The Chicken Lines in Mayarí, Holguin

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

A four day wait for three pounds of frozen chicken.

HAVANA TIMES – For three or four days, “word” was going round that chicken was going to come in at the kiosk in the nearest park, El Cocal, Mayari. I would often pass by and see people lining up, laying down the rules so they wouldn’t lose their place and stop other people from cutting in. During one of those walks, a good friend of mine called me and said “Brother, I got you a place.”

I thanked him emphatically, for such a solidary action, but I didn’t really think I’d be able to buy chicken. People stand in these lines for days and it’s almost always in vain. I don’t have time to go and check things two or three times a day either, or wake up at the crack of dawn to “endure the line” and make sure I don’t lose my place, because I have many duties as a father of a family, farmer, journalist and with this crisis, a man has to be 20 men at the same time.

I didn’t even remember about the line until Saturday when my friend surprised me with a call and said, “hey, come here quick, the chicken is already on its way on a truck. It’s packed here and you have to be here when they collect ID cards. I’ve already made sure you still have your place.”

This is the kiosk where the chicken would be sold.

I couldn’t believe it and I felt somewhat unworthy or buying chicken compared to my friend’s great sacrifice.

But I went, I cast my shame to one side because I want to eat chicken, it’s been missing from our table since I don’t know when. There were some 400 people, there was a commotion, everybody checking they still had their place, forming clusters and enduring a scorching sun. There isn’t a single spot of shade around the small Panamerica Stores kiosk.

There is a 1.5m x 2.5m porch in front of the counter, but it’s surrounded by a metal fence. Further along, there’s a small square and an unpaved road, which leads to the main street. Some people had parasols, mainly women, a few men with caps, but most people had their heads out resisting the harsh July sun.

I arrived at 8 AM and everybody was already there, waiting, their faces sweaty and their souls distressing about the real possibility of going home without chicken. All we had to know now was whether the truck would finally come, as there have been other times in the past when they have made the sacrifice to wait in line, and the same thing could happen again. The other real possibility is getting a hold of chicken, as very little comes in for the huge number of people waiting, in spite of rationed sales.

An hour passed by. Two. Three. But nobody left, nobody threw in the towel. With their eyes “alert”, they constantly looked out to the main street where the white vehicle would come down, which almost always brings supplies. Everybody already knows it, from waiting for it to come in so many times. The police had been there since early in the morning, but today, people are afraid that they won’t be able to keep the line in check because there is only one officer. Other times, there have been three police officers and it’s been difficult to keep things in order.

At 12:10, the truck came in with the chicken. There was a huge commotion and the line was organized again. In the morning, I was no. 14 in line, but I was now in place 31 by that time. People always cut in, a cousin or a brother-in-law. It’s inevitable. People’s nerves were fraying as well because only 20 boxes came in, with an average of 10 3-CUC packs in each. 200 packs, at one per person, wasn’t enough for even half of the line.

It took half an hour for the merchandise to make it into the store, and the packs of chicken had to be counted two or three times. If just one packet goes missing, the sales assistant loses 3 days of their wages. Then, the police went around to collect ID cards, from different lines.

They took cards from 75 women, 75 men, 15 pregnant women or women with children, 15 physically handicapped and 15 workers from a nearby company, whose union had pulled some strings for them to get priority and not have to wait in line. The other 5 packets were for people organizing the sale: the sales assistant, the police officer, the “volunteer” who pours disinfectant on people’s hands and whatnot.

When ID cards were being collected by the police officer a ruckus broke out and we had no idea who managed to give him their card and who didn’t. The reality is that over half of the people present were left without and I was lucky enough to get mine.

It was upsetting to see so much sacrifice in vain; the expressions of people cursing because of the shameful situation; some people angry at their impotence, others furious because of the disorder in line: everyone was frustrated.

At 2:25 PM, I left that line, with a great headache because of the sun and the noise, a kilo-and-a-half packet of chicken in hand, and with a huge problem: figure out how to distribute it amongst my large family. In the end, I made a family dinner so that everybody could try a bit, and all of this thanks to my friend who gave me that blessed turn, which he heroically fought for in line, over four days.

