Cuba: Crisis Within the Crisis

By Miguel Arias Sanchez

HAVANA TIMES – Everybody here knows about the shortages Cubans have had to endure for years on end; some because of the foreign blockade imposed by the US against Cuba; and others because of the domestic blockade that we ourselves sustain, whether that’s thanks to the highest-ranking official or the mediocre one who is more in contact with ordinary Cubans.

There are moments when the shortage of a product aggravates the crisis more than it should (if that is even possible) because of the incompetence and indolence of people who are responsible for making sure the population have access to the product.

“Changing everything that needs to be changed” is something that Fidel Castro used to say which has become a mantra for those leading our country today, they repeat it to death, yet they still don’t understand what it truly means.

I personally believe that this means that if something doesn’t work properly or things can be improved or fixed if changed, then this should be done. As a result, a store manager has to change the way they sell a highly sought-after product in shortage so as to minimize the impact it has on the population.

A few days ago at a store in the Chibas neighborhood, “Fami” detergent went on sale outside of the rationing system; there was a long line as expected amidst so many shortages, but not everyone left happy. The detergent was being sold in bulk, without any kind of limit, and I saw four people leaving and carrying many sacks. Of course, most people in the line had to walk away empty-handed.

So, the question we all need to be asking ourselves: if we already know there is a crisis, that there isn’t a lot in stock, shouldn’t the store manager be able to fix a fair limit for everyone: 5, 10 packs each? Or, is it easier to run out of the product really quickly and get rid of the line?

What are the consequences of what happened at that store? Unease, quarrels, annoyance, accompanied by all kinds of well-founded comments. But that doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s not about wanting to place restrictions, it’s a necessity.

Of course, it would be better if our stores were packed with products, but that’s not the case. So, when these measures aren’t taken, people who have money to buy more than they need, investing time in lines, to then resell the product are the ones who come out winning.

This was just a one-off occurrence at this store, but it happens quite frequently all over Cuba.

Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias Sánchez: I was born in Regla in 1949. That’s where I went to elementary and high school. Afterwards I took courses to be a teacher and did that for several years. I did my military service and as soon as I got out I studied formally to be a teacher graduating at the University of Havana. I taught in classrooms for nearly 20 years. I had the opportunity to travel and see another reality. I returned and am currently doing different self-employed activities.



8 thoughts on “Cuba: Crisis Within the Crisis

  • Yes: A limit per customer could be imposed. The problem lies in what about those that can’t access the grocery store due to disability, distance from, etc. A delivery system could be provided to those unable to be ambulatory.

    Reply
  • Of course, delivery service needs to be implemented for every store.. in every community because i see many disabled , elderly, sick who would miss an opportunity to get a necessary item .

    Reply
  • “….shouldn’t the store manager be able to fix a fair limit for everyone: 5, 10 packs each? Or, is it easier to run out of the product really quickly and get rid of the line?”

    Let’s ask the question: Who does the store manager work for? Without a doubt s/he is a government employee. The store manager is dictated by the government, does as the government says and to do otherwise results in no longer being a store manager. Expedience for this manager is simply get rid of the line up and the hell with the customer.

    Suppose a similar situation happens in a Western country. A store manager has a limited supply or even an oversupply of a product, puts it on sale, and there is a line up outside the store waiting patiently to purchase. Now, the store manager’s store is totally dependent on his own wit to stay in business and to ensure s/he keeps customers satisfied and for customers to be repeat purchasers. His livelihood is dependent on the store’s sales success.

    The mantra: The customer is king. So, s/he probably will limit purchases so that all customers receive something. Moreover, if a customer enters the store and the product is no longer available a “rain cheque” (like a voucher) is provided so that the next time the customer comes back into the store and the product is available s/he submits the voucher to the store and receives the product at the same sale price. To this end the customer is happy. Customer is a repeat purchaser and will purchase other things while in the store. Merchant is happy – sold all product retains repeat service. A win-win situation.

    Such a scenario does not occur in Cuba because its mercantile class of entrepreneurs, who are simply government employees and dictated by the government, simply do not understand nor care about the concept: Customer is king and do not act with this crucial business notion in mind. They will do what is expedient because that is what they have been doing historically. It is their simple modus operandi – a lose- lose situation.

    Reply
  • The natural instinct of anyone selling anything is to maximise profit.
    It would not be a surprise if those who walk off with multiple packets have ‘tipped’ the store manager. These packets will subsequently be sold one by one at a profit.
    As the store is state owned, the authorities are in a perfect position to insist on limiting purchases to one packet or five packets or whatever.
    However, they have clearly failed to do this. There is a failure to address what a store manager’s responsibilities should be.
    The Store Manager, as a state employee, should be tasked with ensuring that the product is distributed fairly.
    A systemic failure.
    If the same thing occurred in say, Vietnam, the distribution would be a lot fairer.
    In China they can mobilise to build a hospital in 10 days. In Cuba they apparently cannot mobilise the fair distribution of washing powder.

    Reply
  • Nick when you going to realize that in Cuba the only thing the government can mobilize is repression, and misery? 61 years destroying Cuba the 3rd economy in the Western Hemisphere in 1958 with the higher middle class and the higher aristocracy in Latino America. ( UN data) to turn it into Haiti And please I do not want to hear about Batista I was 10 years old when Batista left coming from a black family my father work in the docks and my mother was elementary school teacher when my father went to buy a house they told him in others words. That they do not sell houses in that neighborhood to blacks. My father bought a house better and bigger in another neighborhood. Now not one can buy a house any where because the Castro took every private initiative and turned in to the horrible situation where Cubans have 1 choice. Resignation or exile.

    Reply
  • Last March I came from Canada to see my Goddaughter in Pina and got to see first hand all the shortages. Nailet tried to explain all the shortages and I could not understand the situation fully. The next day we heard that frozen chicken that had not been available for months would be available at one of the stores. I grabbed my bottle of water and headed to the store before daybreak. As I arrived there I saw 100 people in line. I took my place in the lineup and waited for about 3 hours before I was able to enter the store. The stock was low but was happy to see the limit was all that you could carry in 2 hands. I purchased 2 bags and was very happy. I walked down the still full-line and gave one bag to a lady with a walker. My Goddaughter always tells me if we have and someone has none Cubans share. I have played forward many times since then and have had reciprication being in a line that was very long. If even just a crevasis

    Reply
  • Olga ST,
    Your comment is aimed at me but I didn’t even mention Batista.
    I did mention China. Aren’t you impressed by China building a hospital in 10 days ?
    You mention Haiti. In a disparaging way.
    Do you know about the Haitian Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century ?
    Do you know how Haiti was subsequently treated by the powerful ?
    Slave-owning leaders in the USA were as disparaging about Haiti then, as you are now.

    Reply
  • I hope Miguel gets to read my comment (question, really). He claims that some shortages are caused by the US embargo. I encourage him or anyone else for that matter that can name even one consumer product NOT available to Cubans because of the embargo. Keep in mind that China, Russia, Brazil and everybody else can sell whatever they want to Cuba. Including products they purchased from US companies. So please tell me one consumer item not in Cuba and already available to the “historicos” as we speak?

    Reply

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