1992: Cuba Had Everything / Dora Leonor Mesa

Although our little girls (a 2-year-old and a newborn) were healthy, my husband and I woke up at different times, he at 6:00 am and I at 9:00. Bedtime was also different. He could rest at midnight and I, after 3:00 in the morning because they had to take gas without the harsh sound of the fire: Pipes empty! Pipes empty! Fill-ups last a short time!

At dawn it was time to boil diapers, cook sweets. We were not worse for having four types of stoves: gas, electric, bright light and carbon as an emergency. Getting fuel, another problem (it still is) but our reasoning was simple: The two girls and my old grandmother were not at fault and we had to take care of them and prepare enough food. Previously did not include solar cooking, it was used primarily to heat the bath water. There were no heaters. If there was no electricity, no gas what was the point of a heater?

Disposable diapers? We were getting some packages but the dollar was forbidden and you couldn’t always find some foreigner that would do it as a favor — not paying him as was common. That is accompanying you to the store — the “shopping” as we call hard currency stores — and pay for them (with your own money) because you couldn’t be seen pulling out the “enemy” currency.

I’ll never forget the face of despair of an Austrian friend on seeing me pin a cloth diaper on my daughter as we were both sitting on the Malecon. The wind was blowing the fabric around and I had to be careful when I was pinning it not to poke her. It took me a minimum of 10 minutes to get that diaper on and I’m not exaggerating.

Food? The agricultural markets had been prohibited and the flourishing black market did not meet expectations. Thus, I keep as a souvenir a case of nutmeg Tante Liselotte gave me.

There were moments at that time that we had meat stored in the freezer and the refrigerator and we didn’t eat it out of the terror of leaving the “three” girls without a decent diet. The disease in fashion at that time was neuropathy and people were very thin between the deficient diet and the daily use of bicycles to travel due to lack of transportation in the capital of the republic.

The year 1992 contributed to the immense fame of powdered soft drinks made with cyclamates for school snacks. Milk (1 liter per day) was only for children up to 7 years old. It is the year — or one of them(?) — known for the “plan maceta*” – dedicated to destroying entrepreneurial people, criminals or otherwise.

Even worse, in 1993 it was “oriented” at taxi drivers for tourists, renting out “jineteras” (prostitutes). Thus we learned that if you paid for a taxi in hard currency you were considered a hooker, but at least you wouldn’t risk going to jail. Later, in July, the president authorized all Cubans, prostitutes or not, to spend the dollars in the so-called “collecting” stores (because they collected dollars), as long as Cuban citizens were not admitted in hotels and tourist resorts for foreigners.

Fortunately, in 1993 was “directed” to taxi drivers to rent to tourists “prostitutes” (prostitutes). We learned that by paying a taxi currency were considered “hooker” but at least you would not go to jail. Subsequently, in July, the president authorized to all Cubans, prostitutes or not, to spend the dollars in stores collecting as long as Cuban citizens are not supported in hotels and resorts for foreigners.

For this to justify what happened, residents of the Caribbean Tartarus still reflect:

“A few years ago, Cuba had everything …”

*Translator’s note: Dora is talking about a year in the “Special Period” — the crisis years after the collapse of the Soviet Block and its withdrawal of its financial support for Cuba; imports and exports fell by an estimated 80%. Fidel Castro termed this “a special period in a time of peace.” “Maceta” literally means “flowerpot” and is slang for a wealthy person. The “plan maceta” was a series of measures aimed at eliminating the “nouveau rich” and involved a series of measures and confiscations. For example, if a business had three or more partners its license would be revoked; if a family had two cars both would be confiscated; “rich” farmers had their lands confiscated and might have been sent to reeducation camps or prison, and so on.

February 11 2012