By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Saturday is the day you’re most likely to find food at markets where we live. It’s normal for vendors to save a bit on the side so they can sell it on this day. I go to the Ideal Market (which doesn’t live up to its name in the slightest), to shopping centers, to privately-run retail points, I travel all over town and its surrounding areas but I can’t find anything. I can’t find any meat products.
It seems incredible. Readers might think I’m exaggerating or saying I couldn’t find what I was specifically looking for. NO. I literally couldn’t find any meat whatsoever. Not processed meat, fresh or frozen meat or fish, nothing for any price.
Given the circumstances, I would have settled with some minced soy mixed with left-over cuts of meat of a dubious origin. The same kind that I would give away just a few months ago, when it formed part of the ration booklet. And, let me tell you, the last time it came in, I ravaged it, as if it were the best thing in the world, no longer remembering the flavor of better options, because my diet is now mostly vegetarian. The good thing is that it’s healthy; the bad thing is that it’s imposed on us by our situation.
Mine and most people around here, and I’m guessing its widespread. We don’t need a study to tell us that most Cuban families experiencing this new Special Period, have a vegetable-based diet. We are eating very little meat; I’d venture a guess and say that it’s less than 10% of what we were eating a year ago. But, not to eat less fat, or because we care about animals’ wellbeing or slaughter house conditions and we don’t want them to be killed. It’s something out of necessity.
Maybe there is a better supply in provincial capitals and Havana, but it’s a lot worse here in Cuban municipalities. I found out that minced turkey was brought into a shopping center in Mayari, as an exception now, and it cost 0.90 CUC for 400g, but it got snatched up and left a crowd of people longing for it. Chicken, which used to be readily available before and was hardly ever missing from markets, has also disappeared; pork is in danger of becoming extinct too.
We don’t even think about chicken anymore. And, it’s not easy to find pork, it’s come down to a matter of luck. Prices have doubled in just a few months, but we don’t even care about that because getting a hold of it at all is the main problem right now. A Cuban worker earning minimum wage had to work two days, before the severe crisis, in order to buy a pound of meat, now they need to work four days. It has become an exotic food.
Luckily, there are vegetables available, but they are very expensive and you don’t always find the same ones or everything. Due to widespread shortages, all prices have increased, but here they’ve gone through the roof because we’ve been hit really bad by drought in Mayari valley’s agricultural areas. And, while the dam is at 85% full, we don’t have the infrastructure we need to make the most of it and irrigate our land. It’s taken over a decade to try and remedy this because of poor management, rather than a lack of resources. But anyhow, there’s the US embargo to justify this and now it’s become even easier with this whole business of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
In the first 130 days of the year, it has only rained 36% of the average rainfall in the past and even though we’ve had rain in recent days, the damage has already been done to seeds planted in dry land. This is why the limited produce from the few farmers with irrigation is being sold at a higher price.
Another important detail in Mayari is that the largest pork producer here, who also worked in partnership with many smaller producers, was arrested and is awaiting trial. And, all of his partners have been affected too. Which has contributed a great deal to the decline in local production.
Of course, he wasn’t completely innocent, but his crimes weren’t out of the ordinary. They were the same crimes that any producer in this country commits in order to be able to work amidst so much bureaucracy, regulations and restrictions. Being an efficient private producer, you can get a certificate praising your work or they can stick you in jail, it just depends on the authorities’ will, as there is no way of producing and being efficient down the legal route.
However, on Cuban TV, the news is replaying features on large agricultural and pork production more than normal, in which they hardly talk about problems, but focuses on giving the sensation that everything is working and moving forward. While our leaders pose and pretend to be very active in moving our country ahead. The same propaganda we’ve always had, without any real grounds and unsustainable, which has kept us waiting with false hope for 60 years.
Now, we have become vegetarians again, but not because of a life philosophy, rather out of necessity.