By Marc Frank | Reuters
The Cuban government has launched a campaign against produce traders at the country’s only private markets as part of a larger effort to rein in capitalist tendencies.
Police and inspectors raided markets in Havana this week, shutting them down while they checked papers and fined and arrested some individuals.
A butcher at a half-empty and usually bustling produce market in the Miramar district of Havana smirked and shrugged yesterday when asked why so little produce was available.
‘‘There was a big operation here yesterday. The police even cuffed some people. The trucks are simply staying away, so there is nothing to sell,” he said.
Similar measures in the provinces over the past few weeks have left markets bare and long lines at state markets for whatever produce and meat were available.
The government strictly controls farm production but allows some sales on the open market after farmers meet state quotas.
Farmers and cooperatives are expected to transport and sell their products without relying on middlemen, whom the government labels parasites.
‘‘In general the people are not happy since the most visible result is there are less products, longer lines, and prices have not declined,” a professor in Central Camaguey, where the drive began a few weeks ago, said in a telephone interview yesterday, adding that attempts to increase supplies at state markets had changed little.
The ruling Communist Party, bolstered by preferentially financed oil from Venezuela and credits from China, has declared that the crisis following the demise of its previous benefactor, the Soviet Union, is over and has started rolling back marketplace changes that it believes breed corruption and inequality.
The economy has been recentralized, heavy taxes have been imposed on family remittances, and strict controls have been placed on hard currency. President Fidel Castro has recently denounced ‘‘the new rich” in speeches, promising tough measures to control them.
Cuba’s private entrepreneurs, such as those who run restaurants from their homes, report stepped up inspections.
Cuba, where the state controls more than 90 percent of the economy, first allowed the markets to compete with state-run ones in the 1980s, only to shut them down, then reopen them again in the mid-1990s.