What’s Life Like in Cuba?

Rosa Martinez

Three Cuban women.  Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – A friend called me from Canada asking how things were here, especially in my Guantanamo.

In love with Cuba, and its people, he is up-to-date on our beloved Island’s current situation and knows about the food shortages that have increased in recent months and the uncertainty that takes over many families’ lives, when it comes to putting a plate of food on the table.

I really didn’t know what to tell her… That it’s really hard to make a decent meal, that chicken is harder to come by than beef [which is nearly impossible], that a pound of pork costs you an eye, that there aren’t any eggs, or even life-saving croquettes… he must have read about all of this because people are posting everything on social media nowadays.

So, he could understand (and you my dear readers) what spirits people are in, I’ll tell you a story about what happened in Guantanamo just a few days go.

Here it goes:

It was around 4 PM when a relative called me on my cellphone, really worried.

Have you bought rice? he asked almost shouting, on the other side of the line.

Rice, no, no I haven’t, why?

Well, go right now and see if you can find it somewhere, a boss told me that they had taken all the free sale rice [the rice sold outside the ration booklet] in stores and they aren’t going to bring anymore in.

Wait, what?! I was left gobsmacked, but then something bigger hit me and made me get out of my seat and run outside…

Oh my god, my daughters, I thought, they won’t survive even 15 days with the rice I have…

I rushed off to the ATM machine to take out some savings I have, which I have been zealously keeping for emergencies, and this was a matter of life or death.

I took out 600 Cuban pesos (it’s impossible to have this much money in CUC=USD) to buy a sack of rice. Four-hundred pesos (16 CUC) were usually enough, but I took out a little extra in case I had to pay a little more, and pay for transport there and back, as I was all on my own.

From the ATM machine, I ran to the bodega store closest to my home.

When I got there, there was a really long line – this never happens for rice, not even in recent months). Even though there were many people, they were all very calm.

The only problem was that they were only selling 10 pounds per person, and I wanted nothing less than a 100 pound sack.

How could I do that with so many people around?

A neighbor had taken six young guys from the neighborhood with him. He left with 80 pounds of that precious grain in a sack.

I didn’t have anyone to turn to for help. I had no other choice but to wait my turn and speak to the bodega seller.

I need to buy a sack, I said in almost a whisper when it was my turn.

What did you say? He replied with wide eyes, but also quietly.

Don’t worry, I’ll give you an extra 140 pesos.

Are you crazy? With the number of people there are here? No, I can’t.

And, what about tomorrow? Can you then?

Look Rosi, he said to me half-smiling, I’ll tell you because we’re like family.

Look, it’s all been a rumor that has spread across the city, and I can’t explain to everyone because they don’t believe you either.

According to what I heard, what happened was that they moved some sacks of rice from some bodega stores in the South of the city, to take them to other markets where there is a greater demand. And, I don’t know who thought to spin a story about free sale rice being taken away and never being sold again.

However, as you can imagine, the news spread like wildfire across the city and everyone who could has come out as fast as they can to try and buy the last few sacks.

I’ve sold more rice at this market today than I have all month; but to tell you the truth, my girl, there aren’t any problems with rice, up until now there’s only been rice and beans in the warehouses and there’s tons of it, I assure it.

I had no reason not to trust the bodega man, who like he himself said, is like my family (he’s married to a cousin of mine), but I also remembered the really popular expression that says when you hear the river it’s because it’s carrying water, and in spite of me wanting to believe that his words were true, I decided to buy my 100 lbs (the following day), just in case.

Lots of people did the same, those who haven’t, bought whatever they could afford.

This is life in Cuba nowadays, there’s a lot of uncertainty about food and people are worried that a period is coming that nobody wants to call “Special”, but really is taking on extraordinary characteristics.

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.

16 thoughts on “What’s Life Like in Cuba?

  • August 19, 2019 at 2:05 am

    Thanks Rosa….we love Cuba and the people…and….baseball….have travelled most of island..

  • May 10, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    The stealing of others land and property is not what a good society lays a foundation on. The foundation is rotten. What you call the revolution is actually the introduction of a socialistic filth of thievery. Your kind are thiefs. Reflect on that! Remember that other thief in North Korea? His Dad ordered 1000 Swedish Volvos. They were delivered to him, he did not pay for them. Thieves! Unworthy of any dignity or claim of any kind. Voided by the truth!

  • May 10, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Jajajaja Omar, Venceriamos. Learn the conjugation of the verb Vencer. When your tiranical assassin and despotic ruler of Cuba said that (actually copied cat it) … DRONES had not been invented. So, venceremos is not an option anymore. GOD BLESS AMERICA, THE GREATEST NATION IN THE WORLD. Best of luck to you Omar, in your endeavors, may you and your family enjoy long health. Stop promoting hate and speaking about histories you dont fully know. If you are going to worship Castro, doing internally, just like you would do Mohammad, not everyone worships the same Gods.