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.

6 thoughts on “The Chicken Lines in Mayarí, Holguin

  • It is with much sorrow that I read your most intricate story. Well written and true to life what the Cuban people endure on a daily basis. Do you need to wear masks? In Canada it is mandatory to wear a mask in public places, but also in a line up we do this as well but not mandatory until you enter into the store. It is shameful that food is at such a shortage for the rural people and deprives them of good protein needed in their diet. The rations are of the poorest quality, rice with black seeds in it, bitter coffee and stale buns. Medicines are difficult to find and yet Cuba raves about their expertise in good health care. Without financial support from family outside of Cuba many Cuban are barely surviving. I have always been impressed on how much you share with others! What I do not understand is the organization of the line ups. There should be one per family, no cutting in line and monitored by the police. That way everyone at the back of the line gets some too. If you cannot go yourself you should send a member of your family on your behalf. Cubans must wait for everything. I have been to Cuba many many time, prefer the Holguin area. We also support a family of 5 and have done so for the past 10 years. Without us they would live in a shack. We love our family and will help them until the day we die because for us it is fulfilling to be able to help them. They have a nice concrete home. There previous accommodations were barely livable and the hurricane took it down. So many tourists provide the hotel workers with many gifts but do not venture away from the resort to mingle with rural life Cubans. I am not a supporter of President Trump but the embargo was put in place to assist with the human rights of the Cuban people. Unfortunately it has not helped and once again the Cuban people suffer. I am angered that you must endure so many hardships when it really is not necessary. The problem comes from within the country but I will say no more because you may get in trouble. Please keep writing excellent reports. Our family experiences your struggles as well and right now it is difficult to be able to send money. It angers me that the “Dollar Stores” are plentiful for those who have foreign money but those who do not have a money train cannot purchase there! Craziness!! Best regards, do not feel bad that you got your chicken, you have to resort to desperation in Cuba.

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  • The truth will out ! Thank you Marilyn. It is good to know that others assist a Cuban family. As you obviously know, we who are able to assist Cuban families are fortunate in having resources that Cubans can only dream about.

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  • There’s got to be a way to end this situation or modify it in some way, the US has such great success in producing food, Cuba is so close to Florida, there’s got to be a way to get some kind exchange going on to meet Cubans needs/US needs. Joel Saltin pastured chicken, chicken tractor, if you have youtube check em out. There’s no way chicken should be in such short supply in Cuba.

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  • Eric Prater: the US supplies most of the chicken sold in Cuba since agricultural products as well as pharmaceuticals have been excluded from the trade embargo for 20 years. The boxes of frozen chicken quarters sold in Cuba indicates it typically comes from Tyson Farms or Koch Foods, major US chicken producers. I can assure you that US producers have much chicken to sell. No shortage in my US grocery store. There is only one limitation on the amount of chicken Cuba can buy from the US. That one restriction is that Cuba must pay for it.

    So the obvious conclusion is the reason the chicken shortage in Cuba exists is that the Cuban government is broke and cannot pay for the chicken the Cuban people want to buy.

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    • What you omit to say Bob, is that Cuba itself could multiply its own production of chicken and other poultry products, quite easily.

      One of my brothers-in-law manages a Cuban poultry unit. The system under which he operates is constricted by regulations and unavailability of feeds. Those feed stuffs could readily be produced on that wonderful agricultural land that is currently reverting to bush.

      Of course, many other countries, not only the US, could supply Cuba with chicken, just as they already do with other foodstuffs. Canned products, rice, baked goods, jams, beer, sweets – the list goes on and is substantial.

      One of the really stupid aspects of Cuba, is the determination that only Party members – 7% of the population – are able to think and contribute good ideas. The other 93% are merely there to comply!

      The head of the Cuban political ostrich is firmly entrenched in the sand – preventing even such a limited mental capacity from being constructive.

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  • We never Forget the Waiting Lines for Food, Life in Cuba every day life with No end in sight that I could see. Marilyn your words remind us why I return, When providing Cuban Family,s my Life Long Mission that we can Not turn our Backs on.

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