The Different Faces of Cuba’s Crisis

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez


HAVANA TIMES – Yesterday, we ran out of toothpaste at home. What was the solution? To go to the nearest TRD-Caribe kiosk (belonging to military corporation GAESA), where they sell tubes of toothpaste imported from Brazil, for 1.40 CUC. I must admit that I prefer the national “Perla” brand of toothpaste, maybe because of its affordability or because I’m used to it. It must be missing a few ingredients and I’m sure there are lots of people who hate it, but it’s fine for me.

Well, the thing is they haven’t been selling Perla toothpaste in Mayari for at least six months now. It costs 8 pesos (0.33 CUC) and it is still very expensive given Cuban wages, even wages that will soon double or triple for officials or a teacher, respectively However, even though it is expensive, it is still the cheapest option available.

I had two tubes stocked up at home, but they ran out in May and this is the third tube I’ve had to buy in CUC. I still haven’t got used to it! 1.40 CUC is the equivalent of 35 Cuban pesos, approximately 4.4 times the price of Perla. Very few Cubans earn 35 pesos per day and having to spend it all on just a tube of toothpaste is outrageous.

On the other hand, the “La Isla” store, which also belongs to the TRD-Caribe chain, has empty shelves day after day. Before, you would see several sales assistants serving a large crowd, now there are just two or three idle sales assistants, who watch potential customers walk around the place and rarely ever finding what they came looking for. The doors are left open as it’s forbidden to switch the air-conditioning on with the new imposed savings program. They call it saving, but it’s really limiting.

This July, we have suffered many blackouts throughout the country which were resolved (by luck or management) on Saturday 20th as the government promised. The state-controlled electricity monopoly, the Union Electrica company, hasn’t provided any information about the scope of blackouts. In my municipality, there were power cuts for five days, lasting six and a half hours at a time, or divided into two cuts.

A spreadsheet compiled by journalistic research project Inventario (quoted by Diario de Cuba), takes information from posts on social media, collecting 462 reports in 90 neighborhoods in 69 municipalities in the 15 provinces around the country. I’m pretty sure the scope was a lot greater.

People suspected a lack of fuel because there really are problems with the country’s fuel supply, but that wasn’t the case. It turns out that electricity in Cuba is mostly generated with national heavy crude oil and shortages have hit the oil refining process more. Breakages were the real cause, surely the result of negligence, but we will never know who was responsible or what measures were taken against them. This is the normal secretiveness of the Communist Party, which doesn’t feel they need to tell the population what is going on.

You can feel the crisis in the air. In reality, it is a renewed “Special Period” crisis, which can still get a lot more intense. Market fridge-freezers and shelves are empty. Even though fish, chicken, pork and cooking oil have been sold two or three times this month, which is a lot compared to previous months, there still isn’t a regular supply like more than one pro-government journalist seems to claim.

Ah, a packet of hot dog sausages has also been handed out per family, the kind that were always plentiful and most people didn’t buy them too often because they cost 24 pesos, or 1 CUC, a lot more than what many Cubans earn in an 8-hour working day. But for now, it’s a bargain with the crisis.

There are still no signs that things will go back to the way they were because there are still many shortages. What we can see though, is the government’s efforts to try and improve supplies, even when they can’t, so as to make people feel like things are improving and to prevent pay-rises in the public sector from being lost with higher prices, which would void their incentivizing strategy.

The climate of the national economy is hostile, tourism is waning, foreign investment is scarce and, as a result, our ability to import products has also declined. Worse still, measures taken against the private sector, including farmers, discourage national food production and accentuate the crisis. 

So, we will have to carry on spending 35 pesos on a tube of toothpaste and be happy that we are getting a packet of sausages per family with our rations booklet. And, as it’s hard to guess when cooking oil will be put on the market for sale, we always buy it from resellers, who charge an extra 10 pesos on top for their job of keeping an eye on sales or having a contact inside the store.

Perks of the Special Period. Another period of severe crisis within the continuous widespread crisis created by the Cuban Communist Party’s authoritarian government, that has been in power for six decades already. If only we could put an end to all of this sooner rather than later, establish a democracy and liberalize the economy, so that our people could wake up and put their potential to use, getting ahead for once.

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.

41 thoughts on “The Different Faces of Cuba’s Crisis

  • August 4, 2019 at 2:42 am

    As long as Raul remains alive, expect that craziness to endure!

  • August 2, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Carlyle – All this time lecturing us about how horrible Cuba is, and you STILL haven’t learned Spanish ?

  • August 2, 2019 at 12:34 am

    Don’t expect to see any real structural change in Cuba until Raul is finally gone. Until then, the remnants of Communism will remain firmly in place.

  • August 2, 2019 at 12:31 am

    Of course the “castristas” have been parroting all the same idiotic slogans, with little change, since 1960!

