Shortages of Basic Products have Cubans Worried

Line in front of a Havana supermarket. Photo: IPS/Cuba

The Cuban government has said that it will be forced to prioritize three important sectors, given pressure from abroad: food, medicine and fuel.

By IPS Cuba

HAVANA TIMES – Shortages in Cuba have everyone’s attention again with long and chaotic lines in Havana and other provincial cities. When products that are in shortage finally appear, long lines form so people can buy them. Brawls are constantly on the verge of breaking out and people harshly criticize both the government and hoarders.

Some stores have established limits on how much people can buy to prevent hoarding and reselling. However, corrupt sales assistants tell friends in advance, or resellers who give them a nice cut.

This isn’t news in recent decades. The only problem now is that this has become a recurring problem, due to the weak response from inefficient state-run companies, financial restrictions on imports and the US tightening down on its economic embargo.

The government has explained in official media channels that they have been forced to give priority to the three most important export sectors: food, medicine and fuel, because ships carrying raw materials have been delayed due to pressure from the US.

As a result, shortages are hitting personal hygiene items this time… at least until March, although there are also shortages of the abovementioned too.

Ministry’s statement

Earlier this month, the minister of Domestic Trade, Betsy Diaz, announced to official media in the central province of Villa Clara, that the national demand for personal hygiene items won’t be met, at least until the fourth month of 2020.

“Right now, budgets have to go towards navigating the problems the harsh blockade [embargo] imposes, as well as allowing us to purchase fuel in other places (…). Fuel and food are the main priorities that available funds are going towards,” she explained.

Her statement led to confusion in the beginning. She called alleged “people without principles” who had “spread fake news maliciously” about the shortage of personal hygiene items “Imperialism’s lackeys”.

According to the statement that was published on the ministry’s website, “the truth” is that “demand and stability won’t be met until March, because they don’t have enough stock to meet this demand, but availability and stock will return to satisfactory levels as of April.”

An internet user identified as Luisa Cecilia commented: “Saying that there will be problems with personal hygiene items until the end of March is the same as saying that there won’t be any until April.”

Anyhow, the news made the population worry. Immediately after, many went to state-run markets and so-called “shopping” centers (which sell items in foreign currency) in search of these products, but social media and alternative media platforms also filled with tense comments from concerned citizens.

People remembered that the range of “missing” products (as sales assistants normally say to customers) reached its peak in 2019, when cooking oil, chicken, wheat flour and its derivatives were in shortage.

Goverment announces better stock

Executives of the domestic trade portfolio told Granma newspaper (which belongs to the Cuban Communist Party), that personal hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, liquid soap and toilet paper, etc.) won’t completely disappear, but the thing is that demand won’t be met right now, like it has in previous years.

According to Francisco Silva, the general sales managers of this sector, products that enter in the basic family rations will continue to be available, although grain production has fallen, and coffee and powdered milk will be distributed in bulk because packaging is in shortage.

IPS Cuba reached out to a dietitian who said that the powdered milk container situation will have to be resolved as soon as possible because this product is easily contaminated, and is consumed by children mostly and people with special diets, and the rest is sold to the population at a very high price.

Like in the last quarter of last year, long lines at gas stations across the entire country are the telling sign of this new period of shortages, where some customers have complained that managers are apparently playing favorites with drivers of state-owned cars.

Lines for medicine

Medicines are pretty much a whole ‘nother story. On Thursdays or Fridays every week, dozens of people (mostly the elderly) crowd together in front of pharmacies with the hope of being able to buy painkillers, antihistamines, skin cream, etc. before their medical prescriptions run out.

The list of “missing medicines” is long and pharmacies have bare shelves. However, the State is trying to ensure medicine for chronic diseases (especially high blood pressure) which is distributed via the so-called “card”, although stock has its ups and downs.

In spite of the “temporary” situation with fuel that President Miguel Diaz-Canel declared in September 2019, the Government has managed to guarantee the rationed family basket every month for a subsidized price, in spite of it relying on imports. Rationed items only cover some of people’s most basic needs for a third of a month.

