Cuba’s Financial Headaches

Rosa Martínez

Store where Cubans can buy their subsidized rations. Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — It’s clear not all Cubans have the same economic situation, but what’s certain is that the vast majority have salaries that last them a mere 8 to 10 days (counting basic food products), and that, the remaining 20 days of the month, they have to what I do: work miracles to acquire essential products.

Though no one in Cuba is starving, providing a family with the three fundamental meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is a real headache, particularly for those of us who work in the State sector and have no access to Cuban or other hard currencies.

Yesterday was one of those days in which I awoke to find we didn’t even have enough grains to throw together some rice and beans, one of Cuba’s most common meals – not only because it is easy to make, but because it is the cheapest (or used to be).

The situation was serious, but not too serious, because I had 50 pesos at hand – 50 regular pesos, don’t think for a moment they were CUCs.

Fifty Cuban pesos (around two US dollars) isn’t much, not even in Cuba, my readers will likely say, and they will be right – but it’s better than nothing, right? It would be worse to have no food and absolutely no money.

I went out to get some food with this small fortune in hand. My older daughter was coming home early from school and I had to have lunch ready.

I did the math to see what the most economic and productive option was. After adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing a few times, I gave up. The money was just enough to buy two pounds of rice (10 pesos), two pounds of beans (30 pesos), two and a half pounds of cassava (5 pesos) and two avocados (5 pesos).

So many calculations gave me a splitting headache. I felt the world spinning around me, like after one comes down from a ride at an amusement park.

I had solved the big problem, and my head understood this well, but, since it’s smarter than I am, it still ached, because it knew that I would be facing the same problem in two days’ time.

Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Financial Headaches

  • The answer, of course, is to supplement your pitiful state wage by offering your services or skills in the private sector (such as tutoring, as exemplified by the current diary entry of Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov “Are Private Schools Emerging in Cuba”). Throughout most of my active working years–1960’s ’til I retired,in 2009– and I am I still work part-time, teaching) besides my regular, full-time job, I worked many part-time jobs as well. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, for example, in addition to working for a special program for older, non-tradition students at a university (you would call it the Worker’s Faculty), I owned a bookshop, offered editorial and research assistance for students writing M.A.’s and Ph.D’s, taught part-time at a secondary school, worked as weekend house manager at a homeless shelter, etc. Often, to give my children a better life, I worked 70, 80 and even 90 hours per week. (During one period, I even worked the overnight shift, from 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., then raced off to teach school the next morning, from 8:00 a.m. ’til 1:30 p.m., and only slept in three or four-hour stretches when I could. Eventually, of course, this had an adverse effect on my health, but these are the sacrifices I made to give my son, and later my two daughters, a better life.

  • I have booked the Iberostar Varadero starting November 2. What cities do you live in ? I live in Port Alberni and we have over 25% on welfare and most are over natural weight.

  • Yes Moses and note that Dan, Dani, John Goodrich et al have refrained from comment upon this article and the despair of a mother trying her best to feed her children. a desperation reflecting the cruel reality of the Castro family regime of “Socialismo”. Let us hope that their failure to comment reflects shame!

  • I have no idea of the percentage of Cubans who are “overweight”, but I do not see many. However, one only has to look at the weight of the sugar ration – both brown and white – in comparison to the balance of the rations to realise that sugar would undoubtedly be the cause.

  • Well said. Even the owner of my favorite casa particular in Havana who spends 6 months a year in Europe working as a domestic and a waitress, must struggle to FIND decent food to eat every day. She has plenty of money and yet her choices are limited. There are times when there is no decent cooking oil. The low quality oil sold at the bodegas is bug-infested and tastes horrible. Other times there is no toilet paper or potatoes. She runs a beautiful casa particular and nearly always has tourists staying there and so she tries to cook a breakfast for her tourists that includes fresh fruit, toast, coffee, jams, and other food items that even in the poorest countries around the world would be taken for granted. Just to do this is a struggle for her at time. Fresh fruit in tropical Cuba! This is life in the real Cuba.

  • Because they have a better financial situation or access to excessive amounts of poor quality high processed sugar food, just the same as north American and Europeans really.

  • A poor diet, low in protein & vitamins, but high in low quality carbs will lead lead to being overweight. Periods of scarcity, especially the near famine conditions of the Special Period, condition a body to retain as many calories as it can obtain as a fat reserve.

  • O.K. I understand but why are so many Cubans over weight ?

  • There must be a better way to run a country. Even the poorest in Canada eat better than that. So sad.

  • I hope that ALL those who enter the Havana Times site will read and digest this article by Rosa Martinez. Her plight in trying day by day to feed herself and her two children truly reflects the reality of life for the average Cuban.
    Note also her fear that she dare not show her face in case the regime catches her. Such is the fear that is justified by the repression of the Castro family regime.
    Oh, I can already imagine the Socialismo tribe baying that Rosa does not fully understand the advantages of the Cuban medical and educational systems – but note, she is part of the latter being a university professor.
    Where else in the world would a person of her position and with her necessary qualifications for that position be roaming the streets clutching her 50 pesos and seeking sufficient nutrition for a meal?
    Dan, Dani, John Goodrich et al. Explain yourselves and hang your heads in shame for your endeavors to protect and promote the Socialismo of the Castro family regime.

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