Prices and other Horror Stories from Cuba

HAVANA, March 12th  There isn’t a time in the day here in Cuba when we don’t have to look at our wallets with sadness or up at the heavens.

Our baseball players normally do the latter when they hit a home run, they lift their arms and eyes up to the infinite heavens, thanking God Almighty, when they haven’t ever stepped foot inside a church.

And, that is the big difference here. Some people are grateful, and others complain about their financial means to tackle the new bad news.

“Everything has gone up” is the handy phrase that a restaurant owner says, explaining how he has to pay 40 pesos (US $1.65) for a pound of lemons, to a woman who has to pay, all alone, for the essential extra she needs at a hard-currency store.

Meanwhile, incomes and pensions remain low and even the government has publicly recognized this. As a result, so many people find themselves forced to take part in activities that are considered illegal, which are nothing more than them trying to find a way to survive, and not to become criminals and no longer be dignified people.

Whomever steals 20 liters of diesel from the State to sell it for 15 Cuban pesos per liter, claims that they are doing this to be able to buy a pound of pork for 55 pesos. And, that butcher tells you that fodder prices are sky-high and he needs to pay 220 pesos or 10 CUC (=usd) so that, between all the neighbors, they can pay someone 100 CUC to clean the septic tank in their building.

The septic tank operator has publicly said that, with everything so expensive, the mechanic is offering a new pump for nothing less than 300 CUC. Another worker, in order to deal with life’s high prices and the few scruples of those who trade medicine on the black market, swears on the Bible, that his diabetic wife needs to pay someone else 30 pesos for a glibenclamide pill, who is alarmed because they had to pay 5 CUC or 120 pesos for a carton of 24 eggs…

The story is never-ending. The restless dog biting its own tail or, as we say in the game of dominoes: Songo knocks Borondongo, Borongo knocks …

And, meanwhile, the economy is sitting in a corner contemplating the landscape from the frontline without being able to do much but demanding greater productivity anyway. If there isn’t wealth, I can’t do much, it seems to say to itself.

Hard times call for decisions of the same magnitude…
(First published in Progreso Semanal)