Bread In Cuba’s Rationed Market Is An Unsolved Problem
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 July 2017 — With a sharp knife and the
skill of a surgeon, Luis Garmendia, 68, slices the bread from the
rationed market into six small slices. Like so many Cubans, this retiree
cannot afford to buy from the liberated (unsubsidized) bakeries and
considers that, every day, the quality of the basic product is “worse.”
In the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, where Garmendia lives, the ration
bread ‘starred’ in the last assembly of accountability with the local
People’s Power delegate. “Since I started going to those meetings, the
same problem arises, but it is not solved,” he protests.
The capital has 367 establishments dedicated to producing “ration
bread.” Most have serious technical difficulties, according to a recent
report on national television. In the last three years at least 150 of
them have been renovated but customer dissatisfaction continues to grow.
The taste, size and texture of the popular food are at the center of
customer criticisms. Hard, rubbery, and weighing less than the required
80 grams (2.8 ounces), are the characteristics most commonly used to
describe “ration bread.” Its poor quality has become a staple in the
repertoire of comedians.
The product’s bad reputation leads families that are more financially
comfortable to avoid consuming it. “Now we Cubans are divided between
those who can eat flavorful bread and those of us who have to make do
with this, subsidized and flavorless,” says Garmendia while displaying a
bread roll this Friday.
According to María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuban
Milling Company, “It is sad and frustrating to hear the opinions of the
population,” regarding the rationed product. Her entity is in charge of
producing and commercializing the wheat flour used throughout the
country for the manufacture of bread, confectionery and its derivatives.
In the informal market flour is highly valued especially by private
business owners who make pizzas, sweets and breads. The diversion of
resources from state-owned establishments has become the main source of
supply to the retail sector and affects the quality of the regulated
“I have to take care of each sack of flour as if it were gold,” says the
manager of a bakery in Marianao’s neighborhood, who preferred
anonymity. “They also steal other ingredients involved in the process,
such as the improver, fats and yeast,” he details.
“I am the third administrator to have this establishment in five years,
the others exploited it to steal,” says the state employee. For years
the business of state bakeries “has been robust, because there is a lack
of controls and demand has grown as there are more cafes and
restaurants,” he says.
The profession of baker has been a gold mine. In spite of the low
salaries in the sector, which doesn’t exceed 30 CUC a month, there is a
high demand to work in these establishments. “I know people have become
millionaires with the resale of ingredients or of the product,” says the
“There are places where employees at the counter pocketed at least 400
CUP per day just selling the bread that is destined for the basic basket
under the table.” Inside, near the ovens, “workers can get away every
day with up to 800 Cuban pesos [Ed. note: more than the average monthly
wage],” he confirms.
Each ingredient has its own market. “The baked bread is much sought
after by paladares (private restaurants), coffee shops and people who
organize parties,” he adds. While “the yeast and improver end up in the
business of selling pizza and the fats have a wider clientele.”
The administrator of the bakery on Calle 19 and 30 in Playa, Reina
Angurica, believes that in order to avoid embezzlement, she must “talk
to the workers, communicate with them and not allow illegal
productions.” In their place they meet weekly “to talk about the
short-term problems of the bakery and to eradicate them,” she told the
The Cuban Milling Company imports 800,000 tons of wheat each year which
is processed in five mills throughout the country, three of which are in
Havana. “Strong wheat or corrector” is mixed with “weak” wheat to
produce the flour sold to the food industry.
The ration market bread is made with a “weak or medium strength flour”
ideal for achieving soft texture. However, the wheat blend has been
affected by import irregularities and the state bakers are only
receiving strong flour, more suitable for a sturdier bread.
With more than 7,500 workers in the capital and a daily consumption of
200 tons of flour, the Provincial Food Industry Company is directly
responsible for the ration bread. But the entity is floundering
everywhere because of the lack of control, hygiene problems and the poor
quality of its products.
In some 1,359 inspections carried out in the last months in the
facilities of this state company, there were 712 disciplinary measures
imposed for irregularities in the preparation of the product. The
problems detected ranged from indisciplines and diversion of resources
to lack of cleanliness.
For María Victoria Rabelo, from the Cuban Milling Company, the
technological difficulties or the problems with the raw material are not
the keys to understanding the current situation: one must “dignify the
profession and, without speaking with demagoguery, bring love to what we
do,” she says with determination.
But in Cerro, where Garmendia is waiting every day for a miracle to
improve the rationed bread, the words of the official sound like
Utopia. “I do not want anything fancy, I just want it to be tasty and
softer, nothing more,” says the retiree.
Source: Bread In Cuba’s Rationed Market Is An Unsolved Problem –
Translating Cuba –