With Rented Ration Cards, the ‘Coleros’* of Luyano, Cuba, Gain Power Once Again

Residents of Luyanó complaining that authorities have turned a blind eye to irregularities between employees and ‘coleros’.* (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, 13 November 2022 — Peace did not last long in the store on Melones street in Luyanó, Havana, where following the death of an elderly man on November 1st, a network of corruption between employees and coleros* was uncovered.

The employees, according to residents of the area, had a team of 15 people who were allowed to purchase what they wanted and would bring the employees lunch, coffee, sodas and snacks. Following the scandal, new agents from a group to “fight against coleros*” (LCC — for lucha contra coleros) were sent to the establishment, and on the first day at least they made it clear, with a sermon to the masses, that they were “impenetrable” to corruption, and that people should abstain from trying to bribe them with handouts.

“Due to the blow up, at the end of last week, coleros were not visible near the store, but by Tuesday they began to emerge from their caves,” says María, who for months has endured the shortages and corrupt practices on Melones street. “That day, we began to see the ‘scams’ again,” she said. “The same people as always” took the first 20 spots and people who were there since the early hours of the morning began to complain. Without success: “When the LCC begin to collect the ration cards, the coleros act tough. Most of those standing in line don’t say anything because they are older people who do not want to confront that type of element.”

To top it off, they nearly had to mourn another life: an elderly woman fainted in the middle of the crowd and had to be cared for by a doctor. “At least they gave both of them the opportunity to shop before their turn.”

Another day, when sausages were for sale, people rose up when they were informed that there were only a total of 50 units to be sold. Neighbors say that someone called the authorities, that one police officer “was disrespectful to a young man,” and that both “ended up tangled in punches.”

María cannot understand how just a week after the operation the authorities once again turn a blind eye to the “irregularities.” “How is it possible, if the law says that you may only buy for your household, and you must have the ID card for that household, and they are buying at all hours and everyone knows them.”

Area residents infer that the coleros operate with what they call “rented ration cards”– someone gives them their ration card, and then they stand in line for that person in exchange for half the products; that way, the ration card holder is guaranteed at least the other half.**

In the “mincemeat” line, a lieutenant had to come and help organize it along with one of the new LCC members and one of the residents complained about the situation with the intimidating hoarders, “And you guys are scared, what are you scared of? Get them out of here, don’t let them in!” recounted María. “People said, Well, if they are the police and don’t get involved and they know the people who are skipping the line, how could they be sending elderly people to confront them?”

“Tremendous snitching, that is what is going on here!” said María who yelled at one of those “elements” whom everyone knows.

At another point, she narrates, an official arrived, “someone from the government who arrived in one of those motorcycles, went into the store for a while and later they all came out laughing.” It seems, says María sarcastically, that “the impenetrables have already been penetrated.”

Although they don’t say it out loud, says the woman, everyone in the neighborhood understands clearly. “Everyone leaves displeased saying, ‘How could this be?’ that it’s always the same, people feel insulted,” says a nurse who after her shift was trying to get some hot dogs. “In the end, the situation is taking on the same tone as with the other group.”

On Friday, one of the three days of the week when chicken “arrives,” it was chaos once again in the line at the store on Melones, and once again, the police had to restore order. Again this week, María is unable to buy her little package of chicken: “What’s the point of changing the team, the corruption problem will be the same with the LCC.”

Translator’s notes:

*”Coleros” — from the Cuban word for line, ’cola’ (literally ’tail’) — are people who make a little money by standing in line for others, who pay them ’under the table’ (called ’on the left’ in Cuba). The practice is widespread, and illegal.

** Lines in Cuba can be hours and even multiple days long, which is why the ’coleros’ play an important role for those who pay them.

Translated by: Silvia Suarez


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.