Cuba’s Hoarders, On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

By Aurelio Pedroso  (Progreso Semanal)

A line at a State market to purchase potatoes. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – It’s impossible to label “the never before seen” because this is already an everyday problem: people, like those chasing after gold or “far western” lands, are in a frenzy to try and hoard any primary, secondary or third priority products.

And we aren’t talking about medicines, which in the best of times, any of those responsible will take out of their magic violin case a song to give us hope.

No sir, this problem is related to food, which is considered a national strategy, and doesn’t seem to ever bear its calming fruits for one reason or another, which is economic, the crisis, the lack of resources to ensure a steady supply of what we need to send food down the esophagus into the stomach and not via TV announcements.

Those of us who belong to this unarmed army of the so-called “Third Age”, which already accounts for 20% of the population, knew (and we drank) this insatiable thirst in our childhoods. A friend describes it to me. 

“I was about nine years old and the ration card still hadn’t been implemented yet. In Camaguey, where I lived, distribution was via the recently-formed Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). There were these kinds of certificates which gave you a pair of children’s sneakers, a pair of men’s trousers, a belt, boxers, whatever it was. I didn’t get the sneakers; others ended up worse off than me. A neighbor, a telegraphist, was really well connected and he took me by the hand and we walked down all of Republica Street and by the end of it, I had three pairs of sneakers in a bag. I had become a hoarder without knowing it, and at such a young age.”

Just a few days ago, at the market on 70th street and 3rd avenue, in Miramar (which was commonly called the diplomercado in the past), some instant noodle packets had been reduced to 25 cents CUC (Convertible Pesos). “Red Bear Instant Noodles”, the packet read which dared to advertise “prawn and chicken flavor”. People were buying them as if they were going to feed an entire infantry squad.

Things you have to see in person because they lose their “flavor” even when you talk about them. I admit that this must be the first time in the history of Progreso Semanal that we are advertising not only a recipe, but an entire menu. A woman suggested the following to everyone who was waiting in line to pay: “I boil two drumsticks, I make the Chinese noodles with that broth, I shred up the drumsticks and I beef it up with potatoes and tomato puree, and I boil white rice. A meal for four.”

Not far from there, at a non-rationed store, Lis brand perfumed soap, which is nationally manufactured by the Suchel company, was limited to four per person. Eager eyes were on the lookout for “volunteers” who would do them the favor of buying them four more.

Thus, it seems that without being too much of an expert, we can say that once again it is the time for hoarders who normally end up being the resellers. A new tug of war among those who should be distributing and those who think they can then make a profit off people’s needs. A time which bores a hole in ordinary Cuban’s pockets.

The government’s response has come swiftly: try and control sales. However, competent authorities need to give an in-depth explanation as to why agriculture doesn’t satisfy our needs, for example, with arguments that aren’t firmly rooted in the well-known blockade. Or the reasons that prevent the State from creating Wholesale Markets, a decision which was written down in the Communist Party Guidelines over 6 years ago (the one that exists in Havana only supplies 30-odd private businesses out of the hundreds that exist). I would also like to know the opinion of a sociologist, a psychologist and an economist, because this will go on for a long while yet. I hope I’m wrong.

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One thought on “Cuba’s Hoarders, On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

  • Aurelio, the answer to your question is simple. Under Castro-style socialism there is no real incentive to reinvest profits earned in private enterprise in the original business which generates those profits. Instead, because a successful business is frowned upon, it is more likely that excess capital is consumed and not reinvested. In plain speak, this means that farmers are dissuaded from being more productive. Restaurant owners are limited to one restaurant of the same name and ownership. Shoe repair businesses can only hire a train a limited number of employees to learn the trade. As a result, hoarding is seen as an acceptable way to shelter excess profits. More productive and socially redeemable investments are either resisted or illegal.

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