Shortages of Essential Products Worsens in Cuba

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Osmel Ramirez

HAVANA TIMES – My father has a really serious case of the flu. Everyone at home has a “bad cold” and a lot of people in Mayari too, because “it’s going around” as we say.

But, the one who is in a really bad state right now is “the old man”, as he’s also suffering from chronic neck and neuropathic pain. I went to every drugstore looking for pain relief medicine and I couldn’t buy a single prescription. The medicines are all missing.

Cuba’s medicine crisis has been going on for two years already. A year ago, Biofarma Cuba board members assured us that stock would gradually be replenished and they even came up with a timeline for 2018. For example, dipyrone (the most common painkiller in Cuba) would come back between January and May of last year.

But, January 2019 has already come to an end and there still isn’t a solution in sight. In fact, things have just got worse. Now, we’ll have to go back to seeking out healers with their mystic prayers and herbal medicines.

Mayari’s Mercado Ideal market is now further away than it ever has been from standing up to its name. It seemed like a joke before, sarcasm with its exorbitant prices, which bear no relation to working people’s salaries in any way. For example, a pound of chicken costs you two 8-hour working days on a minimum salary.

However, that isn’t our biggest problem anymore. Right now, practically nothing is being sold, only rice and tomato puree (300 ml for 33 pesos, more than three working days on a minimum salary). There isn’t any meat, or chickpeas, or hot dogs, or chocolate, or crackers, or bread being sold. Nothing at all really.

Hard-currency stores used to be more or less stocked, but they look like wastelands now. There isn’t any oil, or deodorant, or perfume at normal prices, or powdered soft drinks, or chicken, ice cream, jams, or a lot of other basic items in high demand. So as not to waste electricity for no reason, they open the doors to answer customers’ questions who don’t even go in: “Did anything come in?” they ask.

At agro-markets, nobody is selling pork which is another product that has never been in shortage. Cafes aren’t selling any kind of sandwich because there isn’t any bread, which can’t be made because there’s a shortage of flour, which has been missing for over three months. And, this is why there aren’t really any sweets at pastry shops, or pizzas at pizza places. And pizza is the fast food Cubans consume the most.

In my case, neither my wife or I can eat breakfast: an imposed diet! We have two kids at home, one is three years old and the other is ten. The eldest needs to take a snack into school and have breakfast before leaving home. But, she only gets a 70g bread roll with the rations booklet and it isn’t sold on the free market. You can’t find bread even if you had 100 pesos, it’s easier to find gold.

And, she hasn’t been entitled to milk ever since he turned seven, but hey, we buy an extra liter on the street, a liter that farmers avoid giving over to the State. And I give my glass of milk to my mother. And I’m lucky that I have this steady supply of a liter of milk because people are going crazy looking for it and can’t find it.

This severe crisis falls on top of a permanent crisis that is endemic to the Cuban system, of sporadic shortages. Which are becoming more and more dragged out. Add to that the new tax on farmers’ personal incomes with a legal statement included, the negative impact of drought on agricultural production, reduced imports because of a lack of funds after resources from Brazil’s Mais Medicos program were lost. 

With the crackdown on the self-employed sector with new regulations and the promotion of a new Constitution which isn’t trying to “change everything that needs to be changed”, but hold onto everything that hasn’t worked, the landscape is bleak as hell.

This is why our people, who are one of the most literate and educated in the world (thanks to the same system that denies them a space to prosper and have basic freedoms), do the math and realize that this system didn’t have a past, doesn’t have a present and won’t have a bright future. And what’s the answer? To “emigrate”. You get the impression that our country will end up empty with so many people leaving and preparing their journey. At least the most potentially productive sector is fleeing: our youth.

Very few are interested or even a tiny bit enthusiastic about the government’s plans for progress (?): the Party guidelines, Mariel, agriculture, tourism or foreign investment. Raul’s thesis that the country would be in better financial condition in 2030, becomes a more unfeasible utopia every year that passes by. For example, Mayari was a privileged municipality for a decade. It had great material and financial resources to make it a farming power, but the exact opposite has happened. There is less and less production and prices are on the rise.

This centralized system just doesn’t work. If only we could build a better, prosperous, inclusive and democratic Cuba sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, our people’s hardships and problems are growing exponentially because no matter how hard it might be to believe, things could still get even worse.

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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

57 thoughts on “Shortages of Essential Products Worsens in Cuba

  • There’s a VERY SMALL U.S. embargo on Cuba. Its like TWO THINGS! Every other form of commerce, all other goods, are 100% open for trade. Don’t let the communists tell you all their woes are due to capitalists! Of COURSE they would say that instead of admitting their own failures and their lack of compassion and intellect in choosing a system thats killed over 150 MILLION people worldwide. An advark could’ve told you that was a bad idea. There are modern day utopia hustlers and they work for the richest of the rich in the world. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out where all that communist wealth is going. Marxism is the huslte they use to take control of everything for themselves and you gave them the power to do it. Your fault, not Americas, or the Canadian red coats that my ancestors deported out of our country with their tales between their legs. Those are/were the COLONIALISTS but the Marxists now apparently want to portray the colonialists as being virtuous, lol.

