Cuban agriculture
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Cuba faces food shortages after hurricanes

Cuba faces shortages after hurricanes
Wed Oct 1, 2008 7:35pm EDT

(Reuters) – Cuban markets offered a dwindling selection of food
and a growing expanse of empty shelves on Wednesday as food shortages
the government warned about after hurricanes Gustav and Ike became
increasingly evident.
The shortages were exacerbated in the Cuban capital when shipments from
food suppliers slowed in a conflict with the government over newly
imposed price controls.
In markets around Havana, customers found stretches of mostly vacant
vendor stalls and limited supplies of food. A market in the Vedado
district offered only papayas, a small stack of melons and a few bulbs
of garlic.
Vendors shrugged their shoulders and said nothing else had arrived for
them to sell.
A shopper named Yissel, who did not provide her full name, said the
situation was the same in other markets and in her neighborhood grocery
"These are difficult times because everything is so affected, so damaged
(by the hurricanes)," she said. "In Minimax (grocery store), it was like
I'd never seen it. I saw almost nothing, not like other times."
Due to problems in its state-run , Cuba has long struggled to
meet its food needs and imports much of what it consumes.
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike made the problem worse when they ripped
through most of the country in a 10-day span starting August 30, causing
$5 billion in damage and destroying 30 percent of Cuba's agriculture.
A top agriculture official warned two weeks ago of impending food
shortages that he said could last six months. But he said the government
had implemented emergency measures to make sure no Cuban went hungry.
On Wednesday, Cuba's state-run press reported that those measures
included placing limits on the amount of food to be purchased and
putting caps on prices.
One newspaper reported that many food suppliers had not made their usual
shipments because the government's price controls would cause them to
lose money.
The government in recent days has issued strong warnings against price
gouging and through Cuban media has hinted that markets where trade has
not been state-controlled may be shut down.
Cubans said food difficulties were to be expected after the devastation
of Gustav and Ike, but they should last only a few months as
agricultural production is renewed.
Government worker Hernan, who did not give his last name, said he did
not expect anything like the harsh deprivation Cubans suffered in what
is known as the "special period," the years after the Soviet Union,
Cuba's biggest benefactor, collapsed in 1991.
"This is a country that knows how to learn from bad experiences," he
said. "I hope the authorities have learned from the special period and
won't let it happen again."
The situation would be less dire, said Elsie Perez Martinez, a doctor,
if the nearby United States had given Cuba a hand by providing aid or
lifting its 46-year-old trade against communist-run Cuba.
"If it were not for the blockade (embargo), it would not have come to
this," she said. "They won't let us buy in the United States."
The United States has offered more than $5 million in aid, which Cuba
rejected. Cuba requested that the U.S. temporarily lift the embargo so
it can purchase goods for recovery, but the Bush administration refused.
The United States has permitted food sales to Cuba since 2001 but only
for cash and not on credit.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Cynthia Osterman)

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