The Sugar Queen and Candies of Gold / Dora Leonor Mesa

The children’s party started at 4:00 in the afternoon. The girl’s father had twice postponed the celebration because of difficulties with the customs documentation of the package, a package of jams brought on an AIR FRANCE flight and deposited in Havana’s “José Martí” airport.

In addition to the decorator, the restaurant manager, the brightly colored cake, the clowns and the photographers, they had to wait for the sweets. Finally, amidstpiñatas and light refreshments,the candies and chocolates were distributed to the more than fifty little playmates invited to the party.

The little girl took a few swings at the two dolls—piñatas adorned with flowers and shiny paper—and they exploded, raining down a shower of color that covered the floor of the rented room. The mothers present crouched downdiscreetly,along with their little ones,and picked up candies.

It seems no one remembers that Cuba was once the world’s leading sugar producer. Its inhabitants now pay around 0.70 CUC per kilogram of refined sugar.

While there are exceptions, and a limited supply is available, domestically produced candy is generally of lesser quality yet similar in cost to that priced in American dollars. For example, a 25 gram packet of Chico Chico brand candy costs 0.95 CUC. The average monthly salary in Cuba is 18 CUC, the equivalent of 20 US dollars.

Prices for candy on sale in shops and candy stores are:

Any brand / Hard or soft / for 1 (Approx 3 grams) / Minimum $0.05 CUC

Alka brand /Hard / for 9 (29 gr.) / Min $0.30 CUC

Menthoplus brand / Hard / for 9 (30.6 gr.) / Min $0.20 CUC

Soberana brand / Hard / 600 gr. / $2.85 CUC

Dori brand / Hard / 700 gr. / $3.40 CUC

This price list demonstrates how seven pieces of candy, the amount found in a small Alka packet, can cost as much as half a kilogram of sugar (0.35 CUC).

One piece of candy is a sweet delicacy, more a treat than a necessity. In a country where food is very expensive, it is unlikely one will find cheap sweets.

Proper childhood nutrition is vital, yet a kilogram of powdered milk costs at least 5.00 CUC—an extravagant price—putting it out of reach for thousands of Cuban families. What to do? Not buy candy?

To deny boys and girls this pleasure would be cruel. Childhood passes quickly. I believe it is better to pay whatever it costs and forget about the price.

The saying goes that a father and mother must, to the extent they are able, make sure their children’s lives are happy. Acting without remorse. Spending money without “closing your eyes and gritting your teeth.”

When the “little angels” are grown, what they will remember most are their toys and sweets.

Luckily, the hard times pass.

August 7 2012