Matches No Longer Rationed In Cuba

Instead of wood, the matches that have been sold through Cuba’s rationing system are made with waxed paper and are small and very thin. (Facebook / My Matchboxes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 August 2020 — The Cuban government announced this Friday that the matches will be sold outside the rationed market starting this August. However, the released sale will be restricted to an amount determined by each client, according to the official press.

Citizens have verified a growing shortage, in recent months, of this product which is managed on the island by the National Phosphorus Company (Enfos). Some 80% of the raw materials with which they are produced depend on imports. With thee imports reduced due to the covid-19 pandemic, the industry had to lower its production forecast from 42 million boxes in 2020 to 22.8 million.

The target of comedians, a headache in kitchens given their poor quality, and the cause of more than one burnt shirt, Cuban matches, like rationed bread, are one of the worst valued and most vilified products in the national industry. To the point that in many homes the gas stove is kept on for days, due to lack of matches or their poor effectiveness.

“They lose their heads,” lament many customers forced to use the national product. Others complain that the matchstick bends when attempting to light it, the sandpaper is so wet that it fails to spark, the boxes fall apart, or a flame cannot be generated.

Instead of wood, the typical matches that have been sold in the island’s rationed market made up of a body of waxed paper, small and very thin. This increases the chances that it will bend and fail during striking.

One of the most popular comedians of the 80s, Héctor Zumbado, described the tense relationship between Cubans and matches this way, in a text with the title Amor a primer añejo (Love at first vintage): “I put my hand on my head, then in my pocket, I nervously took out a match, put it in my mouth and scratched the cigarette against the sandpaper. It didn’t light,” he declared as any current customer could.

In addition to being of poor quality, the sale of matches has always been closely controlled. Cubans attribute this control to its possible use in protest actions. The truth is that even in the boom years of the Soviet subsidy, the sale and distribution of matches was closely monitored and the quantities that an individual could acquire were always scarce.

In recent years, with the increase in the number of ’mules’ traveling abroad to bring merchandise to sell on the black market, the supply of imported matches has proliferated in informal networks, but many airlines have restrictions on transporting boxes of this merchandise in personal luggage, so even their arrival on the island is complicated.


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