In Santiago de Cuba, Shopping in the Ration Stores has Become Mission Impossible

Restricted store hours have increased lines at a time when the need is to eliminate them. (14 ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba | 2 Septiembre 2021 — The harsh restrictive measures that came into force last August in Santiago de Cuba to try to contain the contagion of covid-19 have made the purchase of the products of the basic basket an impossible mission.

The new hours of the ration stores (called bodegas), restricted the opening hours for the population to just two (from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and another two hours (from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.) for the couriers assigned by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution to make deliveries to people. The hours, planned to be in effect for 15 days but, after this period, the authorities of the province extended it for another fortnight.

“At the beginning of August, when these measures were not yet in place, I managed to buy part of the goods that arrived, incomplete. It has been more than a week since the other part arrived and I have not yet been able to get what I have coming in the store because it’s always full,” Ofelia, a neighbor of the Micro 9 buildings, in the José Martí district, told 14ymedio.

Warehouse 4005 of Micro 9 serves a population of more than 1,600 households (about 6,000 people) and is divided into two teams, with a couple of dependents each. “It is impossible to buy at continue reading

that rate, I have hardly seen the courier. These measures were supposedly made to limit the spread of covid-19, but the reality is that the crowd of people is now much greater, and the ’messaging’ does not work,” Ofelia laments.

The José Martí district, with more than 129,000 inhabitants, and Abel Santamaría, with 98,000, are, according to 2018 data, the districts with the highest population density in Santiago de Cuba. In them, limiting the hours of sale in the ration stores to the morning have been insufficient and, sometimes, the only way to buy is to skip some rule.

This is how Rita, 67, managed to buy mortadella, thanks to the butchers continuing to deliver after 9 in the morning. “The situation was desperate. I have several health ailments that make me vulnerable and I had to endure more than 5 hours in the crowd, because I arrived at dawn, before the ration store opened.”

Getting up early, however, is not an option for everyone, and neither is going shopping alone. Marina, the mother of two 2- and 5-year-old children, had to choose to take the little ones in order to buy the food they are allocated under the ration system. “I can’t get up early because I don’t have someone to leave my children with, so this month I had to go with them to the tumult and risk infecting all of us with the coronavirus.”

The young woman also wonders what happened to the donation that, according to the provincial press, was going to reach the families. “Some time ago it appeared in the newspaper that they were going to give out a can of tuna, of which came as a donation, but I have been left with the desire, because they have not given me anything.”

Marta is another mother concerned about measures that exclude the specific cases of some families. “On my card there are 14 people. We buy the errands divided into five families and each one collects their own when they can, but when I explained the matter to the courier he refused to provide us with the service.”

One of the missions of the couriers is to help vulnerable people, such as Yoel, a 67-year-old widower who lives alone in an apartment in the Abel Santamaría District and is entitled to this support. However, he says that he does not even know the courier. “I asked the president of my CDR and she could not say clearly, she told me that I should go with the delegate of the area,” he laments.

The restrictions also apply to foreign currency stores. Although its schedule, from 7 am to 1 pm, is somewhat longer, it has not served to solve the crowds either. “I’ve been trying to buy some LED lamp tubes  for more than a week and every day is a different situation,” protests Rubén.

“When did go I didn’t manage to get a place in the line, which would have been for two days later, because those of the previous days were cancelled by blackouts and there are only 25 a day.”

Faced with this situation, Rubén decided to show up one day at 5 in the morning, but the line was already full of people. “When I inquired they told me that the first ones came around 9 o’clock the night before, without caring about the curfew. I had to give up on the purchase.”

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Cuba’s Generation of Scarcities Has Taken to the Streets

Young people long for a better Cuba and say that is why they took to streets to shout “homeland and life.” (EFE/Yander Zamora)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, July 20, 2021 — “The word hunger is etched into my bones.” From the time he was born until he was almost 20 years old, Ruben grew up in a dysfunctional family where he suffered from malnutrition. “I ate poorly and only once a day,” he says. He is one of the thousands of young Cubans who these days are protesting in the streets, demanding freedom and an end to the current system.

Robbed of nutrients, his body did not develop normally. “In my teenage years I looked like I was eight-years-old,” he says. “After I turned to the streets to support myself, I was finally able get a little more to eat.” From that point on he started to grow and and managed to recover a bit. “I am one of those who was always afraid of going hungry so now I’ll go anywhere to shout patria y vida” [homeland and life].”

