Eating Medals / Miriam Celaya

Produce detail

On Tuesday, November 1st, the Granma newspaper announced on its front page something that may constitute the ultimate Cuban surrealism. “The Cuban economy will grow 2.9% this year”. Page 2 displayed the same triumphant tone in two other petty articles whose headlines bear happy and misleading portents: “FIHAV 2011*. Growing Spanish Interest in Commercial Interchange with Cuba,” and” Investments in Construction Material Industry Guarantee Sector Growth.” All very funny, really. Granma has become the funniest publication in this country, only in most cases it’s black humor.

However, though just in the two blocks encompassed by Árbol Seco, between Estrella and Sitios (Centro Habana) every day there are between four and five carts with about the same products –- onions, green beans, bananas and plantains, garlic, peppers, avocados, papaya, tomato and beans — produce prices are not only excessively high, they are higher than last year’s prices.

Just yesterday I stopped in to do some shopping at the market on the corner of Jesús Peregrino and Santiago, also in Centro Habana. Eleven tiny tomatoes, a bunch of plantains and three small taro cost me 30 pesos. Next to me, an old man in his seventies watched the price board with an incredulous and concerned look in his face. He smiled at me bitterly. Nothing doing, honey, we came in second in the Pan-American Games, so now we will eat medals. And he left, talking to himself, with an empty shopping bag.

And while the official party mouthpiece wallows in such economic recovery inexplicably born out of fiction in a country where for so long nothing is produced, ordinary people feel their pockets increasingly depressed. In recent months, for example, my neighborhood has filled with produce carts. The proliferation of “wagon pushers” is such that, according to one of them, “no more licenses for this activity are being issued because the ones they had planned on have been exhausted.” You’d think that agricultural production would have increased under the reform momentum of our General-President. Produce stands and agro-markets, meanwhile, seem to compete only in terms of prices, a “contest” among sellers that seems determined to show who is able to set the highest price for his products; markets where, in addition, the quality of what’s offered leaves much to be desired.

*Havana International Fair 2011

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 4 2011