The ‘Five Heroes’ That Are Missing in Cuba: Chicken, Picadillo, Sausages, Detergent and Oil
The neighbors of the Luyanó neighborhood, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre, are more than tired. This July, the only products of the ’combo’ they have been able to buy are oil and detergent. And not even in the same store.
In the shop on Melones Street — sadly famous for the death of an old man who uncovered a network of thieves last year and for its reputation of persistent corruption — promised sausages did not arrive, and there was only chicken for about 600 people. “I have the number 1,800, and I don’t even know when I’ll get the meat. We will have to wait until July 26 to eat chicken,” Rosa said ironically on Thursday, referring to the anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks, a notable date for the regime.
Cubans do not overlook the fact that the Government manages the calendar at will, to celebrate a propagandistically relevant day or to avoid “grievances.” Thus, Rosa’s daughter, Karla, points out how on July 11, the second anniversary of the historic protests in Cuba, and after weeks of transportation shortages, the buses multiplied on the streets of Havana, to the point that many of them were empty. “Now ten days have passed and there are no taxis. To get one is like the Way of the Cross,” complains the young woman.
The Government cannot hide the difficulties of supplying the population with the ’basic basket’. The president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Esteban Lazo, referred to this last Tuesday, saying that the country “does not have the resources to continue the level of imports we have” and recognized that “practically 100% of the family basket is being imported.”
Since May, without going any further, in Guantánamo chicken is no longer available for those over 13 years old, and protests are frequent both on social networks and in private: “Neither the sausage nor the detergent has arrived in my store, the revolutionary model is increasingly broken,” Yusuan said as he left a warehouse in Centro Habana, where mortadella arrived: “half a pound per person.”
That they distribute the basket as promised by the authorities is nothing short of a miracle. “They said they were going to give a bottle of oil, 10 pounds of chicken, two packages of Mexican picadillo, a package of sausages and one of detergent,” explains Ernesto, a resident of Central Havana. “Sometimes they sell something else, like on one occasion two cans of condensed milk, but the ’combos’ are rarely complete.”
Although Ernesto’s situation is not good, like that of the vast majority of the population, he had to bring a few cans of beans that he got “on the left” for an old friend with two children who could only buy rice.
The habaneros take all this with humor and refer to the combos as the “modules of misery” or “the five heroes” for the number of products offered – chicken, picadillo, sausages, detergent and oil – a mockery of the five spies who were imprisoned in the U.S. until their release, a product of negotiations with then-President Barack Obama
The shortage leaves scenes on the street, such as barter operations, not seen since the 1990s, during the Special Period. This Wednesday, in the middle of Havana’s Vedado district, two women proclaimed: “Cheese for exchange, cheese for exchange!”
Coming from another province, they explained to customers that they exchanged handmade white cheese for bath soap, scarce where they live. It is a product that provokes many complaints in the population because of its coarse quality, but it can be found in the informal market at a price between 130 and 150 pesos per bar.
Translated by Regina Anavy