  • The food shortages seem to be worse now because the food is going to the hotels because of the demand of tourism… where is the money going that the government receives from tourism? Did you know that Pre-castro, this was never a problem like now, and there was more tourism. Pre-castro Cuba had so much beef, chicken pork and never had a shortage… I wish the castro regime would realize how they have RUINED Cuba, and it was so prosperous before they destroyed it… they need to give up and let the Cuban people vote for democracy so they can have food and medicine again.

  • Trade embargoes are the economic warfare that is creating so much pain. It doesn’t matter what form of government one has the greed of privatization is the force of impoverishment.

  • The usa…bullys of the world….Nobody can stand them so wish they would stay out of Cuba and any other country…

  • the Cubans dont want the U.S. there so you can destroy the people and their island with your drugs and arrogant people…And Canadians and all the other countries enjoy Cuba being American FREE…We or they dont want your help…go destroy another country…leave this one alone….yankee stay home !!!

  • Susan..ive been sending money via western union for 3 years…never a problem…its the safest way…if that family is saying they didnt receive it… better take a closer look at them…They will scam you whether you want to believe it or not…the money doesnt just vanish…you have a number when u send it and i text the number to my family in Holguin….they need that number to retrieve the money so i dont know who told you that story but its bullshit 100%….It will be the family who is screwing you

  • Darlene….dont give all the time to the resort workers…They do a hundred times better than average Cubans because they rub shoulders with tourists…Go into towns off the resort and give to people…they need it more

  • Not if you go into the towns and give to the people…they can buy food and supplies..ive been helping a family for 3 years

  • Ummmm….the western world is well aware of the food shortage…Canada needs to step up to the plate and send huge cargo ships of food and supplies to Cuba asap…Fuck the U.S.A.

  • Is there a group like this in the US?? I am flying Delta next week and would love to help out. I’ve already got a bunch of things to give away and have been wondering how I’ll do it without my suitcase bursting and/or weighing a hundred pounds.

  • Immigration wants to see money in the bank.

  • Exactly what I have been saying for the past 12 years of touring the island. Fight for your land, future of your family and human rights!

  • I just got back from Cuba, staying in a resort 1.5 hrs from Manzanillo, Granma Province. I was there in November 2018, no problems, no shortages. 4 months later these shortages are even affecting the hotel.
    Locals are struggling to buy the basics in Pilon, fist fights breaking out when food arrives, local police are on on hand these days to maintain order.

    I have never seen things so desperate in Cuba. Obviously, the situation in Venezuela has contributed to this situation. They are a large trading partner with Cuba.

  • So sad to read the news about the shortages in Cuba. It’s well known that Canadians have a particular affinity for Cuba and it’s wonderful people.

    I’ve read many of the comments about tourism to Cuba, I would urge more people to travel there, take supplies, leave the resorts and meet the people. They are genuine, love their country and are quite intelligent. All well educated and do not live in squalor.

    It would appear that things have gotten a lot worse in Cuba since Mr. Trump has taken office, I’m not sure that a revolution to over-throw the government would help, the US embargo needs to be lifted to allow the free flow of goods. Cubans should have a right to a better life, without giving up their culture to become typically Westernized, the country is truly a gem.

    If we as tourists can legally take food supplies to distribute locally to the people, without hassles from the customs officials, I’m sure many of us would be willing to do so.

    Any information that anyone can share on what we can safely take in our checked baggage would be appreciated.

  • I would never stop going,I try to help much as possible,.Also I would imagine that our tips help out a lot.
    Could a person get oil across the border,as for flour,and some other staples is what is hard for us to supply.
    I am going in March and taking deorderant, shampoo,soap,shavers,pens. Most things they need are heavy items also..

  • Hi how are you Osmel.
    My name is Andrew and I read your article on Havannah time would like to speak to you I’ll leave you my email and It will be good to hear from you thanks.

  • The hard currency you spend stays with the government, not helping the people at all. Stop going

  • Kennedy, Do you read anything about starving kids in Venezuela? Are you on the same planet as us, mate?

  • It was just a matter of time really.

    Venezuela is crumbling incompetent corrupt Marxist fools.

  • They do but nearly all the money and goods entering the country comes from tourism.

  • Same here Sally and also left 2 bikes.

  • Totally 100% agree ??