His generation has been deeply impacted by scarcity. “I remember we use to get chicken once a month,” recounts Ignacio. “On one occasion my mother left my lunch out and, when I got home from school, I found the neighbor’s cat eating continue reading

my monthly ration of chicken.” He has hated cats ever since. “And now I am all about “down Diaz-Canel!” he yells.

Yamila, a single 23-year-old mother, is desperate. “I don’t have milk. When there’s a blackout, there’s no bread, you can’t get rice, you can’t get sugar, there’s no meat, there’s nooooothing!” she shouts between expletives. She was among the mothers demonstrating in Santiago de Cuba on July 11.

Jobs in Cuba do not pay enough for young people to live on so many look for other options. “I graduated in civil engineering, like my father wanted, but now I transport passengers on my uncle’s electric motorcycle,” says Antonio. He was one of the many motorcyclists supporting Sunday’s demonstrations in Santiago. “I don’t want to spend my whole life driving people around. Down with communism!”

“Listen, talk to your aunt in Italy and tell her I am looking for an American who’ll marry me. I can’t stand mountain life anymore. As bad as it is here, it’s worse in Songo,” implores Dalia, who lives in a rural town in the province. “It doesn’t matter if he’s old, though I’d prefer him to be young and strong. What matters is that he gets me out of this prison. I have photos on my phone I can send over the internet.”

Eduardo and Marta are bewildered by their offspring, both professionals. “We gave our children the best education possible under communism,” they say. But after graduating from university, both made it clear they did not want to stay in Cuba. They did not want to live a life of poverty, hunger and scarcity like their parents had.

Today, their daughter lives in Chile and their son in Belgium. Both are well established in their chosen professions. Both express support for the demonstrations from the trenches of social media.

Gisela recounts these anecdotes with a certain sadness in her eyes. She graduated as a health care professional in 2018. “When I started working, I earned a little more than 1,000 pesos a month. I remember at the time the exchange rate was 25 pesos the dollar, and I could afford to go to and from work and buy a sandwich.

Now, after currency unification, she earns 4,000 pesos a month. “Supposedly, it’s more money but in reality it’s the same or less. Now my commute costs 80 pesos, 40 pesos each way, and the sandwich costs 20. A total of 100 pesos, four times more than before. And that doesn’t take into account that almost everything I need can only be bought with hard currency, which I do not have.” That is why, she says, she longs for a better Cuba and took to the streets to shout “patria y vida.”

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Hundreds of Motorcyclists in Santiago de Cuba Struggle to Get Gasoline

A crowd of desperate drivers hoping to fill their gas tanks at a service station in Santiago de Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, July 1, 2021 — “I’ve been here since Thursday morning. It’s now Tuesday and I am still waiting,” complains one customer, a motorcyclist among a crowd of desperate riders hoping to fill their gas tanks at the La Cubana service station in Santiago de Cuba in front of Antonio Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba.

The situation became utterly chaotic on Tuesday when the city’s gasoline shortage suddenly worsened. “I spent the entire day on Tuesday, from six in the morning, at the station in Trocha. By five in the afternoon, I was still waiting,” says Jose Antonio, who rides a Suzuki motorcycle. “I’m seeing the same situation today but I won’t think about leaving until I can buy some gas.”

Motorcyclists are among those most affected. Without access to a reliable supply of gasoline, they cannot transport passengers or merchandise, their only source of income. continue reading

On February 1 the government imposed new taxes on fuels. Drivers with commercial licenses are allotted 160 liters of gasoline a month, a little more than five liters a day, at a cheaper price than other drivers pay. The measure has had no practical impact, however, due to ongoing fuel shortages.

“I still don’t have gasoline for work. There’s less than a liter in my tank and this is the only place in all of Santiago that has it,” laments Jose Antonio.

The shortage has caused fuel prices on the black market to skyrocket. “Over the weekend I bought six liters at 50 pesos a liter because I couldn’t get any after waiting in line at the Cupet station in Quintero,” says Alejandro, another commercially licensed motorcyclist who has been waiting in line with a 20-liter jug. “When gasoline is scarce, there’s no other option than to buy it on the black market at a premium. The seller sets the price he wants, depending on the demand, but generally it’s around 50 pesos a liter.”

Roberto, another motorcyclist, opts for the most expensive grade of fuel because it has been more readily available. But this resource is also about to run out. “I decided to get the B90. It’s a little more expensive but it’s easier to find than the B83, which is what most drivers use. But now you can’t find either. Authorities are prioritizing the B83 but it’s only for commercial drivers,” he says.

