Cuba’s Complicated Shortages of Cleaning Products

A long line in Havana to buy detergent, one of the products that has been missing from the markets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 February 2020 — The authorities of the Ministry of Internal Trade have not stopped insisting in recent days that cleaning products will not disappear in February and March while recognizing their scarcity and announcing the availability of these products in April. This Monday, Francisco Silva, general director of Sales of Merchandise of the ministry, indicated that the sales of soaps will grow 40% and those of toothpaste 35%, compared to the previous year.

According to the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, several executives of the Ministry of Internal Trade anticipate the improvement in the supply for April, as its head, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, said last Tuesday. The state and independent press then echoed the words of the official, who admitted that these products had been missing in January. “We are not going to have the demand satisfied in February or March, but we hope that with several measures that are being adopted, we can stabilize, by April, the production of cleaning products by the industry and with it the availability to the population,” she said.

The minister’s words provoked a reaction of fear, especially in Miami, where relatives of emigrants fear that the aggravation of the crisis on the Island will require them to meet more of their relatives’ needs than usual.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Internal Trade issued a statement to indicate that the products are available, although scarce, and accused “unscrupulous and traitorous persons” of misrepresenting the information. “What is true is that until March the demand and stability will not be satisfied, since the total amounts needed to meet it are not available and that the products must be stabilized at appropriate levels from April,” according to the statement.

“Once again the lackeys of imperialism manipulate information to damage the image of the Revolution, which they will not achieve, as they will not be able to undermine the unity of the people,” they emphasized.

Two days later, the person in charge of emphasizing the message was Silva, who added the customary attribution of blame to the United States in the clarification of information on the products.

The manager attributed the shortage to the lack of timely arrival of raw materials from different countries that do not escape “the harassment to which Cuba is subjected, because of the economic blockade of the United States Government,” the note said. “Given this scenario, the industry has had to look for alternatives, which means not only financial resources, but also to new sources of supply. All these actions must be reflected in a higher level of stability from the second quarter,” Silva said.

Silva has referred to more commodities with problems, one of which is cooking oil, which, according to the official, is being produced normally in the three factories that deal with it, located in Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.

“In 2019, 15,586 more tons were sold than in 2018, and for this year there must be stability in the assurances,” she said, adding that crude and refined oil is available, in addition to the imported oil included in the plan.

As for grains, another of the products that suffers shortages, Silva indicated that black beans or peas have been delivered this February “according to the availability in each province” and noted that beans are being imported to meet the needs. Last week, officialdom admitted that the production of this staple food has collapsed. “About 25,000 tons were planned, which represents less than 50% of the previous period,” said Yojan García Rodas, head of the Department of Various Crops of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Silva said that in February and March the products of the standardized family basic basket, such as coffee and pasta, are guaranteed to the territories to which they are entitled, in each month’s deliveries. And with regards of coffee and bulk milk powder, solutions are being sought to be able to package them.

The official said that the year just ended, more meat products were sold than in 2018 and the same is expected for 2020, although in the Cuban pantries it was not especially noticed. Chicken was one of the products that suffered frequent shortages and only sausages or turkey hash were available in a stable supply.

But the statements of the officials calling for calm have failed to calm the anxiety of consumers who form long lines outside the stores that carry products such as soap, detergent and dishwasher. Families especially look for small bags of detergent, cheaper and harder to find right now.

Others, in the face of the shortages, return to the practices that spread throughout the country during the Special Period: melt small bars of soap to make a bigger one, or prepare it at home with animal tallow, caustic soda and other aromatic ingredients.

In Artemisa, the Martínez family, which has been selling milk, cheese and yogurt in the informal market for more than two decades, has also, in the last month, included manufactured soaps that they produce in their own patio. “There is a lot of demand and it is used primarily for washing because it is hard soap and it is used slowly,” says one of the vendors.

Others appeal to their relatives abroad to send a package with detergent or to buy the product from the online classified sites that deliver on the Island. On those websites, about 200 grams of detergent costs more than $2.50 (USD), while a package with 34 washing capsules exceeds $42.00 (USD).


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