14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus | 16 December 2020 — A race against time is taking place in the streets of Sancti Spíritus. Before January 1st, families want to stock up on products that will increase in price on that date; liquified gas in particular, an alternative for cooking in the face of rising prices of electricity.
These days, as the end of the year festivities approach, families prefer to use liquified gas cylinders for cooking, popularly known as balitas, instead of more expensive appliances or traditional firewood, which is less clean.
Users of liquid propane have been surprised to find that barely a handful of balitas are arriving at the places where they are sold. The shortage has forced customers to stand in 4- to 5-day long lines until a new supply arrives.
“At the worst moment in the line, the police arrived and disbanded the people in it, then they collected the ID cards and assigned them a number in order to call them in that order, but that did not work out either,” a consumer told 14ymedio on Tuesday, after waiting three days to buy gas.
“At the worst moment in the line, the police arrived and disbanded the people in it, then they collected the ID cards and assigned them a number in order to call them in that order, but that did not work out either”
In order to calm the spirits and reduce the crowds, employees devised a mechanism of phoning customers according to their order inthe line. “The idea was to make people go back to their normal lives and we would let them know when they could come to buy gas,” a local worker told this newspaper.
“But people have no trust and keep coming back to stand on line, they sleep out here and, of course, the police have had to intervene because that permanent presence here is a health hazard and lends itself to all kinds of irregularities: coleros (people who are paid to who stand in line for others), and even fights,” says the employee.
However, customers differ in their opinion. “The places in the lines are being sold on the streets, and if I’m not here watching who comes to buy, I will be left with nothing. The master’s eye fattens the horse and this type of line must be constantly monitored because if it’s not, it will be next July before my family sees the gas.”
“There are days when everyone wants to eat as a family and have a good time, I’m not ready to spend hours and hours in front of the wood stove,” warns Miguelina, a housewife who this Tuesday spent four days in the liquefied gas line. “At least I want to spend the holidays neat and pretty, not with the stink of smoke in my hair.”
However, consumers are not only in a hurry due to the proximity of the end of the year holidays and the increase in gas consumption on those dates, but because new prices for the product will also come into effect in 2021. The current over-the-counter price of 110 Cuban pesos for an approximate 10 kg. propane gas tank will shoot up to 213 with the new prices.
“There are things that one likes to cook with firewood, like the end-of-the-year roast pig, but making rice and food like that too is a punishment,” admits Francisco Narváez, a resident of the Toyo neighborhood. “My two children are asthmatic and at home when the wood stove is lit. They have to spend the day outside so that it does not affect them.”
The other option is household appliances for cooking food. Since their massive arrival in Cuban kitchens at the beginning of the century, as part of the “energy revolution” promoted by Fidel Castro, devices such as rice cookers and pressure cookers that use electricity have become very popular; over 68% of households in Cuba use them to prepare their food.
“Either I spend a week in the balita* line or I have a heart attack when the electricity bill arrives in January,” Narváez laments. “There is no salvation.”
Translated by Norma Whiting
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