How the Pandemic is Affecting Daily Life in Cuba

By Irina Echarry

If you don’t wait in the lines you don’t eat

HAVANA TIMES – For days now, Cuban television has provided constant coverage on the work of law enforcement, not only reporting Police operations in each daily news broadcast, but retransmitting the series Patrol 444, and praising their work in different spaces. All this makes something quite clear to the population: they’re there for harms sake.

This is how many express themselves, and not always in the same tone. For some people it means that it is a difficult time to develop some type of business activity, barter, sell or “solve” anything. Others trust that now the illegalities that impede the flow of our economy are going to end.

In Cuba, the crisis is perennial, everybody knows that. Therefore, the pandemic has come to intensify the situation. From the beginning I decided not to waste my time in the lines. It seems to me a shame that the whole world is concerned about the environmental, psychological, and spiritual consequences that this disease will bring, and we only talk about the lines. Not only ordinary people, who must suffer them, but also the media and the country’s leadership, which seems to only focus on providing a solution to something they never solve.

However, the problem is more serious. It’s no longer just about evading or not the never-ending lines. People need to eat. It has been shown that the rationed rice is not enough to last the month for most people. It is also known that there is no sale of many free market products and that the hard currency stores are barely stocked as they only sell the essentials in an unstable way. If we add to this the government’s war against the black market, our possibilities when looking for food are increasingly narrow.

In the state markets the supply is not stable either, nor do the products have the best quality and, again, the lines are immense when the trucks deliver, first because the prices there are more affordable; and second because they have become the only option to buy root vegetables and plantains.

Generally, many people who could afford to would go to the supply and demand markets, those known as “the expensive ones”, where prices are higher, but there is a diversity of products with good quality. However, now, those markets do not have root crops, plantains, or beans. You can still buy fruit and condiments, but for how long?

Although the television police reports are daily: misappropriated resources, hoarding, reselling with price changes, or the development of independent work activities that are not authorized, etc., there is no official pronouncement on the consequences that all these operations are bringing to people’s daily life. With no other option, we should keep the comments to ourselves.

Things will get even worse if the farmers refuse to plant, a worker at a stand at one of the non-state markets tells me. “The State wants us to sell at a price that does not cover costs, plus labor. For example, as a vendor I have to pay 1,000 pesos for a box of lemons and the State wants me to sell it at 10 pesos a pound.”

Although she does not tell me how many pounds can fit in a box. Just looking at it I can tell it’s not enough to have any profit. Thus, vitamin C must be acquired through another route. Because when someone appears taking risks with the sale of lemons without meeting the established requirements, the prices range between seven and ten pesos each lemon, something unpayable for most people.

One explanation for the lack of products, which circulates by word of mouth, is that “they are going to the farms and forcing the farmers to sell the productions to the State, at low prices, to supply the hospitals or Covid-19 isolation centers where they are located. The other explanation of the market vendors is that the trucks that transport the loads cannot reach them; They are intercepted by inspectors and the police, who, when there is an irregularity, seize the merchandise and impose large fines on those involved. Obviously, following this logic if the markets are empty it is because they always find irregularities.

So I, who have spent so many years shopping there and seeing the same people sell, don’t understand anything. I ask: but don’t you have a contract with cooperatives? Isn’t it legal what you and they have been doing for a long time? 

Yes, they answer me, we have a contract, but it doesn’t mean much. Associating with a cooperative only guarantees the legality to sell. “But imagine if this cooperative only produces vegetables. If I were to sell only what the cooperative with which I am associated produces, I’d starve.”

To have variety at their stands they must buy from others with whom they have no contract. That’s what the market vendors have done for years and years. However, just now, in the midst of a heightened crisis, with so many anxious people without leaving their homes, the State intends to eradicate it.

The strategy to stop the expansion of the Covid-19 is to isolate the municipalities, the districts, the people as much as possible, avoid crowds. In some places they have issued cards to residents, to prevent movement from one municipality to another.

For example, if you – despite the suspension of public transport – manage to get to Central Havana, you will not be able to buy anywhere if you do not present that card. What happens is that not all municipalities have such a large and dynamic commercial network. So, if we cannot go out and explore other places, if the rations quota is not enough, if food cannot be bought in the markets where we live, what is the option?

The government can eliminate all the illegalities it wants, even they were the ones to have naturalized them, but the people need to eat.

One thought on “How the Pandemic is Affecting Daily Life in Cuba

  • What was it that Dickens wrote in the 19th century?
    “Income one pound, expenditures 19 shillings and sixpence (97.5% of a pound) result happiness. Income one pound, expenditure one pound and sixpence (102.5% of a pound) result misery,”
    That sadly is where Cubans have to exist – in the 19th century, hide-bound by the 19th century concepts of Marx/Engels.

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