When the Eggs Go Missing / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

An eggseller. (14ymedio)
An eggseller. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 July 2015 — One day it’s cooking oil, another it’s floor cleaning clothes or washing detergent, but there is always a product that all of a sudden doesn’t appear on the shelves either in the ration market or in the hard currency stores, “nor even in the spiritual centers” as some say.

When the eggs go missing, it is almost never the fault of the hens, but of the bad organization in production or distribution. The egg is a key player in the dramatic food situation of Cubans. As my neighbor Magdalena says, “It’s a can’t-miss,” because of which we call it a “lifesaver.” However, it vanishes, disappears, goes poof! like in those magic acts, and then alternative ways of selling it have to be put to work.

On the ration card, every citizen gets five eggs a month at a price of 15 centavos. In the free market, a 30-egg carton costs 33 Cuban pesos, and in the “shopping” – as we call the hard currency stores – they cost 3.60 convertible pesos (CUC), almost triple what they cost in the free market. In the black market, which functions according to the strict rules of supply and demand, eggs will always be more expensive than in the ration stores and cheaper than in convertible pesos, with their price rising and falling according to their presence or absence.

In March of this year, a high-profile corruption case came to light in which 19 officials from a State company were sentenced to prison terms of between 5 and 15 years for their involvement in the diversion of more than 8 million eggs to the illegal market, with an economic impact of over 8,907,562 pesos. But no one can believe that once those lawbreakers were discovered the racket ended. It was enough for the scarcity to come up with a new fiddle in which each played his or her role of greater or lesser risk, greater or lesser effort and hence, with greater or lesser profit.

The official media try to blame all the scarcities on private entrepreneurs

At that time private restaurants and snack bars were not authorized, the underground market in eggs was limited to door-to-door sales, offering the merchandise to people in their homes. I’ll never forget one day when a woman came to my house accompanied by a child with a beach ball. “Do you want eggs?” she asked me. “Give me ten,” I said and then, as if by magic, she took the eggs out of the ball. Now the owners of paladares – private restaurants – and especially those who make sweets, monopolize the purchase. The official media try to blame all the scarcities on private entrepreneurs, and even hold them responsible for the frequent detours, almost like kidnappings, of what leaves the warehouses headed to the markets.

The cyclist in the photo walked several miles along Rancho Boyeros Avenue in Havana with his precious cargo. At first he tried to pedal, but the height of his construction made him lose his balance. Throughout his journey he suffered every kind of joke from taxi drivers and truck drivers, but he was lucky not to stumble into a police patrol.