14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 January 2021 — After a week of lining up for oil, chicken, detergent and shampoo, Idania Herrera has very little desire to stand in another line. But Three Kings Day is more important than any fatigue and the little ones await their gift.
“I am tormented, I can’t find anything for the children,” the young mother told this newspaper when there were barely hours left until January 6th, the day Cuban children receive their “Christmas” presents.
The woman explains that in recent years she solved the gift problem through a friend who brought items from Panama, but with the almost complete disappearance of the ‘mules’ due to the Covid restrictions, there are no alternatives. “Yesterday I went to several stores in Centro Habana and I didn’t find anything, it’s a disgrace. Fortunately, my son was saved, because a Telegram group sold some discs of his favorite games for xBox at 250 pesos each.”
She still had her daughter. To find her a gift, she first did a search on digital classifieds sites. Informal trade networks, in principle, offer varied options, with prices ranging from 70 pesos for a counterfeit Barbie to a some skates at 5,000.
However, Herrera says that on the on-line site Revolico “there were some little things” for children but they did not convince her: “ugly dolls” at 200 pesos or “huge stuffed animals” at exorbitant prices. Her last hope was in the shops of the Playa municipality and she went there in the late morning of this Tuesday to try her luck.
Another mother who made the same journey, however, remembers that in the Playa municipality the panorama was not very different than in Centro Habana. She says she arrived at the store at 3rd and 70th at 10:00 in the morning and by the time she managed to enter it was 8:00 at night and that was hard-won because they wanted to close earlier with the justification that the connection was very slow.
“When I entered there were only shreds left and the cheese, apples, cookies were gone,” she laments. “How sad, I stood there firmly until the end to buy some sweets for my child to give them for Three Kings Day since there is nothing else and the only thing I got was a package of assorted candies at $4.95.”
“He is small, but I hope he understands that this year the Three Kings cannot accommodate requests,” the woman continues. “It saddens me to think how many children will not have that long-awaited visit because their moms simply cannot buy them something and also run their errands. How sad and disappointed I am about everything we are experiencing,” she says.
Along the same lines, another Cuban declared: “This year if the Kings do not go to a foreign exchange store beforehand, they will come with empty camels, because the only place where there are sweet cookies, chocolates and somewhat varied candies is in the MLC,” referring to the stores that only take hard currency, and even that must be presented in the form of a bank card.
“I have been working as a mule for more than eight years and normally the months of December and January are very good for sales, but this year has been precisely the worst season to sell. We can hardly travel, few people can come, a disaster for the business” says a merchant who refuses to give his name. She explains that she has her network “with reliable people” because she does not want to fall from grace. “I am very careful with myself, I have seen the great fall for going crazy, and here the last thing that can happen to you is to fall into a hospital or in jail,” she says.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the government had special sales on subsidized toys at this time through the rationed market for industrial products, an option that collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union.
Limara Ramírez, who was allowed to choose when she was little one “basic” toy and one “non-basic” toy, today is the mother of a seven-year-old girl: “Now everything is very different than when my parents had me, everything is so expensive that the money goes to basic needs and in putting a plate of food on the table.”
A father defeated by tradition and shortages confesses: “This year I had to tell him that the Kings were mom and dad. At first he didn’t believe us, like how did they get Nutella if there isn’t any here, I had to tell him that it cost me an arm and a leg.”
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