24 Hours in the Life of a Havana Market with ‘Capped’ Prices
On Thursday it was novel but by Friday seemed customary. On the first day of the ‘capped’ prices outside Havana’s San Rafael Street agricultural market, it looked like almost any other day if it weren’t for small details barely noticeable to those who do not frequently visit one of the most important points of sale of vegetables, fruits, meat and pork in the Cuban capital.
“Hurry now, we don’t know how long it will last,” said a young man at the entrance who brought some pieces for the butcher in the trunk of his Chevrolet. A seller of sunflowers and roses asked a friend to buy three pounds of black beans “now that they are cheaper” and a young woman complained that “all the avocados are unripe.”
The price boards, some written in chalks and others printed in ink, already showed the new maximum prices that have been imposed on private, cooperative or self-employed markets throughout the capital. With a blurring here, one paper that still showed the old number below, a gesture of disbelief there, and another of relief from the other side of the stands, such was the first day of capped prices: a staging in which in at any moment the inspectors could break in.
“In the end, what has become clear is that we will pay the salary increase from our pocket,” said a butcher in the afternoon, when any the product he had to sell at less than 45 Cuban pesos (CUP) a pound had “flown” off the stand. While flicking the flies away, and in the small space without refrigerators where the ribs and the pig’s legs are sold, the merchant displayed his disagreement with the official decision.
“All the money we no longer earn along with what the producer doesn’t get to invest in his business and fatten his animals, is what they have put in the pocket of state workers; you can’t tell us it’s not a gift from the Government. ” The man, becoming an instant economist, opined that “in two months there will be no pork fat here.”
A lady, happy that cassava does not exceed 4 CUP a pound, took the opportunity to fill her bag with a dozen of these roots, although she also criticized that the cabbage, of poor quality and small, was also selling at 4 CUP a pound. This is the new ’capped’ price and she noted that before “it didn’t cost even half that.” Such are the new measures, which force the traders to lower the prices of some products while offering a comfortable margin to raise them on others.
The variety common to the San Rafael market barely suffered. The vendors did not protest but the customers did not seem to be partying either. During the first 24 hours of capped prices, each party played its role and followed the script. When the store opened its doors this Friday, the young man with the Chevrolet had not arrived, the butcher warned shoppers to make an orderly line because he had few steaks, and the cassava stand was empty.