The Oil that Bleeds Cubans Dry

By Amrit

Cooking oil costs about $2.70 usd a liter in Cuba where the average salary is around $20 a month. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 7 — Whenever I’m forced to come to grips with our waning cooking-oil ration (even though I pour it in a bottle whose eyedropper cap allows me to manage it carefully), I think back to an incident that I experienced years ago with a tourist from Curacao, a friend of the family.

While visiting the apartment he was renting in the Pan American Village, our friend insisted on cooking up a vegetable stew for all of us.

As he was preparing the dish, he discovered he had put in too much oil, so he tipped the bowl over the sink to drain off the excess.

Everyone present (Cubans, of course) jumped out of their seats in unison, converged on him to halt this sacrilegious act, and shouted in concert “Noooo!”

The stranger stood motionless almost in shock, and — suddenly understanding — he whispered, “Oh…sorry.”

Though we all laughed following our spontaneous and well-synchronized reaction (which was quite symbolic), whenever I recall that incident, my smile makes me freeze and I wonder whether such anxiety is really worth that “precious liquid,” whose price increases erratically in the market – along with the complicity of our silence and our disapproving murmurs.

A bottle of cooking oil that used to be purchased for less than 2.00 CUCs has increased to 2.40 ($2.70 USD). Similarly, small bag of oil (which was the solution when you only had 1.00 CUC), cost 1.15 less than a month ago, and a few days back I had to pay to 1.20 CUC!

Many people, in a display of laziness (or hypocrisy) might say, “Who cares? It’s only five cents more.” They pretend they don’t notice how a simple kitchen ingredient, slowly and quietly, is occupying more and more space in our pockets, in our physical efforts and mental labor, in our daily doses of uncertainty.

What is the fair price of oil in Cuban stores?

I’ve heard rumors that in some stores reserved only for members of MININT [the Ministry of Interior], oil is sold in Cuban pesos and at a reasonable price. I hate to be imprecise, so therefore I’m not giving the details, but I wonder if it’s true.

A former neighbor and friend who worked in an office that operated under the business holdings of FAR [the Revolutionary Armed Forces] told me that they would give him two bottles of oil a month, in addition to other “small perks,” which made his opinion about the situation of the country more forgiving.

One day, an honest criticism that he made in front of a supervisor placed him in such a tenuous position that he was forced to ask to resign from the company.

His letters of protest addressed to those “higher up” proved futile. Co-workers who would wish him well in the street, felt compelled not to be on his side in a decisive meeting (for fear of losing their monthly bottles of oil and the small perks?)

Unemployed and frustrated, his vision of Cuba became so critical that he ended going to the United States.

Today, all I can do is recall his confession about how, when he had plenty of oil, he didn’t think about what that cooking supply represented to the average household.

One bottle is nearly twenty percent of the average monthly wage here, assuming you only buy one per month, in addition to the meager ration we get from the ration book, which are both threatened to disappear.

This same friend once told my husband that the real cost to the Cuban government of stocking a bottle of oil in one of its stores is about .70 CUC.

Outraged, my husband asked for clarification on this point with our local People’s Power delegate at the representative’s regular report-back meeting. The delegate, who chided my husband for not having asked the question “on the side,” claimed that he didn’t have a response right then but that he would answer the question at the next meeting.

But that next meeting was cut short when the delegate flew off the handle when pressed to finally answer the question (this time posed by my former neighbor, who now lives in Miami). Feeling completely beside himself, our representative ended up shouting, “You’re committing counter-revolution!”

The people there tried to calm the delegate and the meeting was dissolved. Still, my husband was left without his response and a while later that same representative died in an accident.

The delegate who replaced him has been very troubled by complaints made by several residents who are demanding responses to issues that seem even more serious – responses that have still yet to come…

Therefore, the question about something as simple as cooking oil, (no matter how much it winds up draining our energy), hasn’t even made an echo with my neighbors, and appears doubly doomed to uncertainty.


3 thoughts on “The Oil that Bleeds Cubans Dry

  • So I have never been to Cuba, I hope to go some day. But I actually follow a pretty wholefoods plant based lifestyle and avoid oil due to its ill effects on health. I wonder if this high pricing of oil is maybe part of Cuba’s health care strategy? High fat diets increase chances of developing heart disease and cancers. I don’t know if this has absolutely nothing to do with this but it would line up with Cuba’s mission to keep a population healthy so they don’t end up with diseases unlike in other countries where those can be bought without second thought by most but lead to illnesses that, unless you have a social health care system mean you may not be able to afford treatment and could lead to premature death. Just a thought?

  • im not sure of moses’ political persuasions, but i am one of the hard left and i absolutely agree with the comments provided above. some years back i travelled to cuba a couple of times to see for myself, and though it was exciting and fun, and i was even an invited member of a confrence and got the opportunity to photograph fidel (and i musn’t lie, that was exciting as well), i was left with a sense of sorrow for the way that cubans are forced into a situation where they have to hussle just to make it through the month, and furthuremore, forced to keep their discontent quiet, lest they be branded foreign mercenaries.

    strolling through the narrow streets i found an almost complete absence of little shops/eateries/bars, and the ones that did exist were either the exact same as other the others with no variety, or boasted prices that even i, as an american found absurd.

    the truth of the matter is that the cuban political and economic system is dead in the water. the embargo obviously hurts cuba, but the ultimate cause is the vice grip that stifles the unbelievably creative mind. very sad indeed

  • Here is a good example for all the apologists and syncophants of the Cuban regime. Food and fuel prices are rising in the United States at unprecedented rates to unprecedented levels. Americans are at least as angry, if not more so, than their Cuban counterparts. Here is the $64,000 question: How does one defend the Cuban system that does not permit the effective public outcry to express itself? In the US, our President will be held directly accountable for sky high gasoline prices and the increase in the cost of feeding our families in the next election in November. Please don’t tell me about the free medical, free education and low crime in your response. All three of these hallmarks of the triumph of the revolution are failing miserably and getting worse every day. Where is the “libre” in “Cuba libre”?

Comments are closed.