Matches in Cuba, Decades of Short Supply


Cuba’s matches are made (when they are made) using machinery that already existed when Fidel Castro came into power.

By Alejandro Armengol  (Cubaencuentro)

Ernesto Che Guevara

HAVANA TIMES — The tragedy has been mixing with the grotesque here in Cuba ever since 1959. The situation existed beforehand, but it’s today that this unbelievable situation becomes not an everyday act but a subject of letters from the population. It is no longer a image but an essence. Until it burns anyone’s fingers.

The news appeared in the official Granma newspaper. Matches aren’t lighting up, they lose their heads in the attempt, matchboxes are being sold half-full and the Cuban population is having a very hard time lighting a match. A country not having enough matches or matches not working continues to be shocking.

Even though it isn’t news to the Cuban people. The news would be: until when? I must admit that I am still a little perplexed.

This issue got someone who read the article to write in the comments section that he always takes a lighter and matches with him every time he goes to the island, “because on his next to last trip, he couldn’t light a single match.”

Generally-speaking, people don’t take matches or lighters from one country to another. Much less today with strict security controls at airports.

A couple years ago and out of curiosity, I bought a lighter with Che’s face on it in Athens and even though the myth of the guerrilla fighter doesn’t seem brilliant to me, the lighter I bought for a few euros still works like it did the first day I bought it. Maybe these are being sold in Cuba too, but they must be targeted at foreign visitors. Ordinary Cubans don’t even have this consolation.

People want to put expiration dates on Cuban matchboxes as if they were a bottle of aspirin. It’s because of the climate, they add.

Whoever is writing in Granma is pointing out the fact that “the factors (which are to blame for the situation) are closely tied to a problem that has already been mentioned: technological obsolescence.” A word this long and ugly has never had a better destiny. It’s true: the Cuban government is obsolescent by nature.

A (more practical and less grammatical) explanation also appears in the article: in 2017, “the National Matches Company stopped production for six months at four of its facilities responsible for manufacturing matches in Cuba, Yurelkis Noda Triana, its general director, explained to Granma.”

So, matches weren’t being produced for half a year, with a technology that has “been exploited for more than 60 years”. Which means that they are made (when they are made) using machinery that already existed when Fidel Castro came into power. To which the use of “24 supply materials” are added, “17 of which are imported”. And finally we have reached what seems to be one of the fundamental reasons for this shortage: there isn’t any money to buy the raw materials needed. This is the pressing problem that is dealing a stronger blow to the Cuban economy by the minute.

“This has been a long-standing issue and it has even reached the National Assembly of People’s Power. In July 2016, a report presented at this body by the Ministry of Industries recognizes the Cuban people’s dissatisfaction with the quality of matches, which is due to the wear and tear of aged technology,” Granma adds in a paragraph which, in practice, doesn’t add anything for ordinary Cubans.

This is an old problem, every Cuban knows that. What does it matter that it was discussed in the Cuban Parliament in 2016 when the situation only got worse the following year? How do you fix the problem?

Everything goes back to “the solution lied in making technological investments that would allow the country to reach efficiency and productivity standards.” But, the imperfect past tense of “lied” (grammar has never better expressed a political meaning) doesn’t mean a simple future ahead: Cubans are still only left with the choice of burning their fingers or not being able to light the stove at all.