Cuba’s Special Period: the Bogeyman

By Ernesto Perez Castillo (Progreso Semanal)

The bicycle was a symbol of the hardest years of the Special Period in Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES – A ghost is hovering above Havana and the entire island again: the ghost of the return to the Special Period. First, eggs disappeared, then flour and bread, and then cooking oil. Then, chicken and, after that, other meats from stores that have never been systematically stocked anyway, so nobody was particularly surprised.

But before, a long time before them and on the downlow, without anyone saying a word, rice slowly disappeared from bodega stores. I’m talking about Brazilian, Guyanese, Uruguayan rice: all the imported rice which you could choose the best of, of which not a single grain remains up until this morning, and you can only buy Vietnamese rice.

In the midst of all of this, it’s strange to note that while those people can afford to buy and find chicken, they buy it by the crate, by the pile, the more the better, yet it hasn’t crossed anybody’s mind to start hoarding rice, as they take it for granted that this grain will never run out.

This is just the food situation, and you only have to stop looking at markets for a second and take a look at the pharmacy door on the corner for you to get more goosebumps: there are just as many lines to buy the chicken that never shows up as there are medicines which no longer come in stock. Last year alone, there were between 45-150 medicines which were impossible to get a hold of.

With higher temperatures than normal, it’s time we worry. Our youngest haven’t experienced this, and they don’t need to, but in the ‘90s, everything slowly disappeared as well and by the time we realized what was going on, we were spending more hours without electricity than we were with it, we used to eat ground soy and we got sick with poly neuritis.

In the end, shortages from recent months have been explained by the government’s failure to make debt repayments to foreign suppliers and the resulting shortage of raw materials, but never as an initial sign of a disaster on the horizon. During Raul Castro’s speech to proclaim the new Constitution, he added: “The situation could get worse over the next few months. It isn’t a matter of going back to the worst point in the ‘90s Special Period; the landscape is different today when it comes to economic diversification, but we have to always be ready for the worst-case scenario.

Even though you can trace the story back in the national media to when the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace was declared, nobody through today has ventured to decree that the Special Period had ended. That’s to say that if the Special Period hasn’t returned, it’s because we continue to live it and have been experiencing it for 30 years now.

If the threatening idea was already going around everyone’s mind, now with Raul himself talking about it, we can guess just how serious things will be.  But, it’s not only Cubans who have to be prepared and resist, together, to face the adversities: decision-makers in our country also have to take on responsibilities, changing what needs to be changed and making smart moves without bureaucratic delays: basically break a long and tedious inertia.

Among many other singularities, there is one thing that differs now from 1990 when that free-fall was announced: Fidel was there. And, there was a whole group 40-50 something year-olds surrounding him, who brought about the Revolution with their leader who they bowed to. And, I’m not talking about leaders, but the people, who listened to seven-hour speeches in the Plaza, and then did whatever needed to be done. Today, most of this generation is resting in peace or has naturally given way to the next generation, who have opinions and live, grow, in a different social fabric to the one in the ‘90s.

Another marked, objective, difference can be seen in the very moment the crisis began, and it is nothing more than a tightening of a screw: the trigger, origin, starting point.

Incredibly-enough, back then, the Soviet Union disappeared overnight. And, just look at how big it was! The collapse of the Red Giant dragged down half of the world with it. Cuba lost something like 85% of its imports, it lost the oil that came in gushes, it lost the ally it pointed out everywhere and the island was left on its own.

When you remember this and you look up: you stumble across a great truth, more mistakes or less, the USSR’s collapse was the main cause for that crisis.

Today, no Berlin wall has fallen nor anywhere else, Russia is behaving like a decent ally, China is more present in the Cuban economy than ever before and Venezuela is holding on as best it can. There is no single event, ally or cause that makes one of them exclusively responsible. All of the disadvantages of the international political scene, that is leaning to the extreme right for years now, makes things worse and the country has to quickly adopt much-needed change, some delayed and others postponed. This is where the other difference lies.


20 thoughts on “Cuba’s Special Period: the Bogeyman

  • August 28, 2020 at 3:20 pm
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    Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine might make you look at democracy in a different way. If you don’t read, there is also a 1hr documentary. Milton Freidman free market economics is the reason for most of the troubles in the USA right now and has destroyed many countriesaround the world. I applaud Cuba for staying independent, even with it being such a hard road.

  • May 20, 2019 at 4:21 pm
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    It’s mostly imported powdered milk and domestic potatoes. As with anything in Cuba they never import or produce in sufficient quantity’s. There for it is feast or famine if you have the money or connections. Otherwise it is mostly famine.

  • May 19, 2019 at 7:20 pm
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    Accuracy about the reality of Cuba obviously is offensive to supporters of totalitarian dictatorship. My take is not that of an American, (I last visited the US some 25 years ago) but that of one whose home is in Cuba.
    But do tell us “Revolution” of any errors in what I wrote?
    Is it incorrect that hundreds of thousands starved to death in North Korea?
    Is it incorrect that for dictators like Raul Castro the first priority is the retention of power and control?
    Is it incorrect that Cubana (owned by GAESA) hired the 38 year 11 month old Boeing 737-200 knowing that it had been banned from Guyanese air space?
    Is it incorrect that Diaz- Canel issued instruction that the media in Cuba (all of which is controlled by the regime) that the disaster that cost 114 lives was not to be mentioned?
    Or is it that you deny that Raul Castro Ruz has lots of street smarts?
    Do please correct any errors – with fact!

  • May 18, 2019 at 8:05 pm
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    What a moronic take… that’s how I know you are an American

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