‘Don’t Forget To Bring Me Salt,’ the Plea of Cuban Mothers to Those Who Travel Abroad

How is it that a country surrounded by seawater lacks salt? This is the great question that Cubans ask themselves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 April 2023 — The shortage of salt has been a serious issue on the streets of Cuba for a long time, but it was not until this Wednesday that the official press mentioned it. In a long article, Cubadebate echoed the complaints of its own readers and admitted that “for several months there has been instability in the marketing of salt in the country.”

The problem is not a lack of salt: more than 9,000 tons have been stored. The difficulty is with distribution, according to statements by the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, speaking in February. “Problems with transportation have affected the delivery to consumers,” he said.

In what seems a justification for the big question — how is it that a country surrounded by seawater lacks salt? — the text devotes great space to arguing that most of the salt flats on the Island are in the eastern area. This, says the director of the Salt Company (Ensal), Jorge Luis Bell Álvarez, “is not due to whims or lack of investments, but to the fact that very specific weather conditions are required for their location”; that is, where “there is little rain and a lot of wind.” Two salt regions are located in Guantánamo, and the rest are in Las Tunas, Camagüey, Villa Clara and Matanzas.

“Guantánamo is the province that produces the most salt because it has a semi-arid climate, very dry and with little rain all year round,” says the official, while in Matanzas “salt can only be produced in the driest and windiest months, which are April, May, July and September. In the other months it rains a lot, and the water dissolves the salt that has formed.”

The salt flats of Matanzas present another problem, according to the president of the Geominero-Salinero Business Group, Fabio José Reimundo: “Every time a hurricane passes through, the entire installation is taken away, because there are dikes that separate the ponds and allow the salt to crystallize. When a strong swell happens, the water gets in and mixes with the salt. There are many hurricanes that pass through here, but not in Guantánamo.”

Despite everything, the director of Ensal assures that the state “has managed to maintain the production and (limited) distribution of salt throughout the national territory, despite the resource difficulties it faces.”

The same official explains a complex distribution process through the regulated ’family basket’ according to the number of household members. In the first month of the quarter, for example in March, 4,100 tons of salt are distributed, “and all households receive one bag of salt per household. But in April, 2,800 tons are distributed only to households that have more than four family members. “In the third and last month of the quarter, between 900 and 1,000 tons are distributed to the larger households and to those who still have a bag to fill.”

One can conclude that the figures in the Cubadebate article are not the same as on the street. Thus, the proposed price per kilogram of salt [2.2 pounds] in the warehouses, which the director of the company puts at 25 pesos [$1.04] can go up to 136 pesos [$5.67], as this newspaper was able to verify a few days ago in Luyanó, where it was sold only as a repackaged product.

“Already it must be gone, because any little bit doesn’t last long. As soon as they put it out, the resellers grab it. They repackage it and, as you know, sell it at an exorbitant price,” says a neighbor, who managed to buy a pound.

There is also inconsistency between paper and reality in the costs of salt “on the left” [on the black market]. Cubadebate says that a package costs 150 pesos [$6.25], but this same Wednesday in several markets in Havana, a package of a pound and a half was at 250 pesos [$10.42]. “They sell it to you as a kilogram [2.2 pounds], but you can see that it’s  less, and not always of a good quality. Sometimes it’s half wet, sometimes it’s very fat, and sometimes good, yes, but that depends,” complains a resident of Havana’s El Vedado district.

In San Antonio de los Baños, Ana María was able to buy just a small repackaged bag. “I don’t understand why salt is so scarce, a country surrounded by the sea!” says the woman, married and with a young daughter. “Salt wouldn’t have to be imported; it doesn’t have to come from any other country.”

Those who have a traveling relative have added salt to the list of orders to bring from abroad. “My mother sent me a message so I wouldn’t forget to bring her salt,” a habanero visiting Spain tells this newspaper. “But the last time I brought it was from Bogotá, and I almost missed the flight, because they made me open the suitcase to know what that ’dust’ was in my luggage. It was quite painful to explain to the Colombians that it was salt to take to an Island.”

In the face of all these vicissitudes, the response of the authorities via the official press is, as usual, proactive. “We are looking for alternatives to improve the transport of salt and change the modal matrix,” says Dolcey Castellanos, director of operations of Ensal. For example, “using additives that keep the salt from clumping” or “making an investment” in the salt flats of Santa Clara to “increase production capacity from four to ten tons per hour.” At the moment, nothing has been finalized.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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