The Most Violent Line in Cuba is the One for Cigarettes

A line this Wednesday to buy cigarettes in front of the El Exquisito de Fornos market, at Neptuno and Marques González, in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

By Juan Diego Rodriguez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Insults and many, many shouts among the tumult, this was the scene on Tuesday morning in front of the El Exquisito de Fornos market, in Neptuno and Marqués González, in Centro Habana. The reason? The sale of unrationed cigarettes, a product that has been in short supply for months and keeps smokers and resellers confronting the drop in sales in state markets.

“They put the chicken out for sale very early and the line was very calm, but when the cigarettes arrived, there was this aggressiveness, something that is very common here in the neighborhood because of cigarettes,” a resident from the capital neighborhood, who was trying to buy meat, told 14ymedio this Wednesday.

In El Exquisito de Fornos each person was allowed to buy only one package, which contains ten packs. They sold two varieties of H.Upmann: without a filter, at 245 pesos, and the Selecto, at 280, in addition to Popular Fuerte, at 210.

“Most of those you see there are not smokers. They buy and then resell,” explains another resident who lives in Neptuno, a few blocks from the market. “For example, the Popular cigarette package is resold on the street for 800 and 1,000 pesos and a single pack of H.Upmann costs up to more than 100,” he details.

Since the end of last year, the cigarettes that were sold freely, from the Popular, Aromas, Titanes and Criollo brands have disappeared from the network of state stores and cafes. The first to disappear were those that were sold in national currency, but the shortage also reached the supply that was for sale in foreign currency.

The government of the capital announced at the beginning of last July the sale of cigarettes in a regulated manner, in the rationed market, and specified that this point had been reached “due to problems with the availability of the raw material.” The measure was extended to the whole country a few days later and the head of the Ministry of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, explained that, although it is not a product that is part of the regulated family basket, its sale will be controlled, due to the “deficit of a monthly demand amounting to 37 million packs” to “avoid hoarding.”

Other officials from the ministry itself insisted that the “intermittences in production” are due to difficulties “with the arrival of raw materials in Cuba.” They explained that for this reason the volumes of this product available for sale do not ensure 100% of the country’s demand.


Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

5 thoughts on “The Most Violent Line in Cuba is the One for Cigarettes

  • Cigarette smoking for most adherents is an addiction. When one is addicted to a drug, and a cigarette can be considered a drug because of its potent dependent chemicals within, one will do extraordinary things to stay on the drug. To all of a sudden withdraw from the drug will cause the smoker extreme anxiety and other negative psychological and physiological distress.

    This distress and anxiety are being manifested on the streets in front of El Exquisito de Fornos market, in Neptuno and Marqués González, in Centro Habana from sellers selling, or trying to sell smokes.

    Absolutely cigarette smoking is unacceptable in most Western countries but in Cuba it still remains very popular. Yes, it is a cancer causing carcinogen and those who partake in the practice should know better but once hooked it is extremely difficult to stop, especially cold turkey.

    Those Cubans trying to buy cigarettes should not be admonished or shamed for trying to alleviate a deep craving for a drug that has all of a sudden been banished. To add insult to injury, to add more hurt to an already hurting population even the most simple of enjoyments for some – the lighting and puffing a cigarette – has been removed.

    Think of soldiers in extreme hostile conditions after surviving a life threatening battle. What do they do afterwards but drag deeply on a cigarette for some physiological and psychological relief. Deny them that simple pleasure and what else would they turn to? Despair?

    It is easy for those of us living in comfortable settings with ample resources, with satisfied daily lives, with little comparable stress, to pontificate on the negativity of a vice. So, for stressed out Cubans, and that is the majority of them, for the Cuban government to purge a simple pleasure because of government incompetence is, to those smoking Cubans waiting in long lines, worthy of some vocal and sometimes violent resistance as the article title suggests.

    I think some of the shame and admonishment should be directed to those unscrupulous buyers and smoke sellers, in fact, as the article clearly points out: “Most of those you see there are not smokers.”

    “For example, the Popular cigarette package is resold on the street for 800 and 1,000 pesos and a single pack of H.Upmann costs up to more than 100 . . .” What ordinary Cuban on a fixed peso income can afford a simple smoke pleasure at those relatively exorbitant prices?

    Those unscrupulous dealers are shameful and disgusting but one does what is necessary to survive.

    It is not the ordinary smoker who needs to be shamed for enjoying a smoke, but the Cuban government in its incompetence and inability to provide a simple pleasure, a cigarette, for its citizens to make life a little more bearable and tolerable. I wonder how many smoking Cuban Communist government elites are now without their pleasurable pack of smokes?

  • I simply think that it is a shame that people don’t have money for food and other main staples but fight to buy cigarrettes. It does not say much for their priorities. I think that is a terrible vice and a disgusting one. Shame and all of them.

  • In response to Moses Patterson, Fidel Castro said on April 22, 1959:

    “Cuba is capable of producing cotton, paper and newspaper.”

    Obviously it is a question of priorities, for many years (60), there has been a shortage of toilet paper – relieved to some extent by importation from Vietnam, but now it is cigarette paper. However, the priority has been the supply to produce ‘Granma’ the official daily newspaper of the PCC. It’s major use has been to mitigate the use of toilet paper, but goodness only knows what cigarettes made by using Granma to wrap the tobacco would taste like?

    On the same day that he made his statement about paper, Fidel Castro also said:

    “We hope to raise the standard of living to what the middle class has now. We import now $150 million of food. If we grow that, we give work to our people.”

    After sixty two years, not only is there insufficient paper, but the middle class has been eradicated and Cubans are dependent to an even greater extent upon the importation of food.

  • Cigarettes are made from tobacco and paper. Cuba has plenty of tobacco so are we to assume that cigarette paper is in short supply as the reason for the shortage? Really? Cigarette paper? Even the most ridiculous Castro bootlickers can’t really believe this. This is simply bad management. The dictatorship sucks at managing resources.

  • When the Rum Runs out. Then What, Bigger Problems.

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