HAVANA , Sept. 22th Forty people and forty identity cards, not one more. The crisis in the markets has made the leap to state cafeterias, and even in the cafeteria of the popular Plaza Carlos III shopping center in Central Havana, where it’s already impossible to sit normally and eat a portion of fried chicken. The restaurant has decided to limit the sale, and, as if it were just another ration store, customers are obliged to identify themselves so as not to “monopolize” the 350 grams of chicken that the place sells for 37 pesos.
The line to buy fried chicken in the central place was a hive of people last Wednesday when a man, dressed in a T-shirt that identified him as “security,” went out to organize the line and ask customers to present one identity card per person because he was only going to allow forty to enter.
Immediately the pushing and fighting began, epic for a reward as scarce as a piece of chicken. Or two, if the one you get is small. “No way you’re going here,” one said. “I’ve been here for hours,” shouted another. “You’re not going ahead of me,” a third party argued. Meanwhile, the guard continued to stop the tumult with his hand up.
Carlos III Plaza is known as the great palace of consumption in Havana and is the largest shopping center after Cuatro Caminos. Its location, in Central Havana, and its aesthetics, with a characteristic circular ramp winding through the structure, have made it since the ’90s one of the most prosperous and crowded shopping centers in the Cuban capital.
Dollarization had turned the old market that sold meat, each time more withered, into a place with establishments of all kinds, from shoe stores and perfumeries to hardware stores or clothing stores. The ground floor, with restaurants, was so busy that the neighbors complained about the sale of alcoholic beverages and fast food, which was crowded with people wanting to have fun and eat something different.
Now, fallen from grace, it barely has two stores in national currency and a supermarket in pesos where only the residents of Central Havana and part of El Cerro can buy because of the municipalization of commerce that the Government imposed in April of this year.
The rests are shops that take payment only in MLC (hard currency with USD prices) and a few restaurants with minimal offerings. The only fuss occurs when the cafeteria, called El Patio, begins to sell its famous fried chicken, the only food that can now be eaten on site.
Luckily, this Wednesday the first forty were not the only fortunate ones. The cafeteria again accepted another quota of forty when the first group had finished. Until the chicken ran out.