14ymedio, Alberto Hernandez, Santiago de Cuba, 4 November 2021 — “There’s no bread, ma’am. We sold what little there was first thing this morning and we don’t have the ingredients to make more.” This is what an employee at the newly opened Palacio del Pan y el Dulce (Palace of Bread and Sweets) told Julissa, a security officer, who arrived at the bakery before 9:00 AM on her day off.
The establishment Julissa visited was officially opened by Lazar Exposito Canto, former Communist Party secretary in Santiago de Cuba on October 21. “I don’t understand how a place called ’Palace of Breads and Sweets’ can have neither one nor the other only twelve days after it opened,” she says in disgust. Julissa was facing the reality that state-run establishments like these only operate well for their first few days in business. “It’s screwed up, like everything else in this country.”
“They’re lying to you, amiga. I got here half an hour ago and they weren’t open then either. I came back because I figured they’d be open around 9:00 but it’s just the same as before, closed,” declares Pedro, a father who was also hoping to buy bread for his family from the new bakery.
But Julissa was not deterred. Determined to find bread to make afternoon snacks for her two children, her mother and her husband, she walked the 400 yards separating her from another bakery, in this case Ferreiro. When she arrived, however, there there was no one behind the counter. An employee, who happened to be leaving just then, noticed her and told her, almost mechanically, that no one was working because they were no supplies. “This is crazy! Where can you get bread in this town?” the enraged woman snapped before leaving.
Under the leadership of Exposito, who left office last week, several cafes, bakeries and sweets shops were opened in downtown Santiago de Cuba, many of them located on or near Enramadas Boulevard. Today, almost all are struggling.
“I’ve been traipsing up and down Enramadas. At the Marilyn pizzeria, on the corner of San Pedro, there’s no pizza. A few blocks away El Marinero, which sells sandwiches, is closed. At The Hot Dog House, on the corner of Barnada, the only things they have are Coracan sodas and plastic bags,” says Miguel, an area inspector and collector with the local electricity provider.
The Champion cafe, which was designed to sell items in which eggs are the main ingredient, has no eggs. “I used to be a regular customer at this place but the eggs disappeared months ago. I don’t know if Covid ate them or the chickens moved away,” Miguel says sarcastically.
At Cafe Mama Ines, a specialty coffee shop located across from Plaza de Marte, the only things for sale are plastic bags and some very pricey, slow-moving items such as canned guayaba paste, which no one is buying. “And to top it off, the sweetshops around here no longer even bother to open because there’s absolutely nothing to sell,” Miguel adds with a gesture of disdain.
Workers at many of these establishments sit idle outside, their arms crossed. Kiko, an employee at one such place — Aguilera 601 on the busy corner of Aguilera and Barnada streets — who does not want to give his name for fear of being fired, explains: “We can’t bake bread because there’s no wheat. And we can’t make sweets because, among other things, we can’t get eggs. The thing is, when we do have eggs, we don’t have sugar. Or we don’t have electricity. So no matter what, we can’t serve the public.”
Elena and Mario are a married couple whose son is in prison and who needs food items with a long shelf life, such as cookies. Normally, they would buy them at a place called Galleta Frita (Fried Cookie), located on San Felix between Aguilera and Heredia streets, as well as at La Brasa, located on Aguilera, one block off the end of Emramadas, but both places have been closed for a long time. “We [finally] had to buy bread from ’behind the curtain’ at one bakery and toast it but the quality is terrible,” they say.
Enrique tells a similar story. The 78-year-old retiree was leaving El Sol, a dessert shop. “On my pension I can barely afford to feed myself but my wife Elena turns 69 today so I decided to get her a cake, even if it’s the cheapest one. But the shop was closed,” he says. “I later went to Kilometro 969, at the intersection de Garzon y La Central, and they didn’t have anything either.”
Enrique, who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, never thought his country would sink so low. “I’m sure that Marti, Maceo and all those who gave their lives for a free and dignified homeland would do it again today to get rid of fat slobs running this country,” he says as he returns home empty-handed.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.