HAVANA, Feb. 23th (By IPS Cuba ) Shortages in Cuba have everyone’s attention again with long and chaotic lines in Havana and other provincial cities. When products that are in shortage finally appear, long lines form so people can buy them. Brawls are constantly on the verge of breaking out and people harshly criticized both the government and hoarders.
Some stores have established limits on how much people can buy to prevent hoarding and reselling. However, corrupt sales assistants tell friends in advance, or resellers who give them a nice cut.
This isn’t news in recent decades. The only problem now is that this has become a recurring problem, due to the weak response from inefficient state-run companies, financial restrictions on imports and the US tightening down on its economic embargo.
The government has explained in official media channels that they have been forced to give priority to the three most important export sectors: food, medicine and fuel because ships carrying raw materials have been delayed due to pressure from the US.
As a result, shortages are hitting personal hygiene items this time… at least until March, although there are also shortages of the abovementioned too.
Earlier this month, the minister of Domestic Trade, Betsy Diaz, announced to official media in the central province of Villa Clara, that the national demand for personal hygiene items won’t be met, at least until the fourth month of 2020.
“Right now, budgets have to go towards navigating the problems the harsh blockade [embargo] imposes, as well as allowing us to purchase fuel in other places (…). Fuel and food are the main priorities that available funds are going towards,” she explained.
Her statement led to confusion in the beginning. She called alleged “people without principles” who had “spread fake news maliciously” about the shortage of personal hygiene items “Imperialism’s lackeys”.
According to the statement that was published on the ministry’s website, “the truth” is that “demand and stability won’t be met until March, because they don’t have enough stock to meet this demand, but availability and stock will return to satisfactory levels as of April.”
An internet user identified as Luisa Cecilia commented: “Saying that there will be problems with personal hygiene items until the end of March is the same as saying that there won’t be any until April.”
Anyhow, the news made the population worry. Immediately after, many went to state-run markets and so-called “shopping” centres (which sell items in foreign currency) in search of these products, but social media and alternative media platforms also filled with tense comments from concerned citizens.
People remembered that the range of “missing” products (as sales assistants normally say to customers) reached its peak in 2019 when cooking oil, chicken, wheat flour and its derivatives were in shortage.
Government announces better stock
Executives of the domestic trade portfolio told Granma newspaper (which belongs to the Cuban Communist Party), that personal hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, liquid soap and toilet paper, etc.) won’t completely disappear, but the thing is that demand won’t be met right now, as it has in previous years.
According to Francisco Silva, the general sales managers of this sector, products that enter in the basic family rations will continue to be available, although grain production has fallen, and coffee and powdered milk will be distributed in bulk because the packaging is in shortage.
IPS Cuba reached out to a dietitian who said that the powdered milk container situation will have to be resolved as soon as possible because this product is easily contaminated and is consumed by children mostly and people with special diets, and the rest is sold to the population at a very high price.
Like in the last quarter of last year, long lines at gas stations across the entire country are the telling sign of this new period of shortages, where some customers have complained that managers are apparently playing favourites with drivers of state-owned cars.
Lines for medicine
Medicines are pretty much a whole ‘other story. On Thursdays or Fridays every week, dozens of people (mostly the elderly) crowd together in front of pharmacies with the hope of being able to buy painkillers, antihistamines, skin cream, etc. before their medical prescriptions run out.
The list of “missing medicines” is long and pharmacies have bare shelves. However, the State is trying to ensure medicine for chronic diseases (especially high blood pressure) which is distributed via the so-called “card”, although the stock has its ups and downs.
In spite of the “temporary” situation with fuel that President Miguel Diaz-Canel declared in September 2019, the Government has managed to guarantee the rationed family basket every month for a subsidized price, in spite of it relying on imports. Rationed items only cover some of the people’s most basic needs for a third of a month.
In January, the population was called upon to “adopt saving measures and the efficient use” of liquefied gas which many homes use to cook, and rationing was announced.
Cuts in liquefied petroleum gas imports for domestic use in Cuba affect the supply to more than 1.7 million customers, which is the result of US sanctions, according to the state-led company Union Cuba-Petroleo (CUPET).
On the eve of this declaration, CUPET announced that it was working towards normalizing liquefied gas distribution on the island and that they hoped to increase delivery to the population and the public sector by mid-February, thereby alleviating fuel shortages.
Water supply also in times of crisis
In addition to the fuel crisis and shortages of personal hygiene items, there was also an announcement by Aguas de La Habana that this precious liquid will begin a new cycle of distribution every three days, in certain areas of the Cuban capital, as of Monday, February 10th.
The reason? A conductor that draws out the water supply service in areas of the city centre has broken, due to contamination of fuel that had leaked into the network in the heavily-populated Diez de Octubre municipality.
Leonel Diaz Hernandez, the company’s general director, announced to the weekly paper Tribuna de La Habana that the contamination took place in the water of the Vento canal, in the Capdevila area. This conductor supplies the central system in the Plaza de la Revolucion, Diez de Octubre, Central Havana, Old Havana and Cerro municipalities.
Residents in this capital (2.1 million inhabitants in total) could finally take a deep breath after Friday when Aguas de La Habana released a statement in which it announced that the water supply was gradually returning to normal in many areas after decontamination work had been completed and repairs were made to the affected conductor.