Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Some hard-currency retail stores in Havana are selling Auchan-brand (supermarket) salt imported from Spain. A one kilo bag sells for 0.60 Convertible Pesos (CUC). This is the best product of its kind that the Cuban population have access to, who have been suffering salt shortages in stores which sell items in regular Cuban pesos (CUP).
From Contramaestre (the main town in the municipality which shares the same name in Santiago de Cuba province), we were able to summarize the following after having spoken to several female workers and housewives:
“Here, we have the rations booklet and we get a packet of salt every 3 months because we are a family of four.” Is it enough? “Of course it isn’t, I turn to street vendors who pass by selling it by the pound, which is a full condensed milk can approximately (the label says 390g) which I buy for 5 pesos (CUP).” Is any extra salt being sold on the State’s free market? “No, but when it does appear, it’s bad quality, mixed with sand and stones, dirty. Nobody can cook with that.”
It’s hard to explain but in Cuba, basic distribution of chemically named sodium chloride (NaCl) for human consumption, is rationed by the kilo depending of the number of people living in a household, differentiating between urban and rural areas.
In cities, families of 3-4 and 5-6 consumers (the majority) should receive two 1 kg bags every trimester in the first case and three packets over the same time period in the second.
For some strange and inexplicable reason, the regulation is broken in Contramaestre, where it’s over 20,000 inhabitants make it a city according to Cuba’s National Office of Statistics. There, salt is distributed according to the rations assigned to rural areas, just 1 kg per family each 3 months, not taking anything else into account. Where are farmers supposed to be getting salt from exactly?
Traveling to Guantanamo, the only province in Cuba with two salt mines and where production is the greatest in the country with 85,000 tons, other women tell us (the men excused themselves because they were unable to give us the information we needed):
“I’ve been buying liberated salt because the other one (rationed) isn’t enough. They give us only one packet because we are a family of 3, every three months.” Note that the government also considers a city with 200,000 inhabitants as a rural area.
The interviewee repeated and added: “At least have salt in stores now, I got a packet last month for this trimester and then I had to buy a liberated 1 kg packet for 5 pesos (CUP). It’s not bad, it’s pretty decent and they sell it where you can buy non-rationed rice, sugar and other products.”
Salt being in shortage in this eastern city would be the icing on the cake.
In the capital, salt distribution via the food rations booklet is regular, we can say that according to the bureaucratic jargon, distribution is “prioritized” in Cuba’s window to the world, Havana. However, non-rationed salt selling in regular pesos has been missing for months now, which is in high demand because the rations quantity isn’t enough, even more so when you bear in mind the increasing demand for salt as a result of private food establishments.
The only option is to buy it in the dollar equivalent Convertible Pesos (CUC), an irregular offer because you can find salt in some stores but it’s missing in others. Locating sea salt, when shortages are inexplicable in the Caribbean’s largest archipelago, there are two options:
Sal Caribbean, nationally produced, 1 kilo for 0.45 CUC and the abovementioned imported Auchan-brand salt which sells for 0.60 CUC for the same quantity, both of which are fine and a brilliant white, especially the Spanish salt.
Cuba had planned to produce 180,000 tons last year (16 kg per inhabitant), while Spain produces 3.9 million tons (84 kg per inhabitant). Our country’s coastline is equal to 47% of the perimeter of Spain yet salt extracted from the sea in Cuba is only 5% of Spain’s total salt production.
When writing this article, valuable data relating to our country’s productive organization was taken from an article published on May 8th in Granma newspaper, written by Susana Anton. I completely agree with the following readers’ opinion:
How many technical regulations aren’t met in Cuba. I’m sure the percentage of rocks and organoleptic properties of salt can be resolved. A lot of the time, the salt sold to the population doesn’t meet all the standards it should, there’s also a lot left to be desired aesthetically. I find myself asking why salt being sold from the rations has to be different to the salt being sold in the government’s hard-currency stores.
Vicente Morin Aguado [email protected]