  • Be careful of using the word SOCIALISM as it has now become a 4 letter word thanks to Trump.. so US cannot visit all these Socialist countries??? Cuba , Canada, Norway, Sweden, France, England ….Switzerland, Denmark, and other countries using social net like paid paternity leaves, free ER visits and vaccines, surgeries covered, geared to income housing… etc etc.

  • I would be careful with the word SOCIALISM that Trump people are now using as a 4 letter word. There are degrees of socialism. US considers Canada a socialist country as we have free health care, a big social net, etc.. but does not sanction or embargo Canada. Travel is allowed there . No border wall in place.
    Read the NY Times article of last week in editorial about Cuban’s medical system although ragged has far better results than the highly technical and costly US system. Imagine the results if CUba did have the needed items for health workers. But imagine more if US had basic medical care for all. Going to visit an ER is no big deal in Canada.. but not in US. just one example.

  • Yep, i agree, but that’s easy for me to say, i’m in Canada.

  • That is a very good question, but if we stop going we will hurt the people that matter the most to us, the workers.

  • i think tourists are the life line to employment in Cuba and they should continue to go, and bring supplies medicines etc with them to give away.

  • Socialism does not work!!! Yes, I agree, the Cubans need to protest and demand that the dictatorship cease to exist. What would happen if the US sent a trailer of medical aid to CUBA? Would they let it be allowed to help the Cubans?

  • Some of these comments are disrespectful to Cubans and, to my thinking, quite wrongheaded. For all of Cuba’s problems, and endemic shortages are among them, cojones are not something Cubans are lacking. You don’t survive against the U.S. empire for 60 years without them. And, as much as I wish that the communist party there would hasten the opening of the economy to market forces, a la Vietnam, I am thankful that the regime provides a patriotic force against the takeover and manipulation of the island by corporate and U.S. imperial interests. The idea that U.S. troops would ‘liberate’ Cuba is, to me, offensive and absurd. Cuba sí, el mercado y el socialismo juntos sí, la patria sí; yanquis NO!

  • It is always amazing how you can read an article about the failings of Castro-style socialism and respond with your same ole’ stale criticisms of US foreign policy. Cubans are suffering because of the Cuban dictatorship. Ignoring their plight only exacerbates their pain.

  • For anyone going to Cuba from Canada who wants to help, go to This organization will give you a filled suitcase to take as a gift. I have been very impressed with the contents from the Calgary chapter over the past 10 years. The response from the doctors and stories from citizens in Cuba has brought tears to my eyes. Imagine what an absence of surgical gloves and needles means.
    I arrived Jan 1 in Santa Clara, no flour, bread, pizza; no beer!; still no chicken; vegetables are available but very expensive for locals on local currency. Tourism is way down and this is high season. Casa particulares are finding the hazard of the free market system as price wars ensue and drive prices for rooms downward. For many years standard room price was 25CUC/night, is now available for 15CUC. Come, spend your vacation money in Cuba off the resort and help the Cuban people.

  • I think if tourists stopped going, the problems would be even worse. Tourist dollars are a major source of government income to finance the import and/or manufacture these scarce items. Tourists also tend to bring a lot of the scarce items with them to give to Cubans. Tourist areas also provide higher paying employment opportunities that includes opportunities for tips and gifts, helping a lot of Cubans to make ends meet in otherwise trying times.

  • Ryan, I think you made a mistake, my comment refers to the dictatorship of Ortega (Not the US) making it nearly impossible for the average Cuban to get a visa to visit his Nicaraguan socialist paradise. Maybe you can shed some light on why that might be since Mage has failed to answer.

  • Even Western Union is dicey. I was told by someone who had family try to wire them funds 3 times and the money just vanished. This was first a hand story. The 5 families we atayed with laat year all said not to send money. They wont get it. Beat way they said is to bring goods. My thinking is that if the shelves are bare money won’t help anyway.

  • Cubans do NOT have an easy time obtaining a visa into the US, unless they are wealthy and/or have education in a profession desirable for the US economy.

  • Is this article available in Spanish? If so, please provide a link. Thank you!

  • You can send by Western Union. We sent money after the hurricane to an individual family.

  • Support your Cuban friends by urging them to stand up against their government. There are 12 million Cubans and only a handful of families that run the island. Cubans MUST stand up against their government, it’s their island. The thieves, the gaviotas of Cuba, must be kicked out of their place of power. Only then will things change their.

  • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) of February 1st claims that President Trump is hell bent on overthrowing the SOVEREIGN GOVERNMENTS of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, countries where the Governments are attempting to bring social justice to their inhabitants. Nobody in Cuba goes hungry and without First Class Medical attention. In the dead of winter in the rich USA there are homeless people roaming the streets hungry and sick searching the garbage bins for food in the dead of winter and have no access to good health care. The leaders of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, have eliminated illiteracy and poverty. The Preamble to the U.N. Charter of 1945 says, “To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom: To practice tolerance and to live together in peace with one another as good neighbours and, To ensure by the acceptance of principles and the institutions of methods that armed force should not be used save in the common interest,” Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims. What has happened to the U.N. Charter which claims that all members are sovereign?

