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Central planning causes empty shelves in Cuba, say BBC

Years after the collapse of the USSR, Cuba remains a bastion of communism, central planning… and shortages of basic goods.

I am not surprised that there are empty shelves in Cuba. I am surprised to be reading such things on the BBC.

despite Cuba’s proximity to the US, Washington’s 50-year-old trade embargo – which was designed to squeeze this island’s communist government from power – means there’s no American investment here. There’s no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.

Some might see that as a good thing. But they might not find shopping for essentials quite so quaint. I once approached my big local supermarket full of optimism. I now know I’m likely to find a mixture of half-bare shelves and ones stacked with a single product: cheap ketchup, say, or adult incontinence pads.

Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills. For weeks there was no toilet paper or cartons of milk. Now even the delicious local coffee is “lost,” as Cubans say – “esta perdido”.

Mind you there’s plenty of “partridge in brine,” should anyone fancy that. I’ve seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years at $25 apiece. Perhaps a central planner ticked the wrong order box.

The story is even promoted from other stories under the banner “in today’s magazine”.

29 comments to Central planning causes empty shelves in Cuba, say BBC

  • It’s not central planning that’s at fault, it’s the particular central planner who “ticked the wrong order box”. Just get someone better in, that’s all that’s needed.

  • Dom

    I wonder where the Castro’s shop. I bet they never run out of toilet paper.

  • Richard Thomas

    Cognitive dissonance is not just for lazy thinkers. For many, it’s a way of life.

  • Laird

    “I’ve seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years at $25 apiece.”

    Someone doesn’t understand pricing.

    [BTW, why no link to the original BBC article?]

  • Gene

    Someone has just written his/her last article for the BBC.

  • Stuck-Record

    Doesn’t matter. The belief in central planning runs very deep in the human psyche.

    My mother-in-law calmly informed me the other day that, “If only the government hadn’t wasted all our money building roads after the second world war, we could have instead built railways taking you wherever you want to go.” She actually expected me to be impressed with this ‘plan’.

    Argument is pointless against that level of un-thinking. And she taught children for decades.

  • peter

    Not trolling or being sarky here, but I don’t understand why the shelves cannot be filled with European, Middle East, Far East or African products.

    Editor’s note: WTF Peter! You clearly need to be sent for re-education! You seem to be suggesting that Cuba would be better off if they actually availed themselves of this globalised market malarkey! Its the gulag for you, mate!

  • jimmy dublin

    While I do partially support the context of the bbc article, a large part of my experience as a former news publisher is along the lines of give people what they want to hear. That being said, my wife and brother in law are Cuban so they present a conflicting portriat of the attitude Cubans hold towards government.

  • Laird

    Ah, I see the link now. Either I missed it before (sorry) or it was subsequently added (thanks).

  • Laird

    “A series of economic reforms that began as a post-Soviet survival mechanism have slowly expanded.”

    So Cuba was dragged, kicking and screaming, out of absolute necessity into a bare hint of a market economy. And still they don’t see the connection between that and prosperity.

    The Castro brothers can’t die soon enough.

  • Mr Ed

    Well the BBC Radio 4 PM programme currently has a gentleman on arguing for the nationalisation of the mobile phone networks, so that we would get a better signal. I wonder if he remembers the party lines of the days of the Post Office providing phones, when two houses on other sides of the street shared a phone line.

  • Mr Ed

    The Castro brothers can’t die soon enough.

    Not so fast.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post – and I also am surprised.

  • Sigivald

    Interesting how, as always, the American embargo is (indirectly and not entirely) blamed for Cuba’s woes.

    Without mentioning that there are, well, other countries right near by.

    Now, the US is Cuba’s natural biggest trading partner, to be sure – but Jamaica is right there; so’s the Dominican Republic and Mexico and The Bahamas (Haiti, too, but Haiti’s almost worse off than Cuba).

    That Cuba lacks staple goods is purely the fault of the Cuban government, not the US embargo. It’s not like Mexico wouldn’t be happy enough to sell Cuba an endless supply of toilet paper and coffee…

  • Snag

    What is it with communists and toilet paper?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22602331

    And I’m not sure I like the sound of Venezuela’s national dish.

