The Cuban government has announced that it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis.
Betsy Díaz Velázquez, the commerce minister, told the state-run Cuban News Agency that various forms of rationing would be employed in order to deal with shortages of staple foods. She blamed the hardening of the US trade embargo by the Trump administration.
Economists give equal or greater blame to a plunge in aid from Venezuela, where the collapse of the state-run oil company has led to a nearly two-thirds cut in shipments of subsidised fuel that Cuba used for power and to earn hard currency on the open market.
“We’re calling for calm,” Díaz said, adding that Cubans should feel reassured that at least cooking oil would be in ample supply. “It’s not a product that will be absent from the market in any way.”
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Shop shelves on the Caribbean’s largest island have been increasingly empty of late with scarcity of basic products such as eggs, flour and chicken, and massive, hours-long queues for them whenever they come into stock.
Cubans have been flooding social media with photos of the queues they are in, under the hashtag #lacolachallenge (queue challenge) to highlight the problem.
Cuba imports 60% to 70% of its food. A handful of agricultural reforms in recent years have failed to boost output and it also suffers from a decades-old US trade embargo.
A decline in aid from key ally Venezuela and lower exports have left it struggling to find the cash to import. More US sanctions since Donald Trump became president have worsened its liquidity crisis.
Diaz said another problem was hoarding by Cubans worried about whether products would disappear and speculators aiming to resell goods on the black market.
As a result Cuban supermarkets would from now on limit how much each person can buy of certain products like chicken and soap, she said. Other products such as eggs, rice, beans and sausages, would only be available to purchase with the ration card, and limited to a certain quantity each month.
“Our mission is to fracture all the measures the US government imposes, and today we are setting priorities,” Diaz said on the midday state-run news broadcast.
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Some Cubans, particularly those on low state salaries and pensions who cannot afford black market prices, expressed relief.
“These measures are important for those Cubans most in need,” said pensioner Elizabeth Ortega, 72.
Others said it highlighted the mismanagement of the economy.
“These measures are a temporary remedy but they do not resolve Cubans’ problems in the long run,” said Ihosvany Perez Rodriguez, 34, who runs a small shop in Havana. “The country produces too little and so does not have enough money.”
The head of the Communist party, Raúl Castro, introduced a series of reforms around a decade ago in the hope of opening up and boosting the economy, which is one of the world’s last Soviet-style command economies.
However that reform drive has tapered off in recent years partly due to discontent with some of its consequences such as rising albeit still low inequality and less state control.
The move on Friday represents a setback to one of the proposed reforms, to end the universal rationing system, introduced just after the 1959 revolution.
This content was originally published here.