Darío Manduley’s blood pressure decompensated while waiting his turn in a queue kilometer to buy cigars in the neighborhood of Key West. After several discussions with those in charge of the Fight Against Coleros (LCC) brigade and with half a dozen women whom he identified as “the usual anger”, he could not reach the corresponding ten boxes of cigarettes of the brand he smokes.
“I had to settle for the red Rothmans (mild cigars) when in reality I smoke Popular or H. Upmann (strong cigars). Now I have to try to resell these, which are the least in demand, so I can buy the ones I use. The fucked up thing about this whole thing is that they have a whole town reselling in order to survive,” emphasizes Manduley before the call for calm demanded by his wife and the nurse at the polyclinic.
“The first thing is that the sale of cigarettes is far from being equitable or on a level playing field. Regardless of how many members a household has, or how many of its members are smokers, for each supply book they only sell a carton of cigarettes (ten packs). To top, they don’t always stock all brands of cigarettes, both mild and strong, but at most they supply one or two brands and there are weeks where the one you smoke does not even reach. I cannot afford to pay 200 pesos (for Popular) or 240 pesos (for H. Upmann), I have to stand in line out of obligation and then become a reseller, also out of obligation. I, who in all my life have not sold a single peanut cone”, adds Manduley, another among the tens of thousands of Havanans who have to live every week from queue to queuewithout the slightest certainty that they will supply the products or food that they really need.
The business group Tabacuba argued that since the end of 2020 the lack of financing had an impact on the purchase of wrapping paper, labels and parts for the factories of this economic line. During 2021, the instability in its distribution in the retail sales network was due to the deficit of the production factories due to unforeseen breakages, logistical and transportation problems, lack of materials, and the paralysis of some lines or delays in deliveries due to the pandemic.
According to Tabacuba, it was expected that by the second quarter of 2022 the landscape could changebut the reality they face Cubans is that they are obliged to pay up to five times the official price of each brand of cigarettes in the informal market.
Tabacuba admitted that the production plan of the state factories, from January to June, is barely 47% fulfilled. On the other hand, the mixed company Brascuba, dedicated to the manufacture of the brands H. Upmann, Popular with filter and Rothmans, only fulfills its plan up to 86%.
The Havana residents interviewed agree that the justifications disclosed by the regime’s authorities “are more of the same in decades, not in the last two years.”
“‘What about cigars and everything else for almost 60 years‘, is the title that should be given to the reports that are published in Granma Y Cubadebate“, lambastes Irene de Armas in reference to the fact that the discourse of the justifications that the official press releases is the same “and we are tired of being told that the responsibility lies with the blockade, and now with the pandemic or the war in Ukraine”.
“I have spent almost a year on the odyssey of buying disposable panties in national currency for my mother, who is bedridden as a result of a stroke. As she is very thin and due to the disease she lost much more weight, the larger sizes can be used for her. Incredible as it may seem, it is cheaper to invest in these culeros than in soaps, detergent and sheets, in addition to saving time, current and energy in the washing process,” says Irene de Armas, another of the most of seven million Cubans who do not receive foreign exchange for the concept of remittances of the outside.
“Buy foreign currency in the black market is not an option for me. That would be family suicide because, as in any family and anywhere in the world, food is priority zero. Outside of food, disposable butts and medicines are the only luxury allowed in my family. My husband, my sister and I decided to quit smoking and drink coffee to minimize and focus on spending on food, a decent quality of life for my mother and feeding our children. That’s the reality for a working family,” De Armas explains.
Last February, the director of retail sales of CIMEX admitted the existence of an overdemand for disposable diapers, wet wipes and protectors produced by the Vietnamese company Thai Binh, whose factory is located in the so-called Mariel Special Development Zone and that the plant, at least until 2019, produced 120 million diapers annually . However, the official justified that in the first quarter of this year the difficulties with raw materials increased due to the pandemic.
As a result, this official assured, the supply of this product is limited in stores in CUP, a market in MLC where not everyone can access and a stage supplied by resellers on social networks with prices that triple the official one.
“While the process of approving the new exchange market for the sale of foreign currency to the population lasts, what do we do?” asks Dayamí Bustamante, from Havana, who has spent months “after any antibiotic” and other medications, both for her illness father as for his son’s allergies, “I can’t even find them in the pharmacies in MLC”.
According to the Minister of Economy and Planning, among the 75 measures to recover the national economy, a foreign exchange market will be implemented with an economically based exchange rate and where we can work with all currencies, including dollars in cash. But he clarified that none of these measures is risk-free or magical, nor does it by itself generate an increase in offers in stores.
“I’ve been after amoxicillin, cephalexin, meclizine and gravinol for months. Sometimes I can’t even find it in the private WhatsApp chats for the sale of medicines despite the astronomical prices,” admits Dayamí Bustamante.
Last July, the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, recognized that the situation of the list of medicines “is difficult from the point of view of supply” and that, nevertheless, the State was working to reduce the number of shortages to the extent possible, which also affected health supplies and expendables in the services of hospital institutions.
“But what they are unable to recognize is that all these problems are from decades, not from now or from ten years ago. And that while they dedicate themselves to justifying the irreversible disaster that they have imposed on millions of Cubans in 60 years, those same millions we cry tears of blood every day trying to survive between the queues for a package of chicken and a liter of oil, begging for medicine from friends who live outside of Cuba and investing the pennies they pay us at work to buy two or three MLC,” adds Bustamante.
“The problem in Cuba is not one or two things, it is everything. Absolutely everything. There is nothing at all in this country, only repression and threats if you happen to complain, “she concludes.