Food crisis in Cuba: 70.8% of households only eat one meal a day

Seven years later he has lost 50 pounds due to poor diet. With his faded guitar, he sits on a park bench next to Avenida del Puerto and remembers the past with nostalgia:

“At noon I would start playing with my musical trio in the café of the Hotel Inglés. Then we would continue the journey through the Parque Central hotel, the bars on Monserrate Street and we would end the night in a private restaurant in the Plaza Vieja. On a bad day “I earned no less than 20 cuc. And the state administrators and the owners of private businesses guaranteed us snacks, drinks of rum and coffee.”

In Havana, dozens of traveling artists hang around central hotels, bars and places where tourists flock, trying to ‘make soup’, that is, being able to sing or play while people eat or drink a few drinks. They usually work alone or in duos.

“Large musical groups no longer count, since there are hardly any tourists. Right now if a ‘sopero’ in one night earns 500 pesos (equivalent to two dollars in the informal currency market), he can consider himself a wealthy guy,” says Giraldo.

The abrupt fall of tourism and the economy on the Island has had a hard impact on the informal work sector. Cuba is experiencing a true perfect storm. After two years of pandemic, systemic crisis and unstoppable inflation, extreme poverty has skyrocketed.

The food crisis mainly affects children, the elderly, pregnant women, chronically ill people, retirees and state workers.

Giraldo, a self-taught musician, comments that he retired with a checkbook of 300 pesos (one dollar and 50 cents). “But after the Ordinance Task, a macabre government plan that condemned retirees and those who work for the State to misery, I began to collect 2,100 pesos. Mirta, my wife, who was an educator in a children’s day care center, receives a pension “1,528 pesos. Those 3,628 pesos ($14.50) are not even enough to buy half a box of chicken.”

After walking ten kilometers hunting for clients and singing to them Chan Chan by Compay Segundo or Lágrimas negra by Miguel Matamoros, Giraldo sits on a stool at the Two Brothers bar to count the money he earned that day. “Seven years ago I drank two shots of Santiago rum and bought boxes of food at any cafeteria in the neighborhood so my wife didn’t have to cook. Now I can’t buy food or have a drink,” he laments.

Giraldo and Mirta live in a gray shell built at the beginning of the 20th century in the poor and mostly black and mixed-race neighborhood of San Isidro. The building, like many in the capital, is declared uninhabitable by the authorities. Standing on your apartment balcony is a high-risk exercise. The smell of saltpeter permeates the area. The hubbub of some neighbors shouting that the eggs arrived at the butcher shop, a fight for any reason or loud reggaeton is common in the neighborhood.

After placing the guitar behind an altar with necklaces from the Afro-Cuban religion, his wife gives him the ration book and a nylon bag to buy the eggs. In the queue, it is rumored that the government is going to stop selling the four-kilogram bag of chicken, the package of sausages, and the forcemeat through the booklet.

“I don’t believe it. If they remove the five star products – a pompous definition of Domestic Trade from a family module that, in addition to chicken, minced meat and sausages, includes two bags of detergent and a liter of vegetable oil – people will take to the streets,” says a man. Several people in line doubt that will happen. “Cubans are only handsome on social networks. There are no pants in Cuba to go out on the streets or go on strike until these people get on a plane and leave. They are starving us and a lot of rams applaud the government as if they were pioneers”a lady answers excitedly.

Giselle, mother of two children, takes stock of her misfortunes: “I’m up to my cap with this pile of sing. I can’t with them. In the Special Period through the booklet they sold more food than now. What does this government think, that we Cubans live off the air like little birds? There are no eggs, no bread, no beef or pork, no fish. And the rice, coffee and sugar are missing. Even when?”

The indignation of ordinary Cubans is on the surface. Giraldo agrees that “this train of fight is abusive. We have our eldest son imprisoned and between my wife and I, with our free will, we help the mother raise two grandchildren. We try to ensure that they can eat every day, but the money is not enough to buy them clothes, shoes, toys, or occasionally take them for a walk.

Giraldo and his wife’s pension of 3,628 pesos is barely enough to purchase the meager food basket they sell through the ration book, some vegetables and fruits at the agricultural market, and pay the electricity, water, and gas bill.

Mirta, the musician’s wife, takes out a notebook where she writes down the expenses. “Eating Creole food is a luxury for most Cubans. A pound of black beans is between 500 and 600 pesos, red beans the same. The pound of pork, 500 pesos, full of bones and fat. The boneless meat that comes from abroad costs 1,700 thousand pesos per kilogram in an MSME. A bunch of beans costs 100 pesos and an avocado costs 80 to 150, depending on the size. The pound of lemon at 360 pesos, the pound of cucumber between 35 and 45 pesos. A package with three pounds of small, green tomatoes costs one thousand pesos, a pound of cassava or sweet potato costs 50 pesos, taro is 100 pesos a pound and a plantain costs 30 pesos. A six-pound fruit bomb can cost you 300 pesos. It’s crazy. There is no one who lives in a country where a carton of eggs costs 3 thousand pesos, double my pension.”

According to Edania, a nutritionist, for the last five years, the quality of the food that Cubans consume has been average to poor. “They barely consume protein, only chicken and five eggs per person per month, because the sausage and minced meat they give out of the notebook is better to give to the dogs. Most families cannot eat fruits or vegetables. Beef, “Good fish and seafood are exclusive foods of the ruling elite, those who have businesses and people who often receive dollars.”

Héctor, an economist, believes that if the regime cannot “offer solutions to the food deficit, the country will be doomed to a colossal food crisis. They should ask international organizations for help. A high percentage of the population needs it.”

Data on agricultural, livestock, pork, fishing and sugar production have fallen by 50 percent in almost all areas in the last five years. According to a Cubadata survey of more than a thousand people, 47.2% of those interviewed stopped eating at some point throughout the day. And 70.8% of households ate less or had only one meal. Pork production fell 7.4% in the last five years. From about 200,000 tons in 2018 to 27,000 tons in 2023.

A farmer from the Mayabeque province told Diario Las Américas that the panorama of Cuban agriculture is “gray, with black stitching and no improvement is observed in the short term.”. The fault lies with the government, which does not want or cannot unblock the productive forces and let the guajiros decide what they want to harvest. When the State closes a lot of parasitic companies like Acopio and authorizes us to do business without intermediaries with American farmers and allows us to receive loans from foreign banks without government interference, in Cuba agriculture flourishes again, there will be plenty of food for the people and we will once again be exporters of citrus, coffee and sugar.”

Numerous experts and economists agree that the solution to rescue agriculture is for the State to step aside. A country is not fed by measures and decrees.