  • August 2, 2019 at 12:28 am

    Of course, your current Prime Minister is very likely the offspring of an extramarital affair between Margaret Trudeau and Fidel!

  • August 1, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    As this contribution of yours Linda allows reply, I can respond to your invitation of July 28 above which did not.
    I shall decline your invitation until my wife takes a lover when I, her “foreign spouse” am away.
    There can be few who hold such a low opinion of Cuban women regarding them virtually without exception as opportunistic prostitutes, but I guess your comments reflect some own bitter personal experience and you resent the happiness that my wife and I have shared for many years.
    Maybe you picked up on my previous comment that my wife made regarding Cuban men: “I would never marry a Cuban man, they are too macho, but we are equal.”

  • July 31, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Canadiens like my family go to Cuba because of the people. They are so friendly and welcoming. We look forward to our once a year visit. It is a safe place and have many friends there. Love Havana and Santiago

  • July 31, 2019 at 5:10 am

    Nancy when the World Knows Right well what is Happening in Cuba as you & others have written, Most Canadians see this as Cuba,s National Disgrace. Then Who will Provide Them a better Life, What I have learned has Taken Nation,s Too The Lowest Level of Humanity. Human Trafficking for a Cell phone or Family Food & for the Nations Economy. Provide them Food with other Needs, yes Toothpaste.

  • July 30, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Even in a madhouse Manuel, some are more crazy than others. The Cuban regime has been an example of extreme craziness for sixty long weary years. Yes, I would agree that others – the US currently being an example, can experience craziness – but only for a limited period of eight or hopefully four years.

  • July 30, 2019 at 8:52 am

    The dirty old men and women from many countries such as Germany, Italy, Russia and countless other Europeens run to Cuba for the chance to have sex with young Cubans, who because of their life situations, accept to pay out to survive and help their family get food on the table. How desperate can one get when your own spouse encourages you to do it for the family. And in Cuba, family is the most important thing. Thank God for that. Thats one thing they do a lot better than us. I love Cuba, the people’s determination. Tourists are the savages that abuse Cuba’s people and take avantage of their weakness. I’ve seen 70+ men walking hand in hand with young teenage girls, so ashamed of what they have to do for the good of their family, their eyes glued to the sidewalk embarrassed. Shame on the tourists that will stoop so low.

  • July 30, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Many other countries including Holland and Canada have better government than in the U.S. today. Free medical care and free education is not the problem. The current Cuban Communist Party (party) is very corrupt and does not give the cooperatives a chance to get what is needed to produce enough food to feed the Cuban people. Canada 30 years ago tried to offer help to Cuba and the Cuban government was more concerned about control than the wellbeing of the Cuban people. Russia put a lot resources in to Cuba. They feel that they were cheated by the Cuban power people. I have seen many people in Cuba that could spend 6 months working on a farm or a repair shop in Canada and take back what they learned and their wages in needed tools and supplies. They should then be allowed to combine with 2 or 3 others who did the same to set up small free market enterprises.

  • July 29, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Why do I sense madness when reading about ” la problematica Cubana ” ? Aren’t all societies a little mad too.

  • July 29, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Why do I feel reading this comments that at times a sense of madness surfaces, in reference to ” la problematica Cubana.”

  • July 29, 2019 at 3:39 am

    Good luck trying to get rid of that incompetent tyranny.
    60 years of the nightmare and still going with no sign of the end.

  • July 28, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    You obviously don’t understand Al that government is an essential factor in society. The different political systems provide greater or lesser control of government by the populace. In democracies, the populace have the opportunity every few years, to change the political party in power, in totalitarian regimes (communist, fascist, nazi) no such opportunity exists. Democratic governments influence commerce by laws and regulations. Talk of “true liberty” without definition is worthless. It is correct that under socialist governments there can be compulsory take-over private businesses (called nationalization), when almost inevitably losses occur and the taxpayer pays.
    Please do say where there is in existence “the system of no government known as Voluntaryist or anarchocapitalism”, and statistics to support your view that the consequence is that “true liberty”?

  • July 28, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    You put your finger on a key problem under Trump’s economics Lenin. US debt is soaring as a consequence of his economic policies.
    I see no reason why any God should particularly bless America – is humanity not equal wherever located? As one who observes in the media repeated reports of gun violence in the US with 12,000 citizens per year being shot, and persistent reports of racist incidents, I am surprised to note that “there are laws in place that are being followed” Are those reports “fake news”, or as the White House spokesperson MaryAnne Conway, put it: “alternative facts”?

