All for a Pound of Chicken

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

Line up at a store in Pinar del Rio. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES – Sometimes, I forget the everyday displeasure of having to wait in line, because luckily, I have a good neighbor who does me the favor of avoiding them.

She almost always buys me some of the items I get through the meagre basic rations assigned to us.

As many of you know, the State issues a rations booklet it uses to sell rice, beans, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, chicken, eggs… in such trivial amounts that it’s barely enough to cover the first third of the month.

Well, I was recently reminded of the effects of waiting in line. Although I see them every day, because you have to wait in line for everything here in Cuba. You have no other choice.

A few days ago, I had to go out and look for the pound of chicken I get through the ration booklet every month. The fridge is empty and ever since the government established price caps, pork (which was already expensive) can’t be found easily anywhere. 

I went early in the morning, but as soon as I arrived, I found a crowd that, quite frankly, was intimidating. I asked who was last in line, and I got ready to patiently wait out hours, because I understood I was going to be there a good while, from the very beginning.

People didn’t stop arguing, they were all on top of each other without any fear of becoming infected with COVID-19. I noticed that some people who came last in line, were more skilled and shameless, and managed to cut in the line and buy in front of everybody else, who protested in vain.

The manager came out twice saying that it wasn’t her job to organize the line, asking the crowd to keep their distance from one another and threatened to stop selling.

“I won’t be fined because of you,” you could see that she was stressed.

The saddest thing would be if she did good on her threat, for we ran the risk of receiving the chicken in poor condition, because the freezer for storing the product wasn’t freezing properly.

We were there a good while and the Head of the Sector came (the police officer in charge of a neighborhood, town or rural area), who began to try and organize the line that had become disorganized. As lots of people had cut in and nobody knew who was behind who, things began to get heated. There were signs it was going to become a rowdy brawl.

I was disgusted by so much humiliation. I thought about leaving, but my commitment to doing the same for my neighbor made me endure that suffering. I couldn’t leave when she had suffered all those times in my place.

So, there I was… under a scorching sun, fighting amidst people at the edge of their nerve.

A woman complained and these were her words:

“This only happens in Puerta de Golpe, people organize themselves in Pinar and this insolence doesn’t happen.”

But I know that’s not true. I walk down the city’s streets pretty much every day, I see lines everywhere and I can see the same arguments and verbal violence among citizens.

Some three hours passed like this, until I could finally buy my pound of chicken.

A whole morning of anxiety to get a sad and simple pound of chicken.

Read more from Pedro Pablo Morejon here on Havana Times.

6 thoughts on “All for a Pound of Chicken

  • The Cuban dictatorship is an utter failure clearly.

    Time for free elections, free speech, opposition parties, free media.
    Too backwards

  • Dan, when Cuba loses the commercial relations it has with more than 60 countries, when it cannot buy food including meat from the United States of America, then talk to me about the embargo.
    But if you were right and Cuba is a blocked country as alleged by the oligarchs of the Castro dictatorship, then they should begin to carry out economic reforms that allow the liberation of the productive forces within the nation and not make the people pay for the consequences of Stalinist socialism. They should do it for the good of the people they demagogically claim to defend, but no, they want power at all costs. By themselves they repress and defame those who oppose them. The worst thing is that they have some like you to defend the indefensible.
    The reason why there is no food in Cuba is due to themselves, who have tied up Cubans for more than 60 years. Cuba does not need that false revolution. What Cuba needs is democracy. It is absolutely shameful that in the XXI century there are people who defend the longest and bloodiest dictatorship in America.

  • Dan, I compare Cuba to the US because the chicken we buy in Cuba in such limited quantities comes from the exact same chicken processor as the ones I buy in unlimited quantities from my local store in Florida. Do note that agricultural products such as chicken have been excluded from the embargo for 21 years.

  • Why are you guys comparing Cuba to the United States ? Why not compare it to a similar nation like Jamaica, Haiti or the DR ? Although even that would be unfair because those countries were never subject to an embargo, much less for 60 years.

  • Reading both Pedro and Bob Michael’s experiences incites a moral tragedy when two neighbors, one Cuban, one American, separated by only 90 odd kilometers of sea have such divergent and inexplicable experiences to buy chicken.

    One can only feel helpless and sadden hearing what Pedro, and all Cubans, must go through to simply feed themselves and their families. Meanwhile, across the sea strait chicken is bountiful, available, and easily exportable.

    One has to ask where is the Cuban communist government in this scenario. It surely knows its citizens have to go through tremendous suffering – under the scorching, sweltering, hot Cuban sun hell comes to mind – to simply feed themselves when the source of food is clearly available.

    Some say the Cuban government has no money to pay for food imported from the United States. Let’s take that as a reason though most economists, I am sure, would say the reason for the lack of funds is years of complete incompetence, mismanagement, and not setting its proper priorities of food self sufficiency as the government’s number one purpose for its population rather than building more and more hotels for tourists.

    Another point one needs to raise regarding lack of chicken in Cuba is how difficult is it to raise chickens for food. Walk into any farm yard in Cuba and there are countless chickens roaming around doing what chickens do. How much planning and cost would be necessary to have chicken farms located in every Cuban province whose sole purpose is to raise chickens for human consumption. Would such a project be so cost inefficient that having the country be solely dependent on others, particularly a perceived foe, a more reliable solution? Or does the government even care?

    If a family can raise a few chickens in their backyard inexpensively for food why can’t a state government with all its resources, land, water, construction capabilities, labor, not be able to build a few chicken plants strewn across the country for domestic chicken consumption? Would ordinary Cubans be more amendable to their government if they didn’t have to suffer for things that should be easily and inexpensively available to all? Every country in the world, I am sure, has locally produced chickens for domestic consumption, except perhaps North Korea, I don’t know.

    Again, both Pedro and Bob Michael paint a glaring despairingly bleak picture for ordinary Cubans simply trying to feed themselves and their families. As one Havana Times article reads: how can senior communist government officials sleep at night knowing full well their compatriots must face on a daily basis immense suffering for food? Tragic.

  • Pedro, thanks for bringing up chicken as it is one of my favorite examples. Cuba imports the majority of it’s chicken from the US, being excluded from the US embargo as are all agricultural products. Cuba buys it’s chicken from US processors, Tyson Farms or Koch Foods, the same as my grocery store in Florida.

    I can walk into my Florida grocery store 363 days a year anytime between 7AM and 9PM and be assured I can buy all the chicken legs, thighs, or quarters that I want for never more the $1.99 per pound. The US certainly has no shortage of chicken.

    My Cuban wife must stand in line for several hours every 5 or 10 days in the hopes of buying a limited amount of the exact same chicken from the same factory for an approximate equivalent price to what I pay in the US.

    Why is chicken such a precious commodity in Cuba when there is no shortage 90 miles away in the US? The only difference is the Cuban government in the chain. I believe it is because the Cuban government has no money to pay for it.

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