Long Lines in Holguin Amid Cuba’s “Temporary Situation”

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

A typical line forms to buy some basic product in Mayari, Holguin.

HAVANA TIMES – The “temporary” crisis isn’t living up to its name and is stretching out like the structural evil it truly is. The fact of the matter is that you can’t skillfully employ a euphemism to put a spin on reality.

Words of encouragement that offer an expectation of things of getting better all on their own, which isn’t real, or transmit the idea that we have a diligent government working very hard with calculated messages. You just take a look at the long lines all over the country, when some basic items go on sale and run out, to understand the ordeal we have to endure.

“They’re selling chicken at store X” and a network of cellphone calls begins to grow exponentially and within half an hour, people from all over the municipality have shown up outside the store traveling by whatever means they can. (Bikes, motorbikes, mopeds, horse drawn wagons, cars, on foot, however they can).

Employees escape from work leaving their duties; everybody leaves whatever it is they are doing to join the stampede. Hundreds of people line up almost immediately.

For chicken today, but it could be for anything else tomorrow. Because they are selling salt at Mercado Ideal, or sugar, sausages, or hot dogs. That’s how things come in, bit by bit. Two or three products are rarely ever sold at the same time and people spend all of their time trying to get to stores without any guaranteed form of transport, waiting in lines.

Line to buy root vegetables in Mayari, Holguin.

An entire population investing so much time in lines can’t be efficient. No economy can endure this, because millions of hours/people are being lost in buying only, not in production. And this is something that should be of concern.

Just imagine! We Cubans can’t produce anything because we are normally standing in line and this takes time. Or the government can’t spend the little money the country has to buy the tools or machinery, or supplies needed to produce, but they can on finished products because there are shortages and the system isn’t efficient.

It’s a vicious cycle and it feeds off the very problem that lies at its root, meaning that it is a perpetual cycle until the system is changed. It’s a dreadful scourge.

However, there are even more unfortunate crowds in line than those waiting to buy food items: those outside pharmacies. Full of old people looking for high-blood pressure, diabetes or circulation pills, or for heart disease. People who worked hard for this country with their blood, sweat and tears, but their pensions aren’t enough for them to even buy food for the week and they have to make a thousand trips to the pharmacy, and even wake up in a line to find relief for the ailments of old age.

This Saturday, there was a market in Mayari, but you could only find a few sacks of root vegetables in some corners of the town. There were even huge lines for this because they were a couple of cents cheaper than the price that self-employed vegetable sellers sell them for. People are eager when buying food, some because they don’t have anything to eat and others because they are afraid their reserves at home will finish.

People were crowded outside the Mercado Ideal store hoping that they would sell rice, and at 10 AM, a truck finally appeared full of sacks and they began to sell it immediately. There were 300 people or so all the time because there are only two scales to serve everyone in the only spot they are selling it in a municipality (Mayari) with 106,000 inhabitants. And it’s been over a week since they last sold rice, which is basic in our diet. This was the second time this highly sought-after grain was being sold in February, and it had run out by Sunday…

Things are really tough right now. Last week, I waited in line to buy chicken which they suddenly put out for sale at a shopping center, and I only knew because I just happened to be passing by. I took my place in line and it was already quite long. It was 3 PM and they closed at 5 PM. I was left empty-handed with five people still in front of me.

I spent a couple of minutes trying to take in that failure, but I was at a complete loss. It was a complete and utter waste of time. I couldn’t go the following day because I had to work on my tobacco plot and then I found out that it had run out by noon. I couldn’t buy the chicken and they haven’t sold it, or any other form of protein, since.

Now, all we can do is wait (and take action whoever can) to see how this all ends. All we can do is trust that this sacrifice our people are making won’t be in vain, which is between the rock of the national blockade (which continues to be the main cause of our woes) and a tight place which is a tougher foreign embargo, which is pressuring the government to make changes and reconcile with Cubans abroad.

Oh, if only these extremely long lines, as well as the repression, poverty and totalitarianism, soon become nothing more than a bitter memory.

LIne to buy soap in a store in Mayari, Holguin.
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Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

Osmel Ramirez has 164 posts and counting. See all posts by Osmel Ramirez

3 thoughts on “Long Lines in Holguin Amid Cuba’s “Temporary Situation”

  • Why is there fallow agricultural land? Well, if you want people to plant and harvest crops, you have to pay them. How does that saying go? “Workers, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

  • You can complain and bitch for weeks on end – or years on end – until you care enough to risk life and limb to change the system – shut the fuck up!

  • Osmel,

    After reading your very timely and descriptive article, one can only empathize with the unfortunate harsh reality that all Cubans are facing. When staple products like rice and root vegetables are in significant short supply there is a serious problem with how the Cuban economy is being managed, or could that be mismanaged.

    As previous posters have stated in this forum many, many times Cuba does not have to be in this food shortage predicament. One only has to look at vast quantities of land lying fallow (undeveloped and inactive) from the extreme north in Pinar del Rio down to the southern province of Guantanamo. Why?

    If the government in the past really cared about its people, and to that food security is paramount, why not have this arable land used for agricultural production? Rather than sinking dollars into one more hotel in Varadero that sits empty why not use the money to begin planting rice in those geographic areas that sustain that crop. Cuba and Vietnam are extremely close friends and Vietnam is, or may be, the world’s largest exporter of rice. Cannot the two countries work together to begin utilizing unused agricultural land for domestic consumption.

    The government in its myopic central planning focused on tourism which to a certain extend and for a period of time was good. However, if the centrally planning government is for the people, as all good socialist governments are suppose to be, country wide food security should be the number one priority and to that end the government needs to swallow a bitter pill of liberal democracy. Allow private farmers to grow basic food supplies and let them reap the profits from their labor.

    Study the Vietnamese model of economic success. History demonstrates how the Vietnamese people and their agricultural infrastructure were bombed and napalmed to smithereens for years and years yet in a very short time span, they have become an economic powerhouse. Why?

    Once staunch communists, the Vietnamese government quickly tossed out textbook ideologies and introduced practical down to earth economic reforms so that today the entire world sees the fruits of their success and not once do they “blame” the USA – the instigator for all their past misery – for historical wrongs. In fact, both countries are mutual friends and trading partners.

    “Oh, if only these extremely long lines, as well as the repression, poverty and totalitarianism, soon become nothing more than a bitter memory”. I, too, hope that your dire predicament is resolved quickly.

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