  • July 28, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    The government no matter what so called system it has everything in common. Governments have the monopoly of force, Theye use extortion to achieve their ends. If you don’t pay taxes which is theft they will take reprisals against individuals. Governments control the economies. They controll and protect companies to prevent other companies to compete in a free market way. Governments divide people so that way the people will not know what the governmentotal is doing. They brainwash children so that way none dare to challenge with questions. Democracy is nothing more than socialism where 51 % stomp on the 49%. All of us believe in true liberty This is why there is in existence the system of no government known as Voluntaryist or anarchocapitalism, And as cubans that type of system where all is privatized is the system for Cuba and the US

  • July 28, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Talal It sounds like you cannot cope with true facts, Again with very weak arguments. That is the only response y’all have. Its rather like a parrot who keeps answering the same thing with no changes,

  • July 28, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Big mistake as to these Scandinavian countries having Social Democracy. You know why at least the Scandinavian countries are prospering economically.. Their respective governments are not interfering with the economies. Actually these governments are very strong in protection of private property rights, And these protections areally actually stronger than those in the US

  • July 28, 2019 at 11:56 am

    It’s called the ” te quiero mucho” game

  • July 28, 2019 at 11:55 am

    I would be happy to take you on a tour of Havana and the rest of Cuba where Cuban women have wrangled homes out of foreign spouses that they later dumped.

    Cubans play the long game, there’s nothing else for them to do, I would be happy to introduce you to Cubans who have foreign spouses while keeping their Cuban lovers while their spouses are away. Let me know.

  • July 28, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Hi Linda The Cuban Scam,s & a Nation of Growing Swindlers is a Topic That Many Canadians the # 1 Tourist Nation That Provide to Cuba. We would like to Hear from an Honest Cuban from H.T. & there Thoughts of what They Know of this Hidden Profession. Why are Canadian investing Tourist Leaving Cuba For other Nations.

  • July 26, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Obama? You must be drunk,…..

  • July 26, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Now remember General Batista’s Cuba, with everything, yet Cubans used to call the general ” the nigger “, not to say the never ending war with Spain. And the National anthem ” to die for the Fatherland is to live ” . Well, maybe they want die now .

  • July 26, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Rosa, pienso el un poco loco!

  • July 26, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    And Sandra it has managed that with only Liberal and Conservative governments at Federal level through one hundred and fifty years, Not a single socialist government! Secondly as you infer, the populace accepts the results of elections without noticeable dissent, but when any group has a bone to chew, it can take to the streets and demonstrate. All in direct contrast to Cuba.

  • July 26, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    That Dan is nonsensical. The Cuban government thirsts for increases in tourism. GAESA is the Cuban military holding company – it owns a huge majority of tourist facilities and services under its subsidiary companies. Tourists using Cubana are flying on military owned aircraft, flying into military controlled airports, being bused to their military owned hotels by military owned coaches. They can only rent cars from military owned companies, gas them from military owned gas-stations to enable them to travel to military owned shops with goods imported by the military!
    But you infer that tourism was being promoted by Obama for nefarious purposes?
    But as my Cuban wife said following her first overseas visit – to the UK – “Cuba needs capitalism.” Cubans look at China and Vietnam and wonder why they too cannot benefit from capitalism and have improved living standards.

  • July 26, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Linda! I’m somewhat interested in your repetitive view that those non-Cubans who marry Cubans are either aged simpletons (suckers) or taking advantage of Cubans who have so much less than those fortunate enough to originate from capitalist countries. I also note that you do not differentiate between the sexes.
    Have you any basis for suggesting that such marriages or liaisons are any less successful than those between Cubans? Or are you personally a victim?
    As one happily married to a Cuban for quite a lot of years, with my wife’s extended family and our home in Cuba, I find your harping on a similar theme rather puzzling. Apart from the obviously different economic conditions into which we were respectively born, we find few others, we both appreciate the arts, we both have deep interest in education, we both are reasonable sociable – and yes, we are both in love with each other. I say that not only upon my own behalf, but also on behalf of others I have met. I most certainly was not “trapped in scams”, nor was my wife.
    “stephen boka” is correct in recognizing that those from his and the nordic countries are fortunate. That’s what parliamentary democracies have to offer – another advantage is having heads of state who are non-political, rather than elected political presidents, who upon taking office are inevitably disliked by over 50% of the populace, so evident currently in the US, but also in France. But because we have had that good fortune, it doesn’t mean that we have lost our minds and are seeking solace in Cuba.

  • July 26, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Except that Obama was also encouraging US ‘tourism’ to Cuba which was a nice way of slowly introducing the benefits of capitalism to Cuba in a way that it could tolerate and still try to save face.

  • July 26, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Canadians are so happy they go to Cuba looking for spouses , getting trapped in scams.

