A Hunger in Cuba that Swallows Us All

Photo: elTOQUE.

A Hunger in Cuba that Swallows Us All

26 / febrero / 2024

Someone I deeply love says that Donald Trump is the hungriest person in the Universe. Hunger, as we well know, is not only a physical issue derived from lack of food. The worst hunger is the insatiable one, the one that pursues something, usually power, and thus is capable of doing anything, of transgressing even the most sacred human and divine laws.

But physical hunger also exists, and in Cuba, in 2024, we have all possible hungers.

February is about to end, and in most neighborhoods of Havana, the ultra-basic products offered in the ration store haven’t been sold. We are aware that what they sell there is symbolic; however, we also know that almost everyone needs it to support the great task of feeding oneself and any family members in this country. It’s a few pounds of rice at a cheaper price —luckily seven— than those that will have to be bought on the street at a price that exceeds 200 pesos in a country where the minimum monthly wage is 2,100 and most people do not earn more than 5,000 pesos a month.

It’s not my intention to start listing products and prices. Perhaps it would be an interesting initiative —though terrifying— for El TOQUE, in addition to its useful currency exchange table, to add one with the prices of basic products of the impoverished Cuban diet. Thus, those living outside of Cuba could know how prices behave here, and, incidentally, the Government would have the opportunity to blame the media for the economic disaster we are experiencing and for the outrageous inflation we have been experiencing since the brilliant idea of economic reordering (in 2021); although, truth be told, long before.

I speak of Havana and I speak from the most central municipalities, but I know very well that just moving a few kilometers away from the center is enough to see that things are worse, that poverty increases, and that the gaps widen. I wouldn’t want to imagine how prices and salaries behave in the small towns of the eastern provinces, for example. Who in those areas will have access to the elitist MLC (magnetic dollar) stores where, by the way, a variety of offerings is not the priority?

Most of my week I live in Lechuga, in the Managua district, in Arroyo Naranjo. I’m just 30 km away from downtown Havana, and yet, upon arriving in Lechuga, it seems like I inhabit a kind of parallel reality. In this area, people have cell phones and internet connection, like anyone else, but time seems to pass in different ways. There are several dairies nearby, and many of the inhabitants have had jobs in them. I say they have had because right now the facilities are practically empty. After months of waiting for back pay —many of which barely exceed the minimum—, the workers abandoned their positions tired of the promises that this week yes, that they would pay them at least one of the salaries owed to them for so long.

At noon, you can cross the main street of this town and see that people are in their homes. Men and women doing nothing, almost always with music playing and accompanied by a bit of alcohol. Frustration, stagnation, hopelessness are in the air.

Some may have a harvest of something in their yards, a bit of sweet potato, corn, tomatoes, mangoes when the season comes, the cassava that saves many tables in rural areas; but others cannot. Passing the front area of the district, you reach an even more impoverished place. It’s a place where many have built houses of palm wood and thatched guano roofs. It’s no man’s land, torn from the marabou brush weed that covered it for years. Those who are there mostly come from other provinces and don’t even have an address in Havana to access the ration book or to get a legal job. Anyway, they prefer not to return to their places of origin, they know very well that at least around here they can find some way to survive, that the further away they get from the capital, the less likely they are to have that possibility.

The role of social networks

Social networks are undoubtedly very useful. Beyond what they may have of superficial —and even demonic— for some, they are a huge showcase to expose many issues that, at least in the case of Cuba, there would be no way to bring to light.

I think it was during the tornado that hit some municipalities of the capital in January 2019 that we began to see that on Facebook many cases of people who needed help were being made visible. We saw how the online community spread situations in which certain medicines, food, clothing, and other supplies were needed. Delivery of aid was organized, and several groups were created with people inside and outside of Cuba who formed a relief structure to reach those who needed it most.

I’m not going to mention groups or individuals because there are many —I am extremely lucky that some of their members are also my friends—, but we know that if it weren’t for the parallel network, many people would not have had access to the medicine they needed, to a decent meal, to shelter in the scarce but cruel days of the Cuban winter.

Independent media have recently publicized cases like that of Fernando —an impoverished pianist from Guanabacoa—, Kendra —a singer and visual artist with two children to support and no job— and Amanda —a girl with cancer who needs a liver transplant and for whom an epic fundraising campaign was organized that in a few days managed to raise 20,000 dollars thanks to the significant management of activists, especially Lara Crofts.

We have also seen campaigns to bring a meal to people living on the streets, to offer them a free haircut, or to donate toys and clothes to children without parental care. Paradoxically, the government pursues the people who organize this type of aid, instead of supporting them or, at least, thanking them for what they do.

There are many opinions regarding making certain cases visible. Personally, I believe that every help is important and should be appreciated, and hopefully other people, other situations, would come to light. However, I cannot help but think about the cases that are not made public, about those that no one sees or, worse, about those that people pass by without noticing.

I am convinced that along with the levels of poverty that have increased in Cuba, so have other indicators (dementia, alcohol abuse and drug consumption, and ultimately, suicides). A couple of days ago, a friend told me that she witnessed the discovery of a woman hanged and that someone identified her as the mother of three children. Yesterday, in a Facebook group, it was said that a person jumped from the La Lisa bridge. Those are the ones we hear about, but how many are silent?

Will no one be left unprotected?

For a long time now, one of the phrases accompanying the rulers of this country is that no one will be left unprotected. They repeat it over and over again; a false mantra in this case.

For a long time now, the needs of this people ceased to be of interest to the government. If criticisms of their management tighten a little, they blame each other, dismiss some, and move on. They don’t even bother to maintain the image; they strut around the world, blaming the winter in Canadian lands, the low level of the waters of the Panama Canal, and the divine chalice for the lack of coffee to sell to the population, nor sugar, nor chicken, nor medicines.

Cuba is a hungry country. Not only for food, for medicines, for the most basic of dignities, but also for freedom.

It happens that those who govern us are the hungriest of all, those who, like Donald Trump, are willing to sacrifice the country for their power and for their stomachs. That hunger they have justifies ours and at the same time minimizes us; that hunger is a black hole into which our efforts, our lives, will sink. Is there anyone at this point who can doubt it?

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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Yoo yeong chul

It is very useful understanding real cuba
Yoo yeong chul


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