Day 8 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Many Cubans continue to take to the streets to line up to get food.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 March 2020 — Today a street vendor broke the morning silence with his proclamation of coconut and guava cakes, which he described as “original,” but few neighbors dared to go down from the concrete blocks of the neighborhood. Between the need to search for supplies and the fear of contagion, this time caution has prevailed.

And they do not exaggerate. This weekend the positive cases in Cuba have exceeded one hundred, reaching 119, and Covid-19 has already taken three lives, according to official sources, numbers which haven’t convinced many. People fear that the contagion numbers are being reported in the same way as other awkward statistics from the past.

In the end, we have lived for decades in a scenario of made-up figures, where the yeast of triumphalism is added to positive numbers so that they grow, while the stubborn indicators of the disaster are cut or silenced. When so many lies have been told, there is a risk that even if the truth is told no one will believe it.

In this case, mistrust is allied with the survival instinct and although officials insist that they are going to guarantee basic products, many citizens continue to take to the streets to line up, haul away and store food. The serious thing is that, in this task, they not only bring home some bread and rice, but also — potentially — the virus.

In our house we have reinforced the protection. Our exits are more and more sporadic and climbing the stairs to the 14th floor is a mandatory practice to avoid the congested elevator. We have suffered a couple of power outages since yesterday, but briefly. It would be very serious if, in addition to the scarce soap, we had to start looking for candles.

I keep planting vegetables and greens in any container I come across. Today it was the turn of some chili pepper seeds and others of basil. Tomorrow I will plant my first onions and some garlic cloves. I do not follow any manual, I get carried away by my “green finger,” which is useless for playing the piano but has shown good skills for agriculture. The guajira (peasant) in me blossoms these days.

I sense that private initiative will become vital in the coming weeks to avoid a famine on this Island, but it will depend on the authorities understanding the gravity of the moment and removing all obstacles to agricultural production. Only the Cuban countryside can save us, but fewer restrictions and more freedoms are urgent. Without that, we are doomed.

Once already the peasants saved us, in the 90s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet subsidy, the Island was submerged in the lack of fuel, long blackouts and food shortages. These were years, too, of a heated political discourse that seemed more disposed to lead us towards a Kampuchea-style model than towards the necessary economic and political openness. But, when many had given up hope of improvement and after decades of stubborn nationalization of the economy, agricultural markets were reauthorized.

Guavas returned from those private producers, I tried the first canistels of my life and I was able to make the malanga puree that my son began to eat a few months after he was born. Unfortunately, that flexibilization was filled with restrictions that have weighed down the growth of the sector and the potential of our land. The Plaza of the Revolution became afraid of the guajiros. But, now, there is no other option but to open and open wide.

As I bury the seeds in various pots, I listen to the loudspeaker from a vehicle that traverses the streets of my neighborhood. “Take extreme measures, don’t be on the street and beware of the coronavirus,” you hear it say over and over. Until a few days ago, those speakers would only have broadcast political slogans, but a tiny enemy has forced them to change the script.

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