One of the absurdities of Cuba’s economy is the small item in trade accounts identifying the importation of fruits and vegetables, largely for the tourist industry.
I suppose it’s possible that the fresh produce demands of hotels and restaurants can’t be fully satisfied year-round by Cuban agriculture, due to climate and seasonal cycles. But the real reason for the imports, and the uneven supply in hotels and restaurants, has to do with Cuban policy.
I made a mid-winter trip to Cuba recently and found wonderful tomatoes in abundance in homes and private restaurants. I then ate in some state restaurants where the salad offerings included cabbage and carrots, i.e. things that can be refrigerated for weeks.
Why? Because the government regulates the sale and distribution of food, and its scheme has not allowed farmers to sell directly to tourism installations. Cuban chefs in these establishments have to take what a clunky state enterprise offers. Unlike chefs anywhere else in the world, they can’t start their day by going to a farmers market or, better yet, by receiving the produce that they have contracted for a farm to deliver every day.
Until December 1.
An article in today’s Granma and new regulations published in the Gaceta Oficial announce that as of that date, direct contracting will be permitted. The state enterprise that now performs this task (the Empresa de Frutas Selectas, I believe) will not disappear, but it will have competition.
The idea, Granma explains, is to reduce spoilage, “to simplify the links between the primary producer and final consumer,” and to allow tourism installations to “take better advantage of the potential of all the forms of production at the local level.”
This decision may not be the most important in the economic reform battles, but it represents a loss for bureaucratic control freaks, a win for reformers, a win for farmers and people in the tourism industry who can now do their jobs better, a victory for decentralization, and one more sign that Cuba’s reformist government is willing to give up control and allow markets to function where planning has failed.