In Cienfuegos, Women Take Turns to ‘Solve’ the Food for the Day

The Imago market, recently reopened in Cienfuegos, has barely five products in its meat section. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 13 February 2018 — Regla Nicolás works in a polyclinic in Cienfuegos but every day she has to slip out to chase food in the city’s undersupplied “Hard Currency Collection Stores” (as the state has chosen to formally name its chain of stores where items are not rationed).

“With the money you have in your pocket, you can’t find what you’re looking for,” she says with annoyance while standing in front of Mercado Habana, one of the largest hard-currency food stores in the city’s historic center.

Some shelves are empty. There are others in which the same product is repeated to exhaustion to hide the lack of alternative foods. continue reading

“Since the hurricane [Irma, in September], there is nothing, not in the stores in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, i.e. hard currency) nor in the state markets in CUP (Cuban pesos),” complains Regla Nicolás. Basic foods like eggs have been missing for weeks. Fruits and vegetables are the privilege of those with greater purchasing power.

“The food for a small family for a week costs five times more than an ordinary Cuban’s monthly salary. I always look for the cheapest,” she adds.

At any time of the day, the city center is full of people who go out in the street to look for food, detergent, deodorants and other basic necessities. Arasay Pérez, a worker at the Railway Company, is one of them: “I went out to look for something for lunch about one in the afternoon. After going through most of the stores on the boulevard I returned to work, marked my time card and went home to ‘invent’ in the kitchen,” she explains.

Coconut water and dried coconut were the only products sold this week in the Agrosur state market. (14ymedio)

Slipping away from work to try to locate products for sale is an every day reality for Pérez. At her workplace the women agree to take turns, one each day, and to buy food for the others.

The State response has been to put out calls to combat “labor indiscipline.” Among the government’s other measures are the creation of Agrosur, a store to sell agricultural products with capped prices, and a special stand specialized for the direct sale of pork.

“Last week Agrosur only sold coconut water and dried coconut,” says Hilda Estrada, a neighbor of the store located at the intersection of Argüelles and Gacel streets. Estrada believes that local managers smuggle the vegetables and root crops to dealers.

Long lines on the Cienfuegos Prado to buy Soy Yogurt. (14ymedio)

The specialized stand, which sold pork meat with ‘defects and accidents’ from the Porcino de Cienfuegos at capped prices, closed its doors in December after the scandal unleashed by the selling of places in line. “The old people arrived at dawn and took the first 30 places. After that they were out of meat,” explains El Negro, a regular customer of the center, who is now forced to survive “on the minced meat sold on the ration book.”

Dreams were awakened in the provincial capital by the inauguration, near the General Hospital, of the Imago store – which customers call the ‘shopping’, using the English word, and which also has a hard currency bar-restaurant. Jorge García López, commercial manager of the Cienfuegos Cimex branch (the country’s largest import-export company, run by the military), told the official press that with the remodeling of this store it would be possible to supply the area near the Medical Sciences University and the hospital “because before there was nothing.”

“The main objective is to create a complex that meets all the needs of the people,” said García López.

Many times in the stores there are empty shelves or shelves full of the same product. (14ymedio)

However, 14ymedio visited the brand new facilities and found, despite the promises, shortages were still obvious and the prices of the products that were available were unaffordable.

The blackboard in the meat section offered five products. One kilogram of filet of claria cost 4.60 CUC, while a kilogram of raw whole lobster was quoted at 28.60 CUC, which represents almost the entire average monthly salary (29.60 CUC) in Cuba.

“Everything is very expensive. It is a market for the rich,” says one of the customers who nonetheless is happy because, at least on the first day, “they have bags to carry your purchases.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cienfuegos Pharmacies Get a Coat of Paint But Still Lack Medicines

The lack of medication allows state employees to enjoy a lot of free time during their work hours. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 4 February 2018 — Shelves without medications and patients who do not find an answer to their needs; pharmacists who spend the day talking on the phone or doing manicures. Everything remains the same, but the newly restored pharmacies and opticians of the city of Cienfuegos are trying to hide their lack of supplies with paint.

“In the week just ended, there were 86 medications that were not available from the basic set,” Dr. Salvador Tamayo, provincial director of Public Health, said at a meeting held at the Provincial Hospital to which 14ymedio had access. The “basic set” consists of more than 800 medicines available in the country. continue reading

Most of the medicines that are missing from pharmacies are imported or require the use of foreign raw materials. The national austerity policy has meant that less budget is spent on acquiring medicines from abroad. According to official data, there are 32% fewer hospitals than there were 10 years ago, while the clinics where family doctors practice only have 40% of staff positions filled.

“This is like putting rouge on an old woman,” says María del Carmen Arroyo, a neighbor of the pharmacy on Arguelles Street. “They can paint and fix the roof, which is appreciated, but if we do not have medicines, why do we need a pharmacy,” she says.

Boxes of empty medicines and others with the same medicine in large quantities is the daily situation of pharmacies in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

The woman, 65, reports that buying an analgesic for her spinal pain has become her biggest nightmare. “The first thing is to go to the family doctor, who is never there, and when he arrives there is a tremendous line. Afterwards, you have to go out and search for the medicine, because in the pharmacy I am assigned to it is always missing,” she says.

Display cases filled with empty boxes and bottles of the same medications, mostly artisanal herbal syrups, adorn the shelves of the pharmacies, while bags of sanitary pads, sold on the ration book, accumulate in the corners.

“That medication is missing,” the pharmacist tells Maria del Carmen when she asks about methocarbamol. The woman does not give up and inquires about aspirin, dipyrone, kogrip and ibuprofen. Every time she receives the same answer, “That’s missing, compañera.”

The pharmacist, who prefers not to give his name, assures 14ymedio that the tinctures and syrups that they sell are the best substitutes for the medicines. “We have oregano syrup for coughing in case the patient has a cold. We also have a tincture of pumpkin seeds for the stomach and other homeopathic medicines,” he explains.

Tuesdays is the day pharmacies receive medicines so it is their busiest day. (14ymedio)

Francisco Ruíz is a 78-year-old retiree who knows the tricks of pharmacies. Every Tuesday he gets up very early and stands in line “to wait for the medicine truck.”

“The truck arrives around 10:00 in the morning to supply the pharmacy. Sometimes a little earlier,” he says, speaking like an expert.

The pharmacy is located on Calzada de Dolores, one of the busiest places in the Cienfuegos. “Soon the medicines are gone. If you come on Wednesday you cannot find anything,” he says.

Ruiz remembers the times when that pharmacy was privately owned. “On the façade they had a Virgin of Charity that the Government knocked down when they took over the apothecary. There was everything here. It was a bit expensive, but they had everything.”

The pensioner regrets that the population has to endure the lack of medicines while in the clinics and pharmacies for tourists there is no shortage of products.

“A few months ago my grandson needed Schostacovsky balsam (an antiseptic with healing properties). He does not hide his indignation when he relates his personal experience: “In normal pharmacies we did not find it and we had to pay almost 20 dollars for the bottle in a pharmacy for tourists that is in Punta Gorda.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.