    Why isn’t the USA taken to rhe World Court for infringing the Charter of the United Nations when it invades sovereign countries? Where is it ever ordained that the USA be the new Hitler of the world? Where did it get its power from to invade countries and assasinating leaders it cannot control? Is this what was intended when the U.N Charter was signed in 1945? Wasn’t it intended to bring peace and security to the world?

  • You know what you need? You need to grow a pair and start a revolution. Just like the Venezuelan you need to gather your people and protest the Communists and take Cuba back from the ditators. You want a free, prosperous Cuba, revolution is the answer. Only then US will send troops to help take down the regime. The venezuelan have proven to have more cojones than the Cuban people.

  • Hi.
    We’re flying to Varadero Cuba on February 19 from Toronto, and WestJet allow us each to take a free 50lb suitcase of humanitarian aid. So far I have one suitcase filled. If anyone would like to contribute goods or funds for me to purchase pain medication or goods we would be willing to take a second peice of humanitarian luggage with us. I can’t say it will go to Osmel and his family, but will be given to those we have met in the past including a medical center and school in Matanzas.
    From what we learned a year ago in Cuba sending anything via mail or courier is risky as most is intercepted by the government and never reaches its destination. Visitors to Cuba who have had family wire transfer them funds have also reported never receiving them. You can contact me at [email protected]

  • I believe the answer is “YES” go visit Cuba as our vacation money keeps things going. They need the hard currency that we spend. I will continue to visit.

  • Hi , I have a good friend in the Sierre mountains in Granma , i visit often and just back. One of our resort hotels had no bread for weeks.. we at the higher grade hotel next door snuck food out to give to buggy drivers, and anyone else around .. .sandwiches of ham, cheese and 2 slices of bread. I ate no bread or meat while there 2 weeks., I gave all to my friends there .. i felt so guilty .. i brought small bottles of mayonnaise , oil, peanut butter, etc from dollar store loading a 2nd suitcase to 23 kg.. deodorant, powder, toothpaste, champu, U name it, i brought it. ONe small way that i can help in this big mountain of a crisis.

  • It’s not all Cuba though. I only noticed shortages in Havana. Holguin, Santiago and Cienfuegos have stores full shelves.

  • Compared to my last trip to Havana in May, this January I noticed empty shelves and stores divided in half with rope – one half completely empty, and the remaining open half with very limited selection.

  • Mage, I wonder why the successful peace-loving Nicaraguan dictatorship doesn’t allow Cubans to come without a very difficult, almost impossible to get, visa process. Supposedly Cuba is a sister nation that supports the regime while the US and Europe are the enemy, but their citizens have no problem coming without obtaining a prior visa. Please explain.

  • Nice to see you guys writing about the problems in Cuba instead of pounding away at the success Nicaragua is having in spite of the “resistance”.

    I love Cubans and this is really sad for them. There would be a lot of space for them here in Nicaragua should any of them decide to come.

    And now that the golpistas have all been run out of town here, they would be coming into a wonderful, safe and stable environment.


  • My wife is cuban.she lives in las in canada alberta.she tells me all that you have true. I tryed to get her to come for a visit. But was denied. On the grounds she wood wont to sponcer her i need 30.000 or more in the bank.thats tuff when we have less and less work here. I showed her haw to make a bread called can make it on the stove..keep up the good work.

  • Sorry Man. Didn’t know it was getting that bad down there. Is it possible to send ya some form of help from The US?

  • please send the address for osmel ramirez i can send paracetamol for who ever send the address

  • Should tourists reconsider visiting Cuba? Since resources are so scarce, I imagine most of them go to resorts.

  • Can I mail you some food from Canada to help for family?

  • I am a woman from the Netherlands and the very proud girlfriend of a Cuban man who lives in Las Tunas.
    The story you wrote is heartbreaking and yes I heard and saw this through the messages my man sends me.
    Do you people realize that the ‘western’world is NOT aware of this? I just could not believe my eyes when I first encountered these circumstances and shortages.
    I am embarrased and ashamed that we live this luxury life compared to you, we do not need to see what the stores have that day, we just go and get what we feel like having that day, or let it deliver at our doorstep.
    It is mindblowing to think that basic things like milk/oil/bread are not available.
    Knowing this now makes me feel very spoiled and also very powerless…, children and old people should not go hungry or have pain due to shortages, this world is wicked in many ways.
    I thank you for sharing this story so people will know what is going on.
    Kind greetings from the Netherlands

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