“The best thing about this is just how bad things are getting”
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — “Things don’t ever get better, things are just getting worse and worse: there isn’t any medicine, food prices are going up, shopping centers are empty, resellers are taking advantage, and to top all of that, the US has closed its border, which was the only escape we had. This is going to blow off its top somewhere; I think we’ve reached our limit. The best thing about this is just how bad things are getting, to see if things get fixed or even more screwed up.” This is what a young Cuban said inside a hard currency store, after his failed search for a TV.
The words came from his heart; you could hear in the moving tone of his voice and see it in the sparkle in his eyes. It was worth investigating.
“Yep, I’ve been saving up this money for a really long time, raising pigs to be able to buy my two girls a TV. They have to go to their grandmother’s house to watch cartoons and it breaks my heart that I can’t give them the luxury of watching them in their own home.”
“But, I work with the State and I don’t earn enough even for us to eat for a week. We get by thanks to my wife who sews and makes baskets, to be able to buy the girls clothes. She earns a lot more than me, and I’m an engineer! And now I’ve collected this money and I can’t find the damn TV. Word is they’ve been off the market for three months here and that when they appear, they get snatched up,” he concluded half-angry.
Everything is just this frustrating here, not only when you want to buy something and you can’t find it. This is just another example. With the wave of Cubans who have emigrated in recent years, remittances have increased hugely and the planned economy is slow to even take advantage of this easy money.
The food, clothes and electrical appliances markets are demanding four times more than what was sold before this happened, at least. And supply continues to be the same as always.
This creates discontent among the population because if washing machines or TVs are put on the market, they vanish that very same day. Chicken or sausages last for a short time and coming across what you are looking for or need is a question of luck, as hard to get as winning the “bolita” (Cuba’s popular and illegal lotteries). As emigrants left children behind on the island, they send money to spoil them with sweets. They’ve disappeared in the stores now too! It seems that they have distributed them to resellers directly.
Plus there’s the problem with medicines, and instead of being solved, it’s just getting worse. The medicines that were missing from the shelves are no longer 100 but around 300 now. Antihistamines for adults haven’t been sold for months, blood pressure pills are only sold sporadically for short periods of time, where almost nobody can get them. Diabetics, people with high blood pressure and heart disease walk around like zombies without medicine. And people are dying because of this.
Public transport by bus has disappeared completely, at least in Mayari, because of oil shortages, which was reduced after Venezuela’s collapse. Blackouts are becoming too frequent and air-conditioning has been switched off in public establishments for the time being. In the middle of a hellish summer, going to the bank, to the ice cream shop and even to shopping centers, has become a punishment. With glass windows, designed for air-conditioning, by switching it off to save kilowatts, sweat is coming down in buckets and you feel as if you’re about to have a heart attack.
This is because every business has been given an electric consumption plan below what they really need. Even industries receive this and they need to stop production for up to 10 days per month because if they go over their assigned consumption level, they are punished and need to account for this in front of the party and the government.
A curious case was when a café, which normally sells sandwiches, had to sell its mortadella and cheese quickly to the population, because they needed to switch off the fridge for a week so their electricity wouldn’t be cut off. It’s inhumane and counterproductive.
To top this all off, hopes for improvement are vanishing as the economy declines or gets stuck, international partners are in crisis, the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy has been repealed and now this blow to private sector growth with the suspending of new licenses for an indefinite time period.
However, the last time the National Assembly gathered these weren’t the problems that they discuss or look for solutions for. They aren’t even mentioned. It gives us the impression that they live in another country and that they are the political representatives of a distant people. They are never the representatives of Cubans who suffer and wait helplessly for better times.