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 4, 2020 at 7:37 pm
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    Paula writes about money, greed, corruption, the lines for 2 packs of hot dogs after waiting for near 12 hours, etc. She also indicates she must do this and states what else can I do.
    The people are the real power of Cuba they just do not this. Take to the streets in a peaceful way. No matter what the police use to break ranks the people must remain peaceful. Nothing likes the riots, burning of buildings, weapons being fired, people killed , fires every night, statues torn apart.
    The Cuban people need none of this it will not work, take to the streets by the thousands. If 15,000 people walked down the malecon and another 15,000 walked the Paedo, and huge numbers walked the capital building, any 50,000 walked 23rd street, etc etc.
    I believe the leaders of Cuba might stop building hotels and listen to their people. The leaders in Cuba never stood the lines in their entire life.

  • October 2, 2020 at 12:51 pm
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    There are a lot of basket case regimes in the world.
    Most of them are Capitalist regimes.

    The reason that governments spend a lot of time and money on Propaganda is because it works.

  • October 2, 2020 at 9:44 am
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    Dictatorship is the essence of corruption. And Cuba is an obvious dictatorship.

    “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.”

    Basket case regime.

  • October 1, 2020 at 1:56 pm
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    I relate corruption to both Communism and Capitalism. No question about it. Neither has a monopoly. Which is the more corrupt? I don’t think it’s possible to generalise. It would be on a case by case basis for me.
    I would agree that corruption reflects greed.

  • October 1, 2020 at 12:27 pm
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    No Nick, I do not underestimate the extent of corruption which is at least as great in the communist totalitarian states as it is in those which are capitalist.

    Corruption reflects human greed.

    How much wealth does President Xi possess? What about the Castros? What about Kim Jung Un? It is bunkum to endeavour to relate corruption to either capitalism or communism. Neither has a monopoly.

  • September 30, 2020 at 11:16 pm
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    Mr MacD,
    So the Canadian Liberal Party has a prolonged history of corruption?
    I think you hugely underestimate the extent of problem. The entirety of Capitalist American countries have a prolonged history of corruption. Canada arguably less so than certain others.
    Corruption is both a cornerstone and symptom of Capitalism.
    Democracy, to an extent, can reduce this phenomenon. But there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that Democracy will ever cause this phenomenon to disappear.

  • September 30, 2020 at 11:05 pm
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    Brad, you can reel off a bunch of countries at the top of the Capitalist ladder. Several of those you mention are currently experiencing a disturbing resurgence of the far right.
    You got nothing to say about the fact that 15 of the 20 highest murder rate countries in the world are American Capitalist countries? How about the countries at the bottom of the Capitalist ladder Brad? The ones that people flee from – often on rafts or other sea going vessels……..
    How about the people fleeing Capitalist countries across dry land? The people who flee from Capitalist countries and prompt the likes of trump and his propaganda-victim followers to start chanting about building walls?
    Are you also victim of the propaganda Brad?

    Pointing out the reality is not Communist Pumping as you lamely suggest – it’s pointing out the reality.

  • September 30, 2020 at 2:45 pm
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    Stephen,
    I previously had the great good fortune to reside for a good while and even earn a half decent income over in Canada. That was when I was younger than I am today but I shall always remain an admirer of your country. My impression has always been that there is an entirely reasonable blend of Capitalism and Democracy in Canada.

    Cuba has an individual and specific history in which it suddenly went from being basically a nobody to being a player on the world stage.
    It is somewhat stuck in the sense that it is one of the few countries in the world that had the temerity to stand up to the Uber-powerful USA but is now running out of allies that are likewise inclined.
    It pays a heavy price for having been a David against the regional Goliath.
    No-one wants to go on as they are but at the same time no-one wants to get on their knees and beg.
    I just wish for the best possible outcome with zero spilling of blood.
    Cuba is never gonna switch from being Cuba to being a Cuban version of Canada overnight. And do bear in mind that there are certain positives in Cuba compared to Capitalist Latin American countries.
    But if Cuba were to eventually go down a Capitalist kind of road, then Canada, Scandinavia and New Zealand would be good examples to try and emulate.

    There’s a wonderful joke that they tell over in Ireland:
    A tourist pulls up his car and shouts over to a guy working in a field ‘Hey there my friend – what’s the the best way to get to Dublin City from here?’
    And the guy in the field stops working, has a think, strokes his chin and says ‘Well now…. If I was wanting to get to Dublin City, then for sure I wouldn’t be starting from here’.

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