Raúl Castro has just made the first fundamental change since he officially assumed his new investiture as Communist Cuba's fourth unelected "president." He has slashed, indeed, almost eliminated, Cuba's imports of grice (gravel with rice) from North Vietnam. Has he decided that Cubans are more deserving of a higher grade of rice than that which the North Vietnamese feed to their pigs? No, there is nothing that Raúl won't feed to the Cuban people from maggots to offal to carrion. The reason for halting Cuba's rice purchases is that the price of rice has risen on the international market from $223 in 2002 to $855 per ton today, which means that it is time to tighten the belts of all expendable Cubans, that is, the 95% of the population who do not belong to the military, state security or the military-industrial complex (their rice is imported from the Carolinas by special license from the U.S. government).
Rice, for those who know nothing about Cuba, is the mainstay of the Cuban diet, the foundation of every meal however elaborate or simple. Before the Revolution, Cuban consumption of rice rivalled that of any Oriental country and a significant amount was locally produced. The rest was imported from China. Cuba was once its best customer in the Americas and its biggest importer of the highest quality Chinese rice in the world.
That all changed with the advent of Castro. He picked the wrong side in the Sino-Russo rivalry of the 1960s and rice soon banished from the Cuban table and was replaced by a a mix of crushed spaghetti and rice.
Eventually, rice was reintroduced to Cuba, but it was like no rice that Cubans had ever seen before much less eaten. Bits or remnants of rice, mixed liberally with dirt, gravel, maggots and other insects, as well as various growing fungii. The rice literally had to be picked grain by fractured grain from the detritus. Grandmothers were often assigned the task and would spend hours at it before the week's ration of one pound of grice yielded half that much in rice, an abused and barely palatable rice.
Even this has now been deemed too great a luxury for the Cuban people since a ton of rice costs the same now as an ounce of gold. Even the low-quality rice that Cuba buys from North Korea is prohibitively priced. It is a lot more profitable for the Castro brothers to stash those ounces of bullion in Switzerland while the Cuban people make do with promises of cellphones, computers, airplanes and other pipe dreams.
The fabled Chinese rice cookers, the first kitchen appliance made available to Cubans in more than 45 years, which Fidel personally hawked with much fanfare on Cuban television as the "world of tomorrow," have been decommissioned and retired like their erstwhile spokesman (if the propaganda is to be believed).
In what is surely no relief to the Cuban people, the regime has announced that it will produce its own "consumable rice." That pretty much answers the question of what it is that's being produced in Cuba now. Of course, the prospects are not good because of "decapitalization, plague and drought," as has already been announced. Still, the experiment will be made. The greatest irony, however, is that if the experiment actually succeeds in producing "consumable" rice, the Cuban people will see none of it.