In Cuba, Private Opticians Have Displaced the State Workshops That Are Totally Unstocked

Opticians carry out the few repairs they can with what they have at hand

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2024 — The statements to the official press by Gilda Tápanes, administrator of the State optical company of Calle del Medio, in Matanzas, leave little doubt about her opinion of the private optical companies that overshadow the State ones. “Our clientele has been stolen,” she says, despite the fact that her service “is very cheap.” However, the testimony of other managers, opticians and clients interviewed by Girón makes it clear that the State workshops have had nothing to offer since 2020, when they received their last batch of lenses and frames.

In the supposed “competition” that Tápanes describes, the understocked State opticians have lost the lead. While the 13 provincial workshops lack “arms, screws, terminals, lenses and frames,” private companies like SuperVision, which received an enthusiastic report last June, offer “all possible services.”

With a small reception area and a young staff,” the official newspaper says, “SuperVision continues receiving customers and has plans to expand to other municipalities. They work with “security and confidence,” insists Girón, and although it doesn’t necessarily support them, the conclusion is that “the private ventures are the ones that today sustain the production of eyeglasses in Matanzas.”

The properties exhibit empty showcases that force customers to buy in private companies like SuperVisión/Girón

In just 10 days, SuperVision – for a price ranging from 5,500 pesos to  10,000 – gets the appropriate lens and frame with the help of the Office of the Conservator of Matanzas, which facilitates imports.

In just 10 days, SuperVision – for a price ranging from 5,500 pesos to 10,000 – gets the appropriate lenses and frames with the help of the Office of the Conservator of Matanzas, which facilitates imports

Getting glasses through the State, characterized by”precariousness,” is “a headache,” says Girón. This was the case for Gabriel Rodríguez, from Matanzas, interviewed by the newspaper, whose son has a serious impairment in his eyesight and needed special lenses.

The State workshops, he said, “have practically nothing. Even for repairs, spare parts are scarce, not to mention their manufacture. The shortage is widespread and includes frames and lenses; in our case, there was no way to get glasses with the depth of vision the child required.”

The optician had no materials, but he knew of an “unlicensed” workshop that could “guarantee a good job” for 16,000 pesos, plus the cost of the frames. Rodríguez ended up in a private company, and the glasses for his son cost him 12,000 pesos. However, his odyssey didn’t end there. When he went to check at the pediatric hospital that the gradation of the lenses was correct, the number did not match the prescription. They company tried to reassure him: “The hospital machine is not calibrated and gives errors.” Rodríguez didn’t know who to believe.

Getting glasses from the State, characterized by “precariousness,” is “a headache” / Girón

Pedro Tanquero Riaño, provincial director of the Pharmacy and Optics Company, admits that there is no solution to the problem. “There is no financing or resources,” he says. The workshops “have been shut down for about four years because of raw materials and spare parts that it has not been possible to obtain, because everything is bought in dollars and optical services in the world are expensive,” he alleges.

Girón ends the article by blaming, of course, the U.S. blockade and saying that, despite the “voracious demands of the market” that prevail in Matanzas, at some point the State will have to start charging for glasses, even though free healthcare was “one of the greatest achievements of the Cuban social system.”

Meanwhile, for most Cubans in Matanzas, who see the prices of private companies going through the roof but will pay anything when a child is involved, they have a dilemma: “They must choose between eating or improving the child’s vision.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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