The Logic of Cuba: You’re Not Supposed to Understand

By Jesus Arencibia  (El Toque)

A Cuban bakery in these times of flour shortages.  Photo: Alba Leon Infante

HAVANA TIMES – My wife calls from Holguin: “When you come, don’t forget to bring a packet of salt, a bottle of cooking oil and some rags to clean the floor.”

“But, wait, don’t they have these things there”, I complain, thinking especially about the new and generous fees the National Bus Company has put on overweight baggage.

“Yes, there is,” my mother-in-law explains, “but it’s the same thing that’s happening with chicken, they’re only being sold at some retail points, very few, and you have to get there really early or have someone to get you a place in the line, in order to buy them.”

A cousin, who is a specialist doctor, tells me that she’s already overcome her reluctance to buy powdered eggs, and bought her first packet. “I don’t have anything to put something together for the kids,” she confesses while the two of us try to make ourselves comfortable in the few square centimeters we have on the floor of a crammed bus, in Pinar del Rio’s regional capital.

People have pretty much been unable to buy eggs in Pinar del Rio for months now, as if somebody had given them a life sentence. And, it’s not because eggs aren’t being produced in the province, an acquaintance in the poultry business tells me, it’s just that most of them are being sent to Havana. Of course, Pinar is without eggs, I joke to myself.

A couple who are friends of mine, walked round and around in Havana looking for sweet bread rolls for their grandson’s birthday. They spent days looking for them. In the end, they managed to get them but only thanks to a sales assistant, who made a grand gesture of kindness and called them the moment they started selling them, and even put them aside for the couple.

Havana’s bakeries aren’t being regularly stocked or with enough bread. There is still a bread flour shortage, the distressed grandparents’ reason. According to national government authorities, bread (the same basic foodstuff that became a trending topic at the end/beginning of the year) supplies are stable again, but they continue to shine (because of their absence).

Guillo, a neighbor who dedicates himself to making inner tubes for bikes by hand, among other things, has been unable to work for weeks. “I have the patches needed which is the hardest bit,” he tells me almost proud, and then his voice grows bitter: “but I don’t have any glue and it takes a while to get a hold of it.”

Of course, there are no patches or glue, much less industrial (and therefore quality) inner tubes being regularly sold at our stores and at an affordable price. Neither are bikes. Nevertheless, we continue to repair and mend them, and tying pieces together, and riding. My (chinesesovietamericanpinardelrio) bike looks like Frankenstein. I mean to say, it is.

I invite another friend from Matanzas to join a journalism project with her chronicles, as she writes well from what I can remember, has a great deal of imagination and likes fine literature. She accepts. However, she warns me, without beating around the bush, that she packed up all her poetry for a bar job at a cafe in Varadero. Immediately after, she happily tells me that she has been able to do up her home, which suffered whenever wind and rain hit. “And, it’s going really well,” she adds elated.

I sit down to watch the news on TV the day that a meteorite incredibly hit Vinales in Pinar del Rio (with at atmospheric explosion that frightened tens of thousands of people in the island’s far-western province.

First headline: a patriotic phrase that President Diaz-Canel tweeted. Second headline: Esteban Lazo, the head of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, visits the reconstruction works underway after the tornado swept through Havana just days before. Third headline: the meteorite’s fall.

The elaboration of this extremely rare piece of news (and therefore newsworthy item) only appeared 8 minutes into the 30 minute TV news broadcast. I remember Brainstorm, the short movie by Eduardo del Llano and reflect about how life imitates fiction. 

“What is this, professor? Help me to understand!” I beg a wise teacher, “This isn’t meant to be understood,” she smiles. “You live it, you suffer it, you enjoy it, you die of a heart attack, you come back to life… but don’t think you’ll ever understand it.”

6 thoughts on “The Logic of Cuba: You’re Not Supposed to Understand

  • This is what decades of an over-expanded public sector and bad economic policies do. The funny thing about economics is that even though it is a social science (emphasis on the ‘science’ part), somehow governments think they can just create their own pet theories and have reality obey their assertions. No government would dare say ‘well here in our country we feel the boiling point of water should 50 degrees Celcius’ or ‘in our country, we prefer the water molecule to have three oxygen atoms’. The science of economics has taught us a lot about how and what makes economic growth possible and yet governments and people are surprised when non-sensical economic policies and lack of economic growth follows. I think there are very few people in Cuba who actually know much about modern economics (after all, they haven’t had anything resembling a free market for 60+ years, no one knows what credit is, what financial instruments are, there is NO financial industry at all!). The US embargo contributes to some small degree, but the embargo does not force the government to adhere to damaging socio-economic policies. The Cuban economy is structurally broken and the embargo or lack thereof won’t fix that

  • I blame the tourists for lack of food/supplies. There is more than enough to eat at the resorts. Cubans ought to be allowed to eat at the resorts too.

  • The airport that gives the least problems going through customs, is VRA

  • My trip to varadaro . Have been going the to resorts and a friends bed and breakfast for ten yrs . I’ve been bringing car parts 55 chev for 7 of those years and finally my friend has finished it. But one thing really sucks is that as of mid January tourist are not allowed to be in them anyone. What a hopeless communist regime.
    Feel sorry for the good people of cuba.
    One thing I have noticed over last year’s is that people have lost there smiles I see it in there faces. Hope is lost.

  • After 60 years and in an island rule by in inefficient dictatorship the ppl don’t have salt. Blame the Bloqueo.

  • 100 times to holguin and pillon.
    I have brought 25 bikes
    Baby strollers, tools,shoes, electric tape,hats, umbrellas, bags,cooking pans,pepper,mirrors, backpacks,
    I put 15 one dollar mini flashlights in my bag last sept. Mr casanova manzanillo airport TOOK THEM how silly they were gifts for the kids in mota.
    Held me 2 hrs to do paperwork so i missed the transfer bus, had to pay 60 cuc to get to marea del potillo. How silly!!!

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