  • May 7, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Omar, you continue to regurgitate the time-worn propaganda of the moribund Castro dictatorship. The reality on the ground in Cuba regarding food shortages is a result of poor agricultural output. The Castro dictatorship must import food products like rice while hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Cuba lay in waste. This has nothing to do with the US and everything to do with ineffective or failed agricultural practices.

  • May 4, 2019 at 7:09 am

    Rosa, It would make more sense if you make you comments on the Spanish side of Havana Times. wwww.havanatimesenespanol.org

  • May 4, 2019 at 12:03 am

    Omar Nasib? ó Maradona Nasib..adictos a la cocaina,,tan endrogados que no saben lo q ven,,ni lo que escriben,,ratas de dos patas,,,A quién le van a vender esa falacia de una Cuba paradisíaca,,Ya son muy poquitos los q creen en todas las mentiras q el gobierno cubano trata de vender,,Los médicos cubanos q van al extranjeros a trabajar como esclavos y muy mal pagados,,no van por amor a su profesión van en busca de unos pocos dollares para poder sobrevivir o desertar de las misiones..( sabe q es verdad ),,y no entiendo cuál es el odio a EEUU..sólo mira televisión ( que estoy segura q no tienes ) y ve esas caravanas de miles de inmigrantes tratando de llegar a la tierra de las oportunidades,,,miles de cubanos esperando entrar por la frontera pidiendo asilo y llorando de rodillas pidiendo una sola oportunidad,,vivir en libertad y sin miedo en su país de origen,,,prefieren morir que regresar a Cuba,,Nunca he oído a nadie q quiera inmigrar a Cuba o Venezuela con sus hijos,,NO todos quieren la miel del mejor país del mundo…

  • May 3, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    The Cuban regime charges other countries for supplying medical and educational services – it is a major revenue stream for them. I know, I have relatives participating, and they receive only about 20% of the fees charged – which still is much much more than the pittance they receive when at home in Cuba.
    However, Omar Nasib is correct in saying there is a food shortage. But that is not a consequence of the US, from which Cuba buys a substantial part of its food imports – almost on par with those it purchases from Holland and Spain and there is nothing preventing the importation of more food. The regime prefers instead to purchase increasing volumes of beer from a wide variety of countries, rather than increasing production within Cuba and providing more employment for Cubans.
    The Cuban doctor who operated on Hugo Chavez following the diagnosis of cancer, has been a guest in our home. Chavez gave him a car in thanks, and died of cancer – nothing to do with Omar Nasib’s imaginary assassination by the US. Such a claim is a falsehood, but as one who has obviously swallowed the 19th century thinking of Karl Marx and the policies pursued by communist parties, falsification and misinformation will come naturally.
    Such is the venom and replication of the views of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba, that there is a danger that our old pal Elio Delgado Legon will become redundant as a contributor to Havana Times for even his tutoring and views do not match the extremes of Omar Nasib.
    I noted the claim that Omar Nasib has lived in Cuba. That obviously was when Fidel Castro was the dictator and even then, obviously for only a brief period. I can only respond as one who lives in today’s Cuba with family and address those realities. But Rosa Martinez is a born Cuban with children and writes factually. She relates the truth and Mr. Nasib is not qualified to deny those truths.

  • May 1, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Again ,you are all missing the target. The food shortage presents again US fingerprints again trying to destabilize the island ones more. How can you people be so blind with challenged memory? Ask yourself what happened in Argentina ,chilé, and now Venezuela and Cuba? You really believe these issues originated internally? What happens now in Venezuela is a pure work of the US state department. Remember Congress in the US denounced by majority the involvement of the US in Venezuela in attempting to assassinate Chavez following the dismissal of the US ambassador and CIA involvement in attempting a coup against Hugo Chavez. The whole world news was on that case. Gentlemen, let’s be honest with our conscience. The problem of food shortage is a typical tactic of US to turn a population against its leader.
    Talk about real issues like the imperialism of the 20th century. It is urgent that the US gov. stop bullying those who disagree with them with targeted assassination of sovereign country leaders .presidents Omar Torrijos of Panama, jaime Roldos of Ecuador, president Allende of Chilé and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, all were assassinated by the CIA and US State department , John Perkins has testified in the dirty roles he has played in the CIA . I re for you to his book ” apology of a hit man” , pretty indicative. how about we educate ourselves on the real issues, the root of all political instabilities in the globe. “Patria O muerte, vencerémos” Omar Nasib

  • May 1, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Yes the potatoes my amigos do not believe me when I tell them of the quality and quantity we have in Canada. I have been in the lineups you mention and before no problems but now the people in line are getting angry. My one friend who works at a TRD store was almost beaten up because they ran out of chicken.