Liquefied gas

In January, the population was called upon to “adopt saving measures and the efficient use” of liquefied gas which many homes use to cook, and rationing was announced.

Cuts in liquefied petroleum gas imports for domestic use in Cuba affect the supply to more than 1.7 million customers, which is the result of US sanctions, according to state-led company Union Cuba-Petroleo (CUPET).

On the eve of this declaration, CUPET announced that it was working towards normalizing liquefied gas distribution on the island and that they hoped to increase delivery to the population and the public sector by mid-February, thereby alleviating fuel shortages.

Water supply also in times of crisis

In addition to the fuel crisis and shortages of personal hygiene items, there was also an announcement by Aguas de La Habana that this precious liquid will begin a new cycle of distribution every three days, in certain areas of the Cuban capital, as of Monday February 10th.

The reason? A conductor that draws out the water supply service in areas of the city center has broken, due to contamination of fuel that had leaked into the network in the heavily-populated Diez de Octubre municipality.

Leonel Diaz Hernandez, the company’s general director, announced to the weekly paper Tribuna de La Habana that the contamination took place in the water of the Vento canal, in the Capdevila area. This conductor supplies the central system in the Plaza de la Revolucion, Diez de Octubre, Central Havana, Old Havana and Cerro municipalities.

Residents in this capital (2.1 million inhabitants in total) could finally take a deep breath after Friday when Aguas de La Habana released a statement in which it announced that the water supply was gradually returning to normal in many areas, after decontamination work had been completed and repairs were made to the affected conductor.

8 thoughts on “Shortages of Basic Products have Cubans Worried

  • No hay bloqueo que pare a los Cubano’s si liberan el control comunista sober las empresas I dejan que las personas tengan sus propios negocios. Eso es muela constante que la culpa es de el bloqueo.

    Reply
  • The shortage of natural gas could be greatly alleviated by use of solar water heaters.
    They are used by some hotels already very efficiently.
    They would also sterilize the water when correct temperatures are achieved.

    Reply
  • Who is telling the truth?

    Reply
  • That happens when the government is fake, even the current slogan promises a “Socialism prosperous and sostenible”. What a huge different in the harsh Cuban reality!!!

    Reply
  • Sorry but something does not sit right with me and this article. I would certainly be glad to donate if someone could tell me where the Havana Times are written from?

    Oh and it may be the Communist Party but Cuba has been Socialist since the seventies.

    Reply
  • Managed economies always provoke shortages. Nonetheless, the Castro lacks the hard currency to meet domestic need with foreign purchases and that means shortages. Solution? Free market forces to meet demand with a flexible supply chain. In the short run? High prices for certain items and losses taken on other goods. But before long, supply will meet demand. In short, CAPITALISM.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Klaus. The money will never get to the people. The government will take it and Cuba, Jennifer Klaus , has been communist since Fidel Castro fooled all. Go live there. Experience that socialism. Go loose weight. Let your teeth rot out. Have Diabetes. Loose a leg because there’s no medicine. I was born in Cuba. My family read the writing in the wall and left.
    Once again, Ms Klaus.

    Reply
  • I’m from Romania and during the communism was the same, shortages for common goods, and we didnt have sanctions imposed, in fact Romania had relatively good relations with the west, in the 70s they even got some technology from them. USSR also had shortages for basic producs. Ive seen some videos from Cuba, it seems so similar to communist romania, to the level of the involuntary comic of these regimes, I mean for Gods sake, the only products that you find in communist shops are those nobody needs, like toilet floaters. Its the planned economy, corruption and pillage of the communists. Of course in Cuba the sanctions just add up, and its their fault, nobody asked them to place themselves against the USA so aggressively, and they had a lot of time after the missile crisis to improve things. If there were communist countries like Yugoslavia (who got some marshal plan funds after ww2), or vietnam who had realatively good relations with the US, why not cuba? Blame your communist leaders for their bankrupt foreign policy and the rest.

    Reply

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