    “Milk is one of the products that are not easily available in Venezuela. Others include toilet paper, sugar, cooking oil and the cornflour used to make arepas, Venezuela’s national dish.”

  • Indeed, Snag. Even in the evil SU they had the decency to add genuine sawdust to the traditional Russian rye bread.

  • Mr Ed

    Sigivald, I fear that you didn’t get the memo:

    Cuban is poor due to US sanctions, Haiti is poor due to exploitative US trade deals and multinationals. Recite after me until you can say this without blushing or blinking, and you may yet join the collective.

  • Mr Ed

    I recall (before barcodes were ubiquitous) remarking that if the KGB spies in the West were to try to steal the West’s economic secrets and how bread was cheap, varied and plentiful, they might beg, buy, steal or borrow loaves from western supermarkets.

    After an exhaustive analysis of the bread, with its surprisingly low grit content, the best experts might have noticed the secret ingredient, not sawdust, sand, or toilet paper (Snag joke of the year) they might just have noticed a tiny piece of white or yellow paper on the side of the bag with some numbers and a letter on it, e.g. ’79p’. The one thing that the Soviets could steal, but never copy, the price mechanism.

  • Mr Ed

    Meanwhile in Venezuela, more exporters are getting arrested for smuggling, as they export subsidised Venezuelan goods to Colombia and get blamed for shortages. Cut subsidies? No, send in the Army and block roads.

  • Nicholas

    The intro to Dominic Frisby’s book Life After the State was an eye opener for me with regards to Cuba. Of cource one knows in the abstract that Cuba is a ‘Communist’ state, but until then I did not realise how seriously messed up a society it is.

  • WTF Peter! You clearly need to be sent for re-education! You seem to be suggesting that Cuba would be better off if they actually availed themselves of this globalised market malarkey! Its the gulag for you, mate!

  • Thanks for fixing the post, Perry, I forgot the link.

  • Nick (natural genius) Gray

    “War is Peace”. The external conflict with the USA (Thanks for the embargo, America!) gives him the excuse for the poor economy, and allows him to patriotically silence all dissent (Don’t you know there’s a War on?), thus generating internal peace. Prophet Orwell is again vindicated!

  • Nick (natural genius) Gray

    So the best way to bring down the current Cuban regime would be to completely dismantle the embargo, and have free trade. All those backlog issues of Playboy would soon keep them mesmerised, and the troops in Guantanamo could peacefully take over the island.
    Any other trouble spots that Freedom could fix?

  • Cuban is poor due to US sanctions, Haiti is poor due to exploitative US trade deals and multinationals. Recite after me until you can say this without blushing or blinking, and you may yet join the collective.

    Indeed.

    The US is terrible for being good friends with the Saudis.
    The US is terrible for being lukewarm friends with Azerbaijan.
    The US is terrible for completely ignoring Uzbekistan.
    The US is terrible for criticising Iran on the global stage.
    The US is terrible for applying economic sanctions against Cuba.
    The US is terrible for invading Iraq.

    It does make you wonder what course of action would not be deemed terrible by those whose existence is largely defined by their opposition to the US.

  • Rob

    The US is a surrogate parent for whiny thirtysomethings who never grew up. Everything is their fault, because.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The BBC said:

    There’s no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.

    Some might see that as a good thing.

    When the first McDonald’s opened in the Czech Republic, some Western leftists made snide comments. To which a Czech gentleman replied: “Do you know what it’s like not to be able to get hot, tasty food when you want it? For forty years?

    Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills.

    Then there is this story. Money quote: “…a good chunk of the reason I wanted to get out [of Cuba] so badly is that I love omelettes and I refused to sleep with random French truck drivers just to eat them more than once every two weeks.”

  • ns

    Wasn’t this a Samizdata quote of the day: “under socialism, people are lined up to buy bread. under capitalism, bread is lined up on shelves waiting to be bought.” Not mine, IIRC it was Sunny Johnson of PJM media.

  • CaptDMO

    Gee, with Capitalism, the bureaucrats try to stop you from buying bullets, with Communism, they FORCE you to buy the bullets.
    Just sayin’

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