By Fabiana del Valle
HAVANA TIMES – He looks at me, smiles and some wrinkles deepen near his eyes, which are still green but have lost their twinkle from yesteryear. He picks up a homemade cigarette as a sign of victory, while the smoke forms an abstract square in front of my face.
My brother seems to have made an important discovery, he just needs to shout out “eureka” or do some stupid dance to make his happiness clear. That’s because smoking nowadays in Cuba is pretty much a luxury.
A pack can cost you anywhere between 80 to 130 Cuban pesos (around 3 to 5 USD on the official exchange rate) on the illicit market and you can’t even find them for this price, a lot of the time. Managers talk about a deficit in supplies, unexpected machine ruptures that have affected several production lines, problems with transport, or delays in distribution as a result of the pandemic. The truth though is that none of this convinces the people who suffer from not having cigarettes.
I was reading an article about the subject on Cubadebate, that was published a month ago. It said that according to demographic and market studies in Cuba, over 40 million packs of different brand cigarettes are consumed in the country, every month.
So, when the four factories in the country stabilize and produce 400,000 packs per day, we’ll begin to gradually see a better presence on the retail market network, but this still won’t be enough to satisfy demand.
It must be said that this problem didn’t begin in 2021, as shortages were already being reported since November 2020. A year ago and still no solution has been found. They hope that things will get a little better in the first trimester of 2022, but I’m skeptical, there are so many tall-tales.
My father and brother both smoke at home. Keeping up this bad habit for both of them was hard work for months, to the point that they either had to stop smoking or find something else. That’s when they began to smoke unprocessed tobacco, but my brother wasn’t satisfied with the switch.
That’s when we remembered that in the ‘90s, when it was the so-called “Special Period”, my parents were in a tough spot and managed to get the design of the little machines that rolled homemade cigarettes. There were people even selling them and they were called tupamaros on the street. Of course, you could find rolling paper back then!
My father remembered how to make the machine. But what about the paper? Well, he found a way around it in the end: he cut small tobacco leaves to roll with. While finding tobacco is another problem, it’s always cheaper than buying cigarettes on the illicit market.
“You should stop smoking and you’ll save yourself a lot of problems,” I say fanning my hand in my front of my face and the abstract square of smoke disappears. “Maybe I will, one day,” he says with a smile on his lips. “But when I want to, not when shortages decide for me.”
My brother and I inherited from our parents our ability to invent and sidestep the shortages we face today. That’s why he’s smiling, because he’s found a way around it, another way to escape this situation that becomes more and more stifling every day.