A Conversation While in a Cuban Line

By Carlos Pereyra (Progreso Weekly)

Photo: Progreso Weekly

HAVANA TIMES – For Cubans, the Bermuda Triangle is more than a geographical area. It is a very vivid and real situation made up of the blockade, the structural problems the country’s economic system continues unabated, and the pandemic. And they’re all found while waiting in line.

“What’s on my dinner table starts in this line; if I don’t stand here, what do we eat?” So says an 82-year-old retiree who waits in the line that leads to the market entrance. He wears a mask and tries to keep a safe distance, a difficult chore because “if I don’t move quickly, someone will jump in front of me.”

It’s true, what’s found on the family dinner table begins in that line he’s standing on, “Not in one’s ration book, which even in normal times did not last more than ten days,” he adds.

Food, the economy, and supplies: It’s the first leg of the triangle that always leads him to the street and challenging Covid-19. He belongs to the age group most vulnerable to the pandemic. But he has no other solution: His wife is his same age; his daughter, divorced, is employed by a state company. “I have to risk it,” he says. Risk what? A rhetorical question… He has an understandable fear of contracting the virus.

Every day Covid-19 statistics in Cuba reveal that it has spread, especially in Havana. April was the worst month since the pandemic began with new daily positive cases averaging a thousand.

“Either I risk it, or my wife, my daughter and I go hungry,” it’s as simple as that, he says. That is why he stands in line to enter the food market that sells its goods in Cuban pesos. But a week ago “I stood in line at Epoca,” a store that only sells in dollars or other foreign currencies, he tells me. A family member had sent him money from the United States, and when at 6 in the morning he went to stand in line, “it looked like a large protest … they said there was beef, cheese, oil and other things.”

However, by 2 in the afternoon he’d given up. There was no end to the line. “There were people claiming to have been there since 5 in the morning. But how is that possible if it’s forbidden to be out on the street from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.?” he questioned.

A valid question. Memes have appeared on the Internet with people hiding behind trees. The reality of the Cuban Underground, which is a very creative “business.” It is no secret that in areas where there are stores selling in hard currency, the underground economy has found new opportunities: 15 pesos for spending the night on a building’s staircase; and 30 if it’s on the roof.

I mention this to Octavio who shrugs. Nothing surprises him. He, who takes care of himself against COVID-19, has another concern that he confesses to me during our conversation. He is 82-years-old, his only malady is high blood pressure which he has under control, but he has not been included in the plans for vaccination later this month “precisely because of his age…”

He will have to continue risking it against that faceless enemy. Hunger is the other alternative. At least it looks like, as of today, he’s ahead of the game. It’s now his turn to enter the store. “Good luck. Take care of yourself,” I tell him.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “A Conversation While in a Cuban Line

  • May 7, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    The dictatorship knows how to keep people busy looking for food to avoid the ppl to think about Freedom, democracy, human rights, freedom of expression-speech-assembly. Pan y circo.

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