Startled ex-Health Inspectors

Veronica Fernandez

Dulces en moneda nacional. Foto: Yusimí Rodríguez

Last night when I was leaving work and heading home, I ran into some friends – a married couple who I hadn’t seen in years. They had been my neighbors but they moved and we hadn’t seen each other since, until they reappeared that rainy night.

They called out to me several times, and I looked around in the darkness but I couldn’t see who they were, though their voices were familiar. When I recognized them, I could see that the couple — both in their 80s — still had a freshness in their faces. While they had lost their youthful appearances over the years, there remained freshness in their desires to live and confront the setbacks of life.

They had already celebrated their golden anniversary, and I think that given the road they were on they had a good chance of one day belonging to the 120-year-olds club.

I was thrilled to see them again, but at the same time I was concerned about why they had showed up at night in my neighborhood of Cojimar (located to the east of Havana Bay). It turned out though that they had come to see to some friends who were very sick and to drop in on some other people.

They began to inquire about several things in the neighborhood and were puzzled about a situation they had just experienced, which was where the conversation led. They couldn’t imagine how something of that nature could have happened.

The situation had begun because they both liked pastry a lot and therefore they went to the Cojimar bakery (someone had told them that the best and most flavorful cakes, pies and pastries were sold there). But when they got there they saw all the baked goods covered with flies and the clerks touching the pastries after having handled the money.

The couple told me that they themselves had been public health inspectors for a long time and that they had always insisted on merchants taking the greatest care with the hygiene of their products. The two become so indignant that they asked to speak with the manager, but he only gave excuses and denied what they themselves had seen with their own eyes.

They commented to me that despite how much they had wanted to eat something sweet, they would never have tried anything from there since they thought that it was inhuman to offer people such products. Then too, the chance of contracting some type of illness was obvious.

They explained that people in Cuba are subjected to having their health compromised by all the negligence that’s committed daily, with no one caring and no one capable of curtailing such outrages.

They also commented to me that it was because this pastry was being sold in regular pesos that these kinds of things could happen. They were sure that if the customers were paying in CUCs (Cuban hard currency), none of this would have occurred – or if it did happen it would have been much less frequent.

They then asked the question: Why is it that Cubans can’t eat sweets paid for in the currency in which their wages are paid. Moreover, why can’t they get decent service, treatment that’s not at the risk of contracting some virus?

This couple has the experience of having visited other countries in the Third World, and never did they see situations where foreigners had more rights than nationals in the way that happens with Cubans in our own country. They tell people this but many individuals don’t believe them, they exclaimed.

After hearing their complaints and all their explanations, I took them by their hands and led them to my house to continue to talk about these and other issues that they wanted to discuss with me. But at the same time, I was trying to calm them down; because despite everything they had done to help build this society, I thought that it was worth the trouble to listen to the complaints and gripes they had.

Still, from what I could see — though their complaints seemed infinite, and whether or not controls are instituted or inspectors come — it seems that in our society the bad is always going to overcome good.

Veronica Fernadez

Veronica Fernandez: I was born in the town of Regla, on the other side of Havana Bay. Over the years, many people from Regla have gone to live in Cojimar, fleeing the contamination from the petroleum refinery in Regla. That's what my family did when I was just four years old. Since I was a little girl I have been drawn to the arts and letters. Poetry and narrative writing are my favorites. I had the good fortune to study philology, a branch of the human sciences dealing with language and literature, at the University of Havana with top notch professors. As a Capricorn, I adore organization, people who are mature, the romantic things in life and the lack of self-interest that is the backbone of these times. I enjoy our typical Cuban food, (white rice, black beans, pork and yucca with garlic sauce) and also Italian food. I also like chocolate and drinking a mojito (rum cocktail) in the historic center of my city.

2 thoughts on “Startled ex-Health Inspectors

  • A provocative article. Why, in the state monopoly form of socialism–as exampled in Cuba–does the bad always seem to over come the good? This is highly relevant in the US because we are trying to offer our people a vision and program for a socialist Cooperative Republic that is workable and attractive.

    In the case of food service work, the obvious solution to the kind of negligence complained about by the older couple is to ensure that many of even most workers own the establishments where they work cooperatively. With such direct ownership, the reputation of the business–and therefore the income of the cooperative owners–is affected by the quality of service. If appropriate hygiene is not practiced, customers will tend to punish the enterprise in question by going to a shop down the street.

    It is morally right of course for food service workers to practice good hygiene with what they offer to the public. If a bakery or delicatessen however is owned by the state, and if the workers are state employees, the reputation of the enterprise has no immediate or direct affect on the income of the workers. Sadly, this allows negligence to begin and grow steadily–as with the pastry shop visited by the couple.

    Whether under a monopoly capitalist regime or a socialist cooperative republic of course, civil service examiners will be needed to monitor food service enterprise and enforce healthy standards of hygiene. Under a socialist state monopoly regime however, civil service food inspectors are always trying to enforce standards that are broadly undermined by the disincentives of state ownership.

  • Hmmm…”both in their 80’s–yet had a freshness in their faces.” Guess they their precautions are prudent. My philosophy? “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!” Alas! I’ve paid the price; for example, eating that snack at the Hershey/Camillo Cienfuegos station on the Tren Hershey. For the next couple of days it felt like I was being punched in the gut…and I could never wander far from a bathroom! I’d be interested in knowing what this couple feels about the “five second rule” (i.e. if a piece of food is dropped on the floor, but is picked up before five seconds, is it o.k. to eat? Til now I’ve always followed that rule; however, I’ve been known to be wrong! (e.g. “You should always eat the crusts of the bread–because that’s where allthe vitamins and minerals migrate!” My wife sez that this is malarky!)

Comments are closed.