Neither the long line nor Tuesday’s heavy downpour were enough to dissuade the crowd from showing up at the gas station. They are not alone in their anxiety. The city’s population at large is being severely impacted by the fuel shortage.

Ana needed to take food to a sick relative and was trying to get to her destination as quickly as usual but that was impossible. “After waiting for forty-five minutes at Barca de Oro Park, a driver showed up. I asked him to take me to the provincial hospital. He said the ride would cost 50 pesos, 20 more than I normally pay for this trip,” she says.

“That’s how much I just paid for gas. If you notice, there aren’t any motorcycles on the street, much less motorcycles carrying passengers,” the driver told her. Ultimately, Ana did not have any choice but to pay what he was asking to get her to her destination.

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Scooter Owners in Santiago de Cuba Want Licenses for ‘Carrying Passengers’

“What is within my reach as a means of income is my electric motorcycle,” says this Santiago resident who left state employment decades ago.  (L. Ribot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernandez, Santiago de Cuba, 24 June 2021 — At 65 years of age, Alberto is far from being able to enjoy retirement.  His greatest aspiration at this time is for authorities to legalize private transportation for all kinds of motorcycles.  “What is within my reach as a means of income is my electric motorcycle,” say this Santiago resident who left state employment decades ago and who each day encounters more difficulties in sustaining himself economically.

“I am an engineer, and I stopped working for the State in 1993, during the Special Period.  Then I was only earning 280 pesos [a month], which equaled 2.33 dollars.  For that reason I dedicated myself to looking for my daily bread illegally in the streets, in different types of businesses,” he explains.  “Today, after almost three decades and with the monetary reorganization, I find myself in a complex situation economically, having no legal income or retirement.”

The third stage of registration of mopeds and electric motorcycles began on the Island on June 7 and will run until December 31, 2022.  Owners of scooters [called ‘motorinas‘ in Cuba] did not have to register but now they do, and they must get the driver’s license and license plate. continue reading

Alberto already went through the process, the same one that is required of those who get about with gasoline engines, and he has everything ready.  But the permission to operate as a private carrier with these vehicles does not exist.

“Incorporating scooters into passenger transportation would be a good way out of my financial situation and an economical alternative for those without a job, like me,” he argues.  “Including electric transport, it would be a great help at those times in Santiago de Cuba when gas is scarce, something that has been happening often.”

The only electric transportation authorized for cargo and passengers is tricycles, which can carry out this activity since April 1 of this year, according to a rule by the Ministry of Transportation.

“I wish they would give me a transportation license to carry passengers on my wife’s scooter in my free time, since I work as a custodian one day and rest two,” says Oscarito, who works in a state parking lot and also needs extra pay at a time in which the crisis has become even worse, and the work regulation has increased the cost of living in Cuba.

“I urgently need another source of income, because since prices increased, I feel suffocated, and the salary barely counts.  In my job they keep an electric tricycle, and this equipment they do allow to operate as private transportation,” he emphasizes and asks why the same treatment is not given to scooters.

Miguel Angel, owner and driver of an electric motorcycle, laments that his machine, having the same appearance as a gas-powered motorcycle, is excluded from this type of license only because it runs on electricity.  “My scooter is a Puma of the same model as the gasoline Puma, and even so they have not authorized me to carry passengers,” he protests.

In an absence of regulation, there are those who risk taking action without having any license.  “I bought an electric Puma with the idea of doing business with it.  I use it for carrying passengers and I always have to look out for the police, but so far I have been lucky,” says Rodolfo, a 52-year-old driver who refuses to wait for a legal change.

“I wish they would authorize private transportation for those of us who have scooters, to be able to work legitimately, but I can’t take it anymore with the slowness of those who make the laws in this country.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Rebellion of Motorcyclists in Santiago de Cuba is Successful

Licensed motorcyclists are now allowed to carry passengers from 5 am to 8 am, and from 4 pm to 7 pm. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, 17 June 2021 — “”Based on the concerns voiced by the population,” the Temporary Working Group to confront Covid in Santiago de Cuba, lifted the ban on motorcyclists carrying passengers, two days after its June 11th announcement. The new rules, intended to help alleviate the demands on the city’s public transport system, allow licensed motorcyclists to ferry riders from 5 am to 8 am, and from 4 pm to 7 pm.

