Lunes, 9 de Diciembre de 2019
Última actualización: 16:13 CET

Unquestionable Scarcity

A man in a doorway. (WATCHING AMERICA)

An American named John, who speaks Spanish and is the owner of a sailboat anchored in the Hemingway Marina, questions whether there are real shortages in Cuba.

"From what I can see there is everything," he says, with his thick accent. "Here people are fat, always cheerful, drinking, dancing.”

Colombians Pedro Peña and Henry Carnavali, apprentice filmmakers who in December shot scenes in Jaimanitas, also addressed this issue fervently, reporting that they lacked nothing to do their work. "We even got girlfriends," they added, "and we plan on getting married and taking them to Bogotá."

Tourists doubt it, as they enjoy all the good things on the Island, unable to believe that its people lack a thing. Demonstrating their penury to them can be a task in vain when the first thing one finds is a drunk with a bottle in his hand after a big night out, even though it's a regular Monday morning. Or they see a beautiful girl who woke up luchando and returns home with her bag full. Or on Saturdays they see the whole town carrying bags after hunting down bargains at the fair.

In a fishing town like Jaimanitas, the only kind of seafood you can easily find are Mercomar croquettes. The old fish, like pargos, rabirrubias, agujas and casteros only remain in the memories of the oldest fishermen, who recount their feats with all the nostalgia befitting a bygone era.

State inspectors' siege last year last against cart vendors , the closing of the El Trigal supply center, and the price caps have left the people destitute. The only surviving cart vendor is set up on Tercera A, and last Wednesday he was only selling bananas, oranges and sweet potatoes. People walking down the streets like zombies, complaining about the lack of pumpkins, yucca, carrots, kidney beans, lettuce, onion, garlic…  

On a stroll through two stores we notice that are no mops, or toothpaste, umbrellas, detergent or toilet paper. At the TRD store on the Calle Séptima I found a couple complaining because they had searched half of Habana but could not find any disposable diapers, or tubs, or cologne or talc for babies. The woman was seven months pregnant, bracing for her baby's arrival, but they were worried because they had bought a used cradle, but still needed a mattress. They talked about visiting Revolico, a website selling all kinds of things, to see if there they could find one.

At the door of the El Caracol, on the Calle Primera, I spoke with a woman who had just bought a house and was refurbishing it. She said it was hard for her to find suitable furniture, because everything was exorbitantly expensive. And it was impossible for her to find scouring pads, electrical cables, or an antenna for her television set. According to her, she couldn't even find these things on the black market. She went to La Cuevita, where she had been told one could find anything, but had no luck there either.

"The shortages are relative when you look at the different social classes," says Federico, a reflective local barber. "Many people in Cuba were not even affected by the Special Period, nor are they by the current crisis, during which people cannot make ends meet. Those are the people at the top, those with their own businesses, and those who work for foreign companies. They lack nothing. Nor do the tourists, who come for a few days, have a good time, and go away. Tell them to live like the people for a day, and they'll be squealing. The big problem is that there is another type of shortage, one that is not material: the loss of values, the lack of a civic spirit, the disinterest in producing and, above all, the absence of democracy. Those are the engines that drive a country, and enables it to lack nothing."