Buying Soda Pop in Cuba

Luis Miguel de Bahia

Soda. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — I learned that soda was on sale and went looking for a bottle. As my turn in line was coming up to buy it, I heard a woman in front of me ask for 20 large plastic bottles to be filled.

The dispenser, which had been there for a while, couldn’t have been holding too much more. Therefore everybody started protesting, including one person who chewed out the voracious woman.

However, she replied, “Pop isn’t rationed; its sale is unrestricted,” demonstrating herself to be a person who didn’t care about anyone else.

Her argument was correct, but it’s also true that we need to have some degree of ethics. If there wasn’t enough for everybody, she should have bought less and given others a chance.

Hoarding is one of those problems that arise when sales are unrestricted but there’s not enough to go around.

How can these two legitimate but conflicting concerns be resolved?

On the one hand there’s the right to purchase, but on the other there’s the unpleasantness of there not being enough.

Public intervention is often the solution adopted in Cuba, rationing the free trade of items.

Even the public authorities are tied by an insoluble contradiction: the combination of elements of market economics with the characteristics of the Third World and of Cuban socialism.

The denying of consumerism, as an extreme desire on the part of the state, is to deny free trade.

You can’t tell a person: “Buy however much you want…but hey, you can’t buy it all!”

But nor can we legitimize unrestricted consumption within the logic of socialism, even when industrial production would allow it.

However it’s impossible to ration everything given that freedom — and within this business — is a part of our culture.

In the end, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get some soda, though it turned out to be pretty bitter, but that was due more to the lack of ethics on the part of some people than it was owing to the contradictions of the system.




4 thoughts on “Buying Soda Pop in Cuba

  • The extent to which our resident propagandists will go to comment on perceived inequities in the minutiae of Cuban life – soda pop in this case – never ceases to amaze me. At the same time, of course, they fail to tell us about the gigantic inequities in their own country. Are they selling us their crook system or attempting to make it look good by dwelling on problems in other places? Take your pick.

    ‘Moses’ writes, ” Normal commercial practices typically don’t work the same in Cuba the same way they do in the rest of the world.” Spot on, and what’s different in the story at hand? Everyone is buying on an even economic playing field basis, only subject to the first-come-first serve rule. Let’s take a look at the way it works under capitalism.

    Sale items are usually offered on a limited basis – until supplies run out, with typically a limit of so-many-to-a-customer. If it’s an especially good price, it’s not uncommon for people to show up well before the store opens and wait for hours, nor uncommon for many to go home empty-handed, nor uncommon for folks to buy more than they need because it is the only time they can afford to buy it.

    It sounds a lot like what ‘Moses’ describes happening in Cuba, doesn’t it? But that’s not all. In capitalist countries, the elite class – those that have large expendable incomes, like what ‘Moses’ in the past has indicated he has – don’t bother with sales. They can afford to buy pretty much what they want at any time.

    I understand from reading Havana Times that income inequality is growing in Cuba, which is to be decried, but you ‘ain’t seen nothin’ yet’ as the slang phrase goes until you see what exists here. Any kind of inequality is to be eschewed but far worse than consumer soda pop inequality is the unequal power that unequal incomes cause that is an essential characteristic of capitalism, why we have no political leaders that represent what the 99% desire, for one.

    That’s the real problem with capitalism, more than consumer shortages..

  • Normal commercial practices typically don’t work the same in Cuba the same way they do in the rest of the world. Normally, simple rationing would be the solution to the sale of cheap soda anywhere else. However, in Cuba, because of the irrational mindset that exists with regards to consumption, rationing the sale of goods only causes other problems. Cubans do not trust in the consistent availability of anything. They believe that even if you only need two tomatoes today, you should buy four because tomorrow there may be none to purchase. Conversely, Cubans also believe that if there is a lot of anything available, i.e. a type of shoe or a certain kind of soap, it must be because it is of low quality. As a result, there any unnecessary shortages of some products due to hoarding and overstocking of other goods due to lack of interest. In Havana today, powdered detergent is unavailable in the state dollar stores and double the price on the street. It is unclear if this shortage is due to some production miscue or consumer hoarding. The fact is that as consumers, the Cuban market is highly unpredictable and irrational.

  • rationing is not the solution. That’s what they did at the beginning of the revolution and as a result have nothing now. When demand is bigger than supply prices should increase to signal producers to produce more.

  • do what we do when there is a crazy sale: limit the number per customer. that way you can buy as little as you want, but not more then a certain amount so that there is enough to go around.

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