La Epoca and Other Cuban Hard-Currency Stores Are Now as Sad and Empty as the Ration-Book Stores
People used to gawk at the display windows and crowd the entryway at La Epoca, a store prominently located at the corner of Galiano and Neptuno in Central Havana. Now its freezers are completely empty. Not even the hard currency stores are exempt from Cuba’s worsening economic crisis. What were once businesses catering to those privileged enough to have hard currency now resemble the neighborhood ration stores in terms of their supply shortages.
“It’s been like this for weeks,” a customer at La Epoca told 14ymedio on Monday. She had been to the meat section, located in the basement, hoping to find a few sausages, or some at least some ground turkey to make croquettes. When she got there, however, she found the freezers had been turned off and moved into the center of the aisle, their doors left open. Employees stood there with their arms crossed, not knowing how to respond to questions about when they might be getting a shipment of meat.
Customers drift through other parts of the store with long faces. “They don’t have protein of any kind,” a teenager shouts to an elderly man through the stairway to the basement. Don’t even bother going down there.” The man turns to go back to the main floor, where the employees also have bored looks on their faces and the shelves have either nothing to buy or do not have anything anyone would want to buy.
The most frustrated shoppers head over to another hard-currency store, La Isla de Cuba, located a few yards from Fraternity Park. The only things for sale are a few imported pork loins at eleven dollars a kilo. Customers’ only option is to buy the entire piece. Two women are trying to figure out if, by pooling their resources, they can afford the high price of a six-kilo piece, which is already giving off a strong odor. “It’s this or nothing,” one of them says. “The price in pesos is sky high even though the pork is very low-quality,” says one of them.
Upon leaving Isla de Cuba, the two women find a bench under a shade tree and check their phones. They are part of a WhatsApp group that shares information on Havana’s hard currency stores. The last hundred messages are all very similar: “Don’t even go to Bayeros and Camaguey. It’s empty… La Puntilla looks like a cemetery… Nothing at all. From 3rd to 70th it’s like a dancehall with no band.”
Havana holds its breath: you can’t even get food with hard currency.