Beer Scam in Havana

Osmel Almaguer

Bucanero beer.
Bucanero beer.

HAVANA TIMES — The Bucanero beer had been adulterated. It had no foam, tasted bad and gave my friend a strong headache. I don’t think we’ll be buying anything at the kiosk at the intersection of 23 and G in Havana anymore, what with the lousy service we got and the general lack of cleanliness there.

Such anecdotes don’t seem to be news to anyone these days. These things happen so often nowadays that talking about them seems redundant. But we should not grow tired of criticizing things that are ultimately nothing other than a form of abuse.

If you pay for a beer in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), you have the right to be treated by the clerk with kindness and attentiveness, rather than peevishness and indifference.

When we got to the counter, we looked at the two clerks so as to get their attention. The woman seemed to be doing an inventory, as though she’d just started her shift, while the other, considerably younger clerk, sitting in front of her, was counting a large quantity of coins on top of a freezer.

Neither paid us any attention. My friend had to speak to them. The young man looked at her, without stopping the coin-counting, and said: “Yes?”

“Is the beer cold?”


“Do you have glasses?”

“Have a seat at one of the tables.”


Two minutes later, the young man came to our table with two beers – a Bucanero for my friend and a Cristal for me – but no glasses. He opened the cans in such a way that his fingers seemed to dip into the beer through the holes in the cans.

My friend, who comes from a country that, though not devoid of problems, imposes strict hygienic regulations on all food and beverage establishments, couldn’t take it anymore and went off the handle.

The young man listened to her sermon and, with something of an altar-boy look to him, said curtly: “I’ll get you some glasses.”

He came back with some glasses that looked dirty, as though they’d been used many times and not properly washed. Haven’t we been told there are cases of cholera out there?

My friend had a sip of her beer and was almost tempted to throw it out. It didn’t foam, tasted bad and, to top things off, was not even cold. The Cristal was a bit better, though also not cold enough.

So the woman behind the counter, who seemed to be the boss and looked even more irritated than the kid, told the young clerk not to sell any more Cristal beer, to tell anyone who came along they only had Bucanero. Needless to say, the coolers were filled with both brands.

Had I heard wrong? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t they stop selling the product in bad condition? Why was she intent on selling the watered-down Bucanero? To screw the customers? As a counterrevolutionary protest?

No. She couldn’t have cared less about any of that. She simply wanted to sell off the products she had brought to replace the ones she took. I’m almost positive of this, which I know is the modus operandi in situations like this one. I saw it with my own eyes when I worked as a security guard in the town of Guanabo, on the outskirts of Havana.

What clerks do is buy several crates of beer of dubious origin at lower-than-market prices and sell them, pocketing the difference.

As is the case in other areas, this is an open secret and no one does anything about it. Someone may question the fact I am spilling the beans, but not the practice as such. In brief, part and parcel of the absurd system we live in.

For those who are reading this with good intentions: this happened this past September 17th, at around five in the afternoon, on a day like any other in Havana.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

One thought on “Beer Scam in Havana

  • I suspect the cans were already open, filled with dregs and the fingering was meant to hide that. As a tourist who speaks Spanish I have always found that scammers back down when I confront them.
    I bet if I was Cuban I wouldn’t have such luck.

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