The ordeal that Cubans go through in order to get food

Havana

Spending up to eight hours standing, sometimes under a scorching sun, without a public bathroom or water to drink and, to top it all, with the stress of being able to return with an empty backpack. They are the queues, the daily ordeal of Cubans to supply their pantries, accentuated by the covid.

“I was almost the whole night to buy. This great sacrifice to be able to eat is not easy, ”says Edelvis Miranda, 47, at the exit of Mercado 15 y Línea, in Havana.

The reddened eyes of this housewife seem to close with exhaustion. He took his place in the queue or dialed, as the Cubans say, at one in the morning and it is almost noon.

Miranda says she is “satisfied” with the purchase of two liters of oil and the same number of packages of chicken, mincemeat and detergent.

“It was worth it, because I bought everything. Now a bit of calm and then to the load (to the queues) again ”, he points out.

Cuba registered official inflation of 70% in 2021, when the economy recovered a modest 2%, after a plunge of 11% the previous year, its worst economic crisis in almost 30 years.

Shortage

The lines to buy food are a constant. The pandemic exacerbated the shortages and shortages that the country was already facing due to the tightening of the US embargo since 2018.

Added to this are internal economic insufficiencies and problems with the monetary reform launched a year ago, which implied an average wage increase of 450%, but also a rise in prices.

Last May, the Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil, admitted that “the queues are annoying”, but they reflect that the Cuban government did not apply “shock therapy” during the crisis.

Convinced that a queue devours energy, some carry a snack, cold water, coffee and even a small wooden bench. Dialing in three queues simultaneously can work.

An hour before the opening, police officers organize the 15 y Línea queue, which, at first glance, seems small, but extends over a block. The image is repeated throughout the island.

Minutes later, the announcement that there will be five products for sale, an unusual variety, causes jumps of joy among about 400 people, but the jubilation lasts little, since there are only 250 shifts. The tail tightens.

“I’ve been in this situation for two days. It is true that there is a shortage, that there is an (American) blockade, but this is outrageous, ”complains Rolando López, a 66-year-old retiree, who was not among the lucky ones.

About 30 resigned begin to organize a line for the next day, with night guards to “watch the queue.” “It is the daily struggle of the Cuban. What else can you do? ”Says housewife María Rosabal (55), very annoyed.

Not even the dollar markets opened by the government since 2019 to attract foreign currency for its depressed coffers, better supplied than the rest, do not escape the queues.

“Not even paying in dollars, you get rid of this ordeal,” says a young woman. She waits her turn sitting with a friend on the stairs of the Palco market, the best in the capital. Some 300 people are waiting outside. Inside they will have to make a second row.

“That reduces you to nothing”

Trying to be more equitable, the authorities scan each person’s identity card before entering the market, a measure that controls that they do not buy the same product in a certain period of time.

There are foods such as chicken that are noted in the supply book, with which each Cuban has access to a reduced basket of subsidized products.

Despite the control, “there is a lot of business in the stores and there are those who are taking advantage of the situation to make a fortune,” says López.

He says that placing a 100 Cuban peso bill (four dollars) inside the notebook to prevent the purchase from being recorded is a recurring ruse by “coleros”, people dedicated to the illegal purchase and resale of food at exorbitant prices.

Openly, President Miguel Díaz-Canel recently admitted that there are “mistreatments, non-compliance with hours” and “diversion of resources” in the stores.

In addition to the long ordeal, at times due to delays in paying for internet failures, no public bathroom or place to sit, there is the possibility that the desired product may run out.

This is what happened to Lázaro Naranjo (77), who spent two hours buying chicken and returned home “with an empty bag”. “That reduces you to nothing,” he says. (AFP)

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