Shopping in Cuba during COVID-19

By Paula Henriquez

HAVANA TIMES – Once again, I woke up to go hunting, as we (not) so affectionately call the hard task of trying to find food recently. That’s because finding anything nowadays puts all of your skills, resistence or mental capacity to deal with what awaits you, to the test. I say this because lines outside stores really are completely unpredictable.

Let me explain: ever since September 1st, the State has imposed a curfew from 7 PM until 5 AM, as one of the government’s measures to try and stop COVID-19 infections from spreading. In other words, anybody caught outside their home during this time takes home a hefty 2000-3000 peso fine, which is quite a lot if we bear in mind what regular Cuban wages are.

If you decide to go out shopping, you have to do it at dawn, always respecting the curfew from the day before. People begin to take their place in line hours before most shopping malls, kiosks, stores, etc. open.

Like the law-abiding citizens we are, we have to leave home at 5 AM and head for the nearest store, some 10-15 minutes away. When you get there, you might find 30 or 400 people in front of you.

You wonder what time people have started to line up when there is a curfew… but that’s not the best part. The last person, in front of you, normally comes with several people, and so does everyone in front of that person and so on…

In the end, when you’ve done the math and security agents start to give out turns, you go from being amongst the first 40 to number 287, literally… This is on a good day. On the worst day, social indiscipline and a complete lack of respect for your fellow citizen turn any regular line into a true battlefield, a real fight that even the authorities can’t keep in check.

The situation was a lot different a few months ago, when you could buy anywhere. But now, with the restriction of not being able to go and buy from stores outside of your municipality of residence, this has all changed. This limits your chances a great deal.

Everybody knows that some municipalities are more privileged than others, where you don’t only find a greater variety of items, but they are also stocked more often. These large shopping malls are unfortunately outside of the municipality I live in. The measure may have been well-intentioned, but it is discriminatory and stifling in practice. Without any study beforehand to guarantee its success.

On the other hand, there are people who have taken advantage of the most different and adverse situations Life throws your way. There are people who see a long line like this and see it as a goldmine where they can extract this valuable material. These miners are the line-sitters and resellers that take advantage of people’s needs to fill their pockets by hoarding and then speculating with the few items that are sold at these stores.

“This is supply and demand,” one of these individuals once told me, whilst trying to sell me a packet of chicken thighs for almost three times the price. It goes without saying that I have had no other option to buy this and other things with a surcharge. This, because it is so hard to find food through the traditional retail channels. I’m not exaggerating.

Here’s another example: I took my place in line at 5:07 a.m. Turns were handed out at 9 a.m. and I could only buy two small packets of hot dogs at 4:45 p.m., because the little chicken they were selling was gone before the first 40 people in line were seen.

Really? That’s the question I ask myself. Twelve hours standing in line, putting up with all kinds of unpleasant situations, keeping an eye on the shrewd ones who constantly take advantage, and also exposing my family and myself to COVID-19, just for two measly packets of hot dogs.

Is it really worth it? If I don’t do this and I can’t buy things for twice or triple the price, what can I do? I have found myself at this crossroads, more than once.

Sometimes I think the only option is to go out hunting on alternate days at 5 a.m. I strive to not come home empty-handed so I can feed the family. Other times I realize that I’m just wasting my time. I often come home empty-handed, anxiety weighing heavily on my chest.

Read more diary posts by Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

17 thoughts on “Shopping in Cuba during COVID-19

  • October 6, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Rick, you do not comprehend the reality of Cuba.

    Do you really think that it would be possible to organize demonstrations of 15,000 people in the streets of Cuba? How?

    Have you any concept of the system of controls that exists?

    Have you not read of the travails of the Ladies in White?

    It is all too easy for those with the right to demonstrate, to assume that others are able to.

    Do you comprehend the role and operation of MININT (The Ministry of the Interior) and its tentacles that extend into every single block of every single community in Cuba, with reports upon the activity of every man, woman and child?

    It is all too easy for those who live in free societies with the right to demonstrate, to suggest that Cubans should: “Take to the streets in a peaceful manner.”

    Cubans Rick, live in a totalitarian communist state! There is no comparison with the freedoms enjoyed by those fortunate enough to live in the democratic capitalist societies – they are a world apart!

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