  • July 26, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Of the US created Fidel’s worker’s communist paradise, BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  • July 26, 2019 at 7:49 am

    There is no perfect system of government. In a democracy there are scandals and corruption too, but every 4 years the citizens have a chance to vote for change, or not, if they are happy with the overall performance. In Canada we are very overgoverned with laws, rules, regulations, taxes for and on everything. Federal, Provincial, Municipal, Regional, you would think we were an extremely lawless people, with so many politicians and levels of government. Overall Canada fairs well against other countries on quality of life, with a pretty good social network, so we may grumble and complain but not much else, not even voting in great numbers when we have the chance.

  • July 25, 2019 at 11:50 pm

    Bobby Ricky,,no entendí nada de tú comentario…Comunismo con un gobierno democrático?,,el comunismo es de un solo partido politico,,por lo q no puede ser democrático…

  • July 25, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Cheap imerialist propaganda

  • July 25, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Bullshit, the USA has created all of the problems in Cuba

  • July 25, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Pretty stupid to contrast communism vs democracy. The first is an economic system opposite of capitalism and the second a political system, opposite of authoritarian government or a dictatorship. They are not polar opposite of each other. You could have communism with a democratic government and you could have a totalitarian or authoritarian capitalism within (of whcih there are many examples in the world )

  • July 25, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    America has to be Great before it can help others. Our government is in debt to china Trillions and US citizens feel it financially. Its about time a president stands up for America and its Citizens first…. Get ALL illegals out too.. This country is great because there are laws in place that are followed. I am a legal immigrant that became naturalized citizen and Love the United States of America. GOD BLESS AMERICA

  • July 25, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    My country, Canada and Nordic countries that follow social democracy are free and thriving and always top the lists of citizen happiness and prosperity. Canadians are happy with the sanity of social democracy.

  • July 25, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Really surprised Cuba is still communist. Under a Democracy it would thrive. Tourism would help improve the economy. Of course targeting U.S. diplomats with microwaves or sonic radiation was pretty stupid. Now the U.S. has banned direct recreational travel.

  • July 25, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    It is quite amazing how the constant criticisms by citizens of the US about the internal affairs of the US continually permeate these pages.
    There are many other capitalist societies with democratic political systems, many being preferable to that of the US which has boxed itself into a two party system.
    Consequently in the US, those of extreme political views – for example Trump on the extreme right who admires totalitarian and autocratic dictators, and Sanders a committed left wing socialist, have to stand as candidates within one or other of those two parties. In consequence, Republicans now have to swallow their better moral standards and support Trump – listen to Lindsay Graham who prior to Trump’s election properly described him in very factual non-complimentary terms and Democrats whilst blaming Comey, know that it was actually Sanders remaining in vocal competition with Clinton, who cost her the Presidency.
    There is also an evidently common confusion in linking social programs with socialism. All recognized democratic political parties when in government, support social programs. The difference lies in the number and the size of the mesh and level at which they hang the various social safety nets. If one examines medical services as a leading social program, it started in the UK in 1948 under a socialist government, but was a consequence of the Beveridge Report made during the Second World War when Churchill (usually Conservative but also a Liberal M.P.) was Prime Minister of a coalition government following the British Labour Party (socialist) voting at its annual conference to support Churchill by a vote of 2,450,000 to 170,000 (93% in favour) as Prime Minister and followed by the House of Commons voting
    380 – 0 in favour.
    That was when the UK was faced by a real enemy, not the enemy (Democratic Party) as envisioned by Trump as the enemy. Following Pearl Harbour and a week later Germany declaring war on the US, the UK gained active support.
    I write this because the current semi-hysteria regarding politics in the US is debasing the freedom that democracy represents, and appears to be infecting other countries. We should all take a deep breath and record the late and great John McCain, who when challenged said of his opponent Barack Obama:
    “He is a decent and honorable man.”
    I personally watched and heard Barack Obama speak at the Alicia Alonso Theatre in Havana in March, 2016. Included in his speech, he said:
    “We stand on the side of those who want to be free.”
    That same man now denigrated frequently by the narcissistic Donald J. Trump, when addressing the Mother of Parliaments in 2011, said:
    “We believe in the rights of citizens, not just the rights of nations.”
    “The future of our children and grandchildren will be greater if others children have prosperity.”
    “A shared belief in the future of human freedom and human dignity”
    As one who is of the centre-right politically, I fear that under Donald J. Trump, our US neighbours need to revise their sense of direction and purpose if making America Great Again and to again be recognized as a good friend and neighbour is to actually be achieved.
    I regret that in a brief comment it is only possible to adumbrate, but hope that any US citizens reading this will comprehend that others hold concern that you retain your democracy and beware of false gods.

  • July 25, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    If Cuba one day could become a capitalist society like the USA it would prosper. Thank God Obama is no longer in office, because he was leading the USA in the direction of Cuba’s social economy, a big mistake.

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