Customers’ Disenchantment With the ‘State Methods’ of a Privatized Bakery in Havana

Some customers from other parts of the Cuban capital wait in line at the bakery on Carlos III and Castillejo streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 15 July 2023 — With a temperature of 33 degrees Celsius, this Friday morning the neighbors in Key West, Havana and customers from other parts of the Cuban capital waited in line for the bakery on Carlos III and Castillejo streets to start dispatching the customers who crowded in earlier.

“Since 4:30 am we haven’t had electricity,” the seller justified to the line, which now was starting to get uncomfortable with the midday sun. Holding umbrellas or taking refuge in the brief shadow projected by a nearby facade, the buyers wondered what had happened with that place.

The bakery, recently repaired, passed from the hands of the state-owned Cuban Bread Chain to a private company, as this newspaper confirmed. “They removed all the state workers and brought their own staff,” said a neighbor who had recently heard about the change in ownership.

The news that the central bakery, which brought customers from several municipalities, had reopened in private hands raised expectations and sparked fantasies. Some neighbors said that the bread was going to be “like before” but didn’t specify what moment in the past they were referring to. True or not, between curious people and buyers, the line on the outskirts of the store was extended in a short time.

A chubby man who blocked the passage of the curious explained that for now only two products were being offered: five small round loaves for a price of 20 pesos and a baguette for 70 pesos. “Soon there will be other varieties,” he said. Meanwhile, in the line,  another seller began to check identity cards, and customers expressed their surprise that in a private store the “revolutionary method of sale” in force in state stores was being applied.

Rationing the amount that can be purchased, asking for identification to access the counter and regulating how many times a customer can stand in line are widespread practices in state stores. If anything distinguishes, so far, the private ones, it is to have eliminated these mechanisms in their businesses.

“These places have a bad vibe. Although individuals come to work in them, they maintain the state methods,” said a young man in the line who seemed skeptical at the hope that private companies will work better than those of the government. “In the end, they are always the same ideas and the same schemes,” he said.

But every rule has its trick, and the Cuban customer has been training for decades to circumvent the restrictions.

Despite the warnings of the sellers, a lady kept the newly purchased bread in her bag and went back to the end of the line. “Surely now she is calling some relative to come with his card to buy more,” a young woman said with suspicion. “I came thinking that this was going to be different, but it’s the same line, the same five loaves per person and the same socialism,” she added, disappointed.

As soon as we mention the concept of “private enterprise,” most Cubans already imagine a better assortment of products, much higher prices than in official shops, better treatment of employees and the freedom to choose, combine and carry as much merchandise as you want and whatever you want. But that perception could be changing in the face of the reality that is being imposed.

Some passers-by came this Friday to inquire about “the bakery that is now private,” but few overcame the difficulty of having to wait so long to take home a baguette, the so called “good bread.” “I don’t have the patience for this,” said one. Five minutes later, the man who controlled the door announced: “That’s it for the bread. You’ll have to wait another half an hour.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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