Shoppers in communist Cuba queue for 12 hours in the blazing sun to buy food ONE DAY
Shoppers in communist Cuba have been forced to queue for 12 hours in the blazing sun just to buy food for a day as Covid-19 exacerbates the country’s economic crisis.
The daily ordeal that Cubans have endured during some 60 years of communist rule, often without access to a toilet or drinking water, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, a sharp economic downturn and tightened US sanctions.
‘I spent almost all night here buying something. It’s not easy, it’s a big sacrifice to just eat,” shopper Edelvis Miranda, 47, told AFP at a market in Havana last week.
The housewife had taken her place in line at about 1:00 am and finally left around 11 am, just before noon.
“It was worth it, because I found everything. Now get some rest and then back to the line,’ she said on the way home with two liters of oil, two packets of chicken, some ground beef and washing up liquid.
Cuba registered an official inflation rate of 70 percent in 2021, when the economy recovered a modest two percent from falling 11 percent in 2020, marking the country’s worst economic crisis in nearly three decades.
With government reserves dwindling, food imports — about $2 billion a year before the pandemic hit — had to be drastically reduced in the country from 11.2 million.
Shoppers in communist Cuba (pictured in the capital Havana) have been forced to queue for 12 hours in the blazing sun to buy food for one day as Covid-19 worsens the country’s economic crisis
Cubans queue up for everything from bread to toothpaste for a reason, often waiting for hours without access to a toilet or drinking water, and always with a fear of leaving empty-handed.
Last May, the government said imports, which normally cover 80 percent of the island’s needs, were at their lowest levels since 2009.
The shortages affect everyone; even the wealthy face long lines, although they often pay other people to keep their seats.
Who can come armed with snacks, water, coffee or a wooden bench to sit on. The police are often on hand to keep order in rows that span several blocks.
At a market in the capital an hour before opening time comes an announcement that five products are available for the day – an unusual bounty that sends a wave of excitement through a queue of about 400 hopeful shoppers.
But then, the setback. Only 250 can enter.
“This is unworthy,” grumbled Rolando Lopez, a 66-year-old retiree who was not among the lucky ones.
A few dozen of the unlucky soon line up for the next day’s errands, assigning night watchmen to make sure no one loses their seat.
“It’s the Cuban’s daily struggle. What else can you do?’ asked housewife Maria Rosabal, 55.
Cubans have queued for hours for food for about 60 years of communist rule, but the daily ordeal has been exacerbated by the pandemic, a sharp economic downturn and tightened US sanctions
Some shops in Cuba today only accept foreign currency. But US dollars are no longer legal tender and can only be obtained on the black market.
These stores are more stocked than those based on pesos, but few Cubans can afford to visit them.
It is common for stores to have only two or three products at a time, or none. Sometimes people stand in line without knowing what product to buy that day.
Specific products often disappear completely from the shelf for a certain period of time, as is now the case with milk.
When they reappear, they are usually limited to the currency stores and sell out in a matter of hours.
Shortages are not new. When a Cuban cuts through a border, they are often reproached: “We’ve been queuing for 60 years and you still don’t know how?”
But things have worsened since former US President Donald Trump tightened sanctions in place since 1962, and the pandemic froze tourism and undermined the global economy.
It is common for stores in Cuba to carry only two or three products at a time, or none. Sometimes people stand in line, not knowing what product to buy that day
The situation was further complicated by a monetary reform launched a year ago that brought a significant wage increase in a country where most of the workers are employed by the government. But it further stimulated price inflation.
In an effort to contain the fallout, authorities carefully scan each shopper’s ID card and the ration booklets that give Cubans access to a basket of government-subsidized products each month.
Still, “there are people who are taking advantage of the situation to make money,” said Lopez, the retiree.
Placing a 100-pesos note (about $4) in the ration book prevents a purchase from being recorded, he said. The method is used by people who already buy scarce products and illegally resell them for sky-high prices.
The government in Havana has said boosting national production is the best way to deal with shortages and queues, and has slowly begun to open up the economy to private enterprises.
But the measures promise little short-term relief for consumers like Lazaro Naranjo, 77, who queued for two hours to buy chicken, only to leave empty-handed.
“It reduces you to nothing,” he said.