Augusto, who makes his living carrying passengers, is one of those who mobilized to overturn the ban. “What they don’t realize when they adopt these measures is that a motorcycle supports two families: the driver’s and the owner’s. If they don’t allow us to work, how are we supposed to eat?”

Cesar, one of his colleagues, adds, “Even when we’re not working, we still have to pay the license fee and the social security tax.” continue reading

After receiving complaints from unlicensed motorcyclists, who were not included in the lifting of the ban, city officials later amended the regulations to include them. “In my case, and there are a lot of people like me, I wasn’t even allowed to take my wife to work on my motorina. She had to get up before dawn to take public transit and walk almost an hour,” says Mario Alvarez.

Santiago de Cuba has more motorcycles than any other city on the island, almost 10,000 registered vehicles. Of them, more than 1,900 are commercially licensed or have licenses pending approval according to figures published by Juventud Rebelde. When motorcycles operating illegal are included in the count, the figure rises to 14,000, as confirmed by an official provincial news media outlet, CMKC.

A 23-year-old motorcyclist who drives one of the city’s most popular models — an Mz 251, made in former communist East Germany — tells 14ymedio how he manages to work during times of the day when motorcyclists are not allowed to operate. “When I go to work, I risk getting caught. I charge more during the prohibited hours. If a ride normally costs 30 pesos, I charge 50. I am not willing to starve to death. It’s very hard.”

Dalia, who is in the same line of work but rents her motorcycle from its driver, points out inconsistencies in the public health arguments that officials used to ban commercial use of two-wheeled vehicles: “I don’t understand why they are singling out motorcycles when buses and trucks are full of people while motorcycles only carry one passenger.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Authorities Abandon Santiago de Cuba to Its Fate

The disastrous hygienic-sanitary situation that Santiago de Cuba is going through reflects the inability of the authorities to solve basic problems. (Alberto Hernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, 30 May 2021 — Santiago de Cuba, known for its carnivals, its suffocating heat and the hospitality of its people, today presents a bleak panorama. The city is depressed by hunger caused by the shortages of all kinds of food, the diseases that are becoming more frequent every day due to the lack of medicines which have been missing for months, and now, as if that were not enough, the accumulation of all kinds of waste in its streets.

The inhabitants of the city wonder what happened to the sound, sometimes annoying, of the bell that announced the arrival of the garbage trucks, after which everyone rushed to put out the waste stored in their houses. The trucks just vanished, as if by magic. Now, the waste is simply stuffed in sacks and dumped in the first corner, or hung from any tree, forming what is known as micro-dumps. The containers that were once, long ago, distributed throughout the city, simply disappeared and are now an endangered species.

Given the worrying situation and the daily criticism of the population, the Government, advised by the directors of the public company Servicios Comunales, which is in charge of cleaning the city, explain that the main problem is the breakdown of the waste collection trucks (together with the lack of fuel, tires, batteries, various spare parts and endless excuses). But, how is it possible that individuals keep their vehicles – dating from the 40s or 50s – in good condition and state companies, with all the tight control of resources, cannot guarantee that a fleet of a few dozen trucks will remain in operation? When it is wanted, it is resolved, and when it is not, a good justification is sought, as the saying goes. continue reading

Comunales, taking the situation into account, has supposedly hired some 325 animal-drawn carts to sanitize the city and thus compensate for the lack of trucks. I say supposedly because, if those 325 wagons were working every day, we would not have that chaotic panorama now presenting in the city.

The inhabitants of the city wonder what happened to the sound, sometimes annoying, of the bell that announced the arrival of the garbage trucks. (Alberto Hernández)

To top it all, there are now record levels of Covid-19 cases in the city, and hundreds of micro-dumps on any corner complicate the situation. The coronavirus has joined other pests that plague the Santiago population and that are closely related to poor hygiene, such as scabies, lice, and dengue fever, the latter transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that has as a breeding ground the many open air waste dump.

In addition, the sewers are clogged and, instead of evacuating wastewater, they expel it to the public thoroughfare, as is frequently observed in the lowest points of Santiago de Cuba.

Ignoring hygienic risks, more and more people “dive” into landfills looking for any of the sorts of things that will help them survive. Driven by hunger and despair, many inhabitants even take refuge in garbage dumps.

The disastrous hygienic-sanitary situation that Santiago de Cuba is going through reflects the inability of the authorities to solve the basic problems of Cuba’s second city. The capital of the East is today the shadow of what it once was.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.