give them permission to export, isn’t this a big contradiction? In Pinar del Río, the joint effort of the local government and the territory’s enterprises detected export opportunities in more than 30 products. Well, in Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud, Mayabeque and Artemisa, there is only one enterprise with “capacity or permission” to export! How much more do we have to wait?
If today we don’t have enough money to buy the sought-after chicken it is exactly because we can’t sell (export) enough, among other reasons.
The implementation of the Helms-Burton Act in its four chapters will make everything much more difficult, since it generates uncertainties difficult to handle. But it is also true that both the European Union as a whole and many specific countries are willing to continue supporting Cuba.
The statements of the Spanish Minister at the Tourism Fair and the concrete actions announced by her regarding the Compensation Fund, are an example.
So let’s do it, change what it takes to make it easier to invest in Cuba.
But let’s not forget our businesspeople, the state ones and also make it easier and more transparent for them to be able to handle those that are the enterprises of the entire Cuban people. And let’s not forget those other entrepreneurs, also Cubans, the private workers and cooperatives, and let’s fully incorporate them once and for all to the feat of surviving and developing.