HAVANA TIMES – “I have rum and cigarettes,” an old man proclaims as he walks from one corner to another on Reina de La Habana street. “Rum at 600 and cigarettes at 100,” he details to a passerby who approaches, interested.
“That rum is not homemade, is it?” Asks the young man. “Oh no! It’s from the bodega ration store, and I am selling it to see if I can make it to the end of the year,” the seller replies. In portals and corners of the capital, the same scene is repeated: retirees who try to get some money from the sale of this alcoholic drink acquired “by the ration book” and highly sought after on the Island these days in the absence of beers or ciders. And the same with cigarettes.
The “regulated” distribution includes, per person, one bottle of rum in a one and a half liter plastic bottle priced at 132 pesos (US $5.50 at the official rate) and four boxes of strong H. Upmann brand cigarettes, at 17.50 pesos each. Under the table, products are resold at five times their cost.
“Bocoy Rum, sealed from the ration store, 1.5 liters at 700 pesos. Víbora [neighborhood] (I do not deliver), private parties.” Ads like this have filled classified sites and social media. Another Facebook user jokes about the distribution of the drink: “1.5 liters of rum from the ration store at the end of the year to have the people anesthetized. Too late, carry on.”
Francisco Silva Herrera, general director of merchandise sales of the Ministry of Internal Trade, declared this Monday that 655,000 boxes were destined to guarantee rum sales. The enthusiasm for the idea of buying a bottle of rum and then being able to resell it did not last long, since the drink is not of good quality.
“I have not been able to off load the rum, nobody wants to buy it because everybody already knows that it is bad,” confesses a neighbor in Luyano. “I’ll see if a miracle happens and I get the ingredients to make a crema de vie [eggnog].”
In any case, the sale of rum on the rationed market once again awakens the ghosts of the Special Period. During the crisis of the 90s, the product, one of the emblems of the national industry, was also sold in a controlled manner for each nuclear family. Eggs or chicken could be missing, but the rum arrived on time.
“Why so much rum?” laments another resident of Centro Habana. “If they really want to help, let them give us a piece of meat for the 31st.”
The inflation resulting from the so-called Ordering Task (economic reforms) has caused many Cubans to go out to sell what they have on hand, since it is almost the end of the year and many still do not know what they are going to have dinner on December 31st. Not without consequences.
Mario, a resident of Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, was fined 8,000 pesos this week for selling the cigarettes from his rationed share. The young man had them displayed in the window of his house and the inspector who sanctioned him posed as a shopper.
“You can’t sell any of the products that are distributed in the ration store,” the official informed him. “Well, I don’t understand it. If I don’t smoke, why can’t I sell them to solve other needs?” Mario dared to answer, who insists that he will protest the punishment from the relevant authorities.
Despite the fact that not all Cubans drink alcohol or smoke, everyone will receive this year-end rum and cigarettes that they are not allowed to sell. Meanwhile, the government’s response to the population’s concerns about food shortages and high prices has been the announcement that an additional one pound of chicken and three pounds of rice per person will be distributed.