The Fight Against the ‘Coleros’ is Replaced by New Controls in Havana Food Stores

Residents of Luyanó were complaining that the authorities are turning a blind eye to irregularities between employees and coleros. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerThe “Operation to Fight Coleros*,” (LCC) which began in Havana in August 2020, is coming to an end. The innumerable cases of corruption linked to these groups, called to organize the waiting lines outside stores, have forced a change in the sales policy in the capital that will hand over control to store personnel, so there are already those who predict that illicit enrichment will simply change hands.

The Havana Government abruptly made the announcement of this imminent change this Wednesday, which begins to be applied today in the municipalities of Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja, Regla, Cotorro and Arroyo Naranjo, although it will also be extended to the rest at a later date.

Each family nucleus will be able to purchase the ‘released’ products — that is the unrationed ones — controlled in the TRD and Caribe stores, through a ticket system that will include the name of the establishment, the number of the store and the nucleus, the number of consumers and a consecutive number.

“Everyone will know the day and place they’ll be assigned to buy, so as to avoid the exhausting lines and individuals who take advantage of the current situation to act illegally and enrich themselves”

“Everyone will know what day and location they have been assigned, so as to avoid the exhausting lines and individuals who take advantage of the current situation to act illegally and enrich themselves,” states the Capital’s Government.

There will be five defined ‘controlled’ products for sale: chicken, chopped meat, sausage, oil, and detergent. Regarding sales cycles, families of up to eight people will be allotted 5 kilos of chicken, two bottles of oil, four tubes of chopped meat, one kilo of detergent and two kilos of sausages. The figure doubles for family nucleus of nine to 16 members and triples from 17 on.

There will be extended business hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10 am to 7 pm, for those who cannot go during normal business hours for work reasons. Sundays are fixed for those who cannot go shopping on their turn or to pick up products that “due to a greater problem” made it impossible to guarantee the day when they were supposed to buy them.” The latter is such a common situation that it threatens to overwhelm Sundays. Another of the weaknesses of the system is the organization outside the stores, which will be done “in order of arrival,” that is, a new lie, although a priori on a smaller scale.

The day of purchase that corresponds to each family nucleus will be set by the order of the consecutive number and depending on the daily capacity of the establishment, which must clearly display at the entrance those numbers of each item that are bought each day and the number that is intended for sale to those who could not attend on the scheduled day. The information will also be offered to citizens through the application, and will contain the distribution cycles and the order, by days, of stores and consumers.

The situation will be in the hands of “a person who enjoys prestige and authority in the community to exercise control of the number of products that the establishment receives daily”

 n any case, the situation will be in the hands of “a person who enjoys prestige and authority in the community to exercise control over the number of products the establishment receives daily, with the aim at defining the number of families that can purchase available products that day.” The chosen one, whose merits are not a guarantee of his power to resist bribery, must review the stocks, define and inform the nuclei what they can purchase that day, as well as take stock at the end of the fulfillment of what was planned.

In the case of the “vulnerable,” who will be defined by the municipal governments and will have a document that accredits them as such, they can buy for themselves or through someone who can help them by presenting their identity card and the certificate.

The article released by the Government to announce to the population what changes are being made contains a series of measures that must be taken prior to the establishment of the new system, which makes it doubtful that it can enter into force immediately.

Among the measures is preparing, at a seminar, the personnel who will have control of the ration books and those in charge of supervising the inventory of products. In addition, there is talk of “setting up a meeting with the administrators or managers” to detail the new format and work on a program that communicates the strategy to the population, as well as a pilot test of the TeToca (it’s your turn) and Ticket applications, which will facilitate the organization.

The authorities claim to have made these decisions after verifying that there were “difficulties in the functioning of the municipal groups” and “insufficient confrontation with the ‘coleros’, resellers and hoarders”

The authorities claim to have made these decisions after verifying that there were “difficulties in the operation of municipal groups” and “insufficient confrontation with the coleros, resellers and hoarders” despite the fact that the authorities have “faced” 1,352 so far this year.  Especially significant is the allusion to the “repeated statements of opinion of the population on the functioning of the LCC (Fight Against Coleros) groups, conditioned by irregularities.”

The reaction to the news, disseminated in the official media, has been mostly positive, including requests that it be extended to other provinces soon, and celebrating the end of the “abuse” and “mistreatment” attributed to LCC groups, although there have been demands made about distribution of products by the store or doubts about the new system that seems hasty at the very least.

Although the character of the LCC group has been controversial from the beginning, the death of an elderly man on November 1 in a line at the store on Melones street in Luyanó uncovered a network of corruption which the authorities had no choice but to stop and that may have been the trigger. The siege lasted only a few days, because shortly after the incident, neighbors already warned of the return of the coleros who, in collusion with the LCC, left the shops bare, on this occasion even “renting” ration books.

*Translator’s note: A line or queue in Cuba is called a ’cola’ (literally ’tail) and ‘coleros‘ are people who others pay to hold their place in line, lines that can be hours, or even days, long.


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