Jimmy Roque Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – In Cuba, people buy drinking glasses at hard currency stores for anywhere between 0.80 to 1.40 Cuban Convertible Pesos (the equivalent of 19 and 33 regular Cuban pesos, or 90 to 1.50 USD), or at State hardware and craft stores (MAIs), where the price of an 8-ounce glass is 5 Cuban pesos (approximately 0.20 CUC).
Since December of 2014, there have been practically no glasses available at the MAIs, precisely the more affordable option for the country’s humble wage-earners. This caught my attention and that of our (Protected Consumers and Users Group).
In April this year, I phoned the Empresa Vidrios Lisa glass company, where these glasses are manufactured, to find out the reason behind the under-stocked markets. Getting no answer, I went to the factory in person some days later, on May 5, to be exact.
I obtained the first bit of information at the main entrance from the custodian, who told me that manufacturing had stopped nearly four months ago due to “broken furnaces.”
This entire time, the management has kept all employees “working with practically no salary, because nothing is being manufactured,” the custodian added quite willingly, insisting the workers were “very upset” over this situation.
Inside the factory, I was seen by Deborah, an administrative staff, who explained that Empresa Vidrios Lisa was making “new investments” and that these were currently “being adjusted owing to technical tests being conducted by foreign personnel.”
According to the employee, this work had been planned for a four-month period and the company knew beforehand that production would come to a stop during this time.
She added that, as of May, they were planning to begin delivering glasses to their customers, so they could distribute these in the capital. In the meantime, we would simply have to wait. She assured me that there would be glasses at Havana’s MAIs as of June.
Deborah stressed that the glasses sold at these Cuban peso markets are subsidized by the Ministry for Domestic Trade, which purchases them in hard currency and makes them available at low prices so that the population can purchase them in Cuban pesos.
I’d like to add that they are rather poor quality glasses, with thick walls and made of a not-so-transparent material (and, fortunately, a little bit more resistant to the daily hustle-and-bustle of Cuban homes).
Now it’s already September and no lower priced glasses are yet available, so I phoned the company again and, at the Sales Department, I was informed that the problem now is that they don’t have the needed raw materials.
Glasses, however, are available at hard currency stores. A package of six glasses costs the exorbitant sum of 5 CUC, more than 10 days’ worth of wages for many workers. It seems that new technologies have produced even wine glasses, sold at the absurd price of 3.40 CUC each.
Every day, they come up with a new excuse to explain why there are less and less options for Cuba’s poor. We can never find out the real reasons from our “socialist” companies. Let’s hope that 5 peso glasses don’t go the way of other subsidized products and leave so as to never come back.