New Stoves and State Policies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on April 28, 2015
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 April 2015 – She didn't have
any luck. Like many, Estrella is one of those Cubans who faces the
difficult task of feeding her children today without being very sure of
what she will feed them tomorrow. Even still, hers is a family that is
not classified as being in need of social assistance; thus, they will
not receive any help from the State to buy the new induction stovetops
that will go on sale "in a few days."
This week it was announced that very soon everything will be ready to
start the sale of this new kitchen equipment along with other items – a
lidded pot, frying pan, pitcher and coffee pot – to the nearly 80,000
nuclear families who receive government assistance. The official media
assures that, "the conditions have already been created in the stores of
the special program network, belonging to the Ministry of Domestic Trade."
The conditions include 257 "adequately equipped" workshops to repair the
equipment, which carry a three-month commercial warranty. It has also
been made easier for the vendors to pass "a training course" to connect
the equipment and test it.
The plan has been designed to reduce energy consumption in the
residential sector; induction stoves are up to 75% more efficient than
resistance stoves, according to the concerned authorities, and, they
add, they are easy to use, provide comfort and are more durable.
Behind this decision is none other than the Council of Ministers, whose
policy has been responsible for other "bold moves" such as the
unrationed sale of liquefied gas in various parts of the country "as an
experiment." Also, since 2014, and thanks to the "Food Cooking Program,"
it is possible to buy home appliances through bank loans. In effect, the
question of cooking in Cuba is a matter of State.
Estrella was one of those who bought her rice cooker on credit. Of the
7,800 who applied since the beginning, 7,355 have been approved and
5,828 delivered – at a cost of 15 million pesos* – among which we find hers.
However, it wasn't totally easy. First, because this pharmacy employee
doesn't earn enough wages for the bank to have confidence she can make
on-time payments for her rice cooker. As in capitalism, lending to
individuals in Socialist Cuba involves a risk analysis that weighs an
individual's ability to repay the debt.
Secondly, because she wouldn't have been able to afford it without the
help of some family members. But Estrella needed the pot, even though
she would have to sell more medicines under the table than usual.
The issue of subsidies granted by Social Assistance is a delicate one.
The form of payment with respect to the appliances that will soon be
sold has not been completely defined, except that the acquisition of the
stoves could be fully or partially charged to the State.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) has declared the
Provincial Administration Council is "the collective body that approves
the sale of these stoves and decides which method of payment will be
applied" in each case. To accomplish this they will work on standards
for "socioeconomic assessment."
Yusimí Campos, an official with MTSS, informed the national media that,
among the families not benefitting there are also those "who cook their
food with other services such as manufactured gas, liquefied gas or (…)
those who live in remote areas and who have no electricity service."
Estrella, who has piped gas in her Central Havana apartment, will have
to wait a while to acquire a modern stove. Meanwhile, she has to finish
paying the bank for her Chinese made Haier refrigerator. The last thing
Estrella wants is another debt. And with regards to food, "something
will come up," she says, while showing a small reserve of eggs and rice
that keeps her calm, at least for now.
*Translator's note: Roughly running the math on these numbers gives the
price for a rice cooker as somewhere between $80 and $100+ dollars. This
is for an appliance that sells in the U.S. (looking at the one in the
photo) for plus-or-minus $20. In other words, the government "loans"
Cubans as much as six months wages, so that they can purchase one rice
Source: New Stoves and State Policies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
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