Shortages of Essential Products Worsens in Cuba
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
February 3, 2019
My father has a really serious case of the flu. Everyone at home has a “bad cold” and a lot of people in Mayari too, because “it’s going around” as we say.
But, the one who is in a really bad state right now is “the old man”, as he’s also suffering from chronic neck and neuropathic pain. I went to every drugstore looking for pain relief medicine and I couldn’t buy a single prescription. The medicines are all missing.
Cuba’s medicine crisis has been going on for two years already. A year ago, Biofarma Cuba board members assured us that stock would gradually be replenished and they even came up with a timeline for 2018. For example, dipyrone (the most common painkiller in Cuba) would come back between January and May of last year.
But, January 2019 has already come to an end and there still isn’t a solution in sight. In fact, things have just got worse. Now, we’ll have to go back to seeking out healers with their mystic prayers and herbal medicines.
Mayari’s Mercado Ideal market is now further away than it ever has been from standing up to its name. It seemed like a joke before, sarcasm with its exorbitant prices, which bear no relation to working people’s salaries in any way. For example, a pound of chicken costs you two 8-hour working days on a minimum salary.
However, that isn’t our biggest problem anymore. Right now, practically nothing is being sold, only rice and tomato puree (300 ml for 33 pesos, more than three working days on a minimum salary). There isn’t any meat, or chickpeas, or hot dogs, or chocolate, or crackers, or bread being sold. Nothing at all really.
Hard-currency stores used to be more or less stocked, but they look like wastelands now. There isn’t any oil, or deodorant, or perfume at normal prices, or powdered soft drinks, or chicken, ice cream, jams, or a lot of other basic items in high demand. So as not to waste electricity for no reason, they open the doors to answer customers’ questions who don’t even go in: “Did anything come in?” they ask.
At agro-markets, nobody is selling pork which is another product that has never been in shortage. Cafes aren’t selling any kind of sandwich because there isn’t any bread, which can’t be made because there’s a shortage of flour, which has been missing for over three months. And, this is why there aren’t really any sweets at pastry shops, or pizzas at pizza places. And pizza is the fast food Cubans consume the most.
In my case, neither my wife or I can eat breakfast: an imposed diet! We have two kids at home, one is three years old and the other is ten. The eldest needs to take a snack into school and have breakfast before leaving home. But, she only gets a 70g bread roll with the rations booklet and it isn’t sold on the free market. You can’t find bread even if you had 100 pesos, it’s easier to find gold.
And, she hasn’t been entitled to milk ever since he turned seven, but hey, we buy an extra liter on the street, a liter that farmers avoid giving over to the State. And I give my glass of milk to my mother. And I’m lucky that I have this steady supply of a liter of milk because people are going crazy looking for it and can’t find it.
This severe crisis falls on top of a permanent crisis that is endemic to the Cuban system, of sporadic shortages. Which are becoming more and more dragged out. Add to that the new tax on farmers’ personal incomes with a legal statement included, the negative impact of drought on agricultural production, reduced imports because of a lack of funds after resources from Brazil’s Mais Medicos program were lost.
With the crackdown on the self-employed sector with new regulations and the promotion of a new Constitution which isn’t trying to “change everything that needs to be changed”, but hold onto everything that hasn’t worked, the landscape is bleak as hell.
This is why our people, who are one of the most literate and educated in the world (thanks to the same system that denies them a space to prosper and have basic freedoms), do the math and realize that this system didn’t have a past, doesn’t have a present and won’t have a bright future. And what’s the answer? To “emigrate”. You get the impression that our country will end up empty with so many people leaving and preparing their journey. At least the most potentially productive sector is fleeing: our youth.
Very few are interested or even a tiny bit enthusiastic about the government’s plans for progress (?): the Party guidelines, Mariel, agriculture, tourism or foreign investment. Raul’s thesis that the country would be in better financial condition in 2030, becomes a more unfeasible utopia every year that passes by. For example, Mayari was a privileged municipality for a decade. It had great material and financial resources to make it a farming power, but the exact opposite has happened. There is less and less production and prices are on the rise.
This centralized system just doesn’t work. If only we could build a better, prosperous, inclusive and democratic Cuba sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, our people’s hardships and problems are growing exponentially because no matter how hard it might be to believe, things could still get even worse.