  • May 1, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Oh dear Omar. Your post exposes precisely how the Cuban government do not listen to the problems of their own people. You can identify the triumphs of Cuban doctors abroad (definitely praise worthy) and the wrong doings of the blockade (which many people and governments around the world find abhorrent), but also recognise where the system needs to be improved. The two are not mutually exclusive, we are not fixed in time, there is always room for improvement. If you live in Cuba perhaps you are somehow (party favoritism?) immune from the hour to hour day to day problems of even securing the essentials of life. There can be no other reason why you would fail to see that this is what the general populace is up against. If you don’t live in Cuba, kindly STFU.

  • May 1, 2019 at 2:04 am

    Rosa, thanks for this very good and enlightening article about the way the Cubans on the island live!
    Omar you make me so angry, even if the work Cuban doctors and teachers have done outside of the island is a great achievement (which is true, but at the same time it’s an income model for the Cuban government, the Cubans there are payed less than these countries pay the Cuban government), that doesn’t change that the real life situation for the average Cuban on the island is exactly as Rosa describes. Keep on dreaming of the success of the Cuban Revolution and shutting your eyes to the hardships it has brought to everyone on the island! (And their situation surely isn’t all and only due to the blockade, as we all know)

  • April 30, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    How can we depart farther from honesty and morals day after day. Any bias and dirty statement aiming to unjustly attempt to invalidate the Cuban Revolution and it’s great success around the world, is truly exposing the weakness and imperialistic nature of the U.S.A toward Cuba and the rest of the world that is working to build its nations. If you fake intellectuals knew a little about the reality between the U.S and the great island ,you would feel ashamed of yourself. I have lived in Cuba and know what I am talking about unlike you fake “vendidos “in service of the worse imperialistic system in the history of mankind. for a meager pay , you are dishonestly misrepresenting the noble Cuban efforts. Cuba is not focused on empty rhètoric tinted with vitriol toward other who pose themselves as detractors of the Revolution. Cuba ‘s International Socialism translates into every day actions of medical and academic assistance around the world. Just came back from East Africa and the Gambia where thousands of Cuban medical doctors are serving populations in dire need in that department. In Latin America and central America ,from Nicaragua to Venezuela, Cuban doctors and teachers have been present in the field from the capital cities to the most remote villages. Dear fake intellectuals ,i truly urge you to go against the cruel 60 year old senseless economic blockade against the island and
    denounce its illigal nature as it violates international treaties and international laws . How about you denounce the flagrant violations of the Amendment Platt which was signed in coercion in benefit of the U.S.. if you know what it represent. These are the real issues , but not blowing out of proportion a common reality of the third world. Adopting a blind eye toward the great achievements of the Cuban Revolution ,and taking this shameless position is an indignation to the profession of journalism, “Horwell rolls in his grave” overlooking the multiple great achievements of the Cuban Revolution to elect this shameless position of misguidance and dishonesty will not make a patriot out of you ,much less a journalist faithful to the deontology of the profession. Please reflect on my words. “Patria o muerte, venceremo!!! ” Omar Nasib

  • April 30, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Those who have only visited Cuba as tourists from the capitalist world should re-read this article by Rosa, for it reflects the reality of Cuba for Cubans. When there is a delivery of a food product word spreads fast and folks descend in large numbers to purchase sufficient of that product to last if possible for a month or two – that being largely dependent upon having sufficient money. This is turn means that the supply is sold out in a short period leading to another period of shortage. .
    Those who ‘manage’ the shops merely accept whatever is delivered. The words ‘supply chain’ are meaningless, for they do not order requirements or carry stocks of standard products. The consequence is that a few products (canned tomatoes and imported beer) are in over-supply, whereas normal daily requirements such as margarine, butter, cheese, chicken, yogurt, coffee and toilet paper arrive in spurts if at all. When they do arrive, the pallets fill the body of the shop, necessitating customers lining up outside to seek their requirements through a hatch.
    In our community no liquid homogenized milk was available from December until now. Dried milk powder was available in spurts. No Cuban beer (Bucanero and Cristal) was available from August through to April, but in March there was a large supply of toothpaste. The level of management of the supply system is incredibly incompetent and many people make a daily visit to the stores to ascertain what is available that day. Remember that people also need bread, so they go to the panderia ask who is “ultimo” and patiently hang around until the next batch of loaves is available – which can take up to an hour. To obtain pork they visit those who sell it from their homes, with availability being dependent upon whether they have been able to buy a pig raised in someones backyard. Eggs are bought on the street along with any available fruit and vegetables. When occasionally potatoes appear, there is a big rush to buy, for they are a rare treat, even although of poor quality with scabs and insect damage.
    The system is accurately described as living hand to mouth.

  • April 30, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you for the update, I too am concerned about the domestic events in Cuba. I am a US. citizen with love one in Vinales and La Palma. Keep us posted on current events. Thank You…

  • April 30, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you, Rosa. I am an Obama person and really upset by our current administration’s treatment of your country.
    Keeping the faith, you too, please.
    Harry Wurster

  • April 30, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Whenever I have to leave my wife and son in Cuba to return to Canada I always make sure that I purchase a sac of rice and beans and chicken if available. It has been more difficult though in the last year.

Comments are closed.