stay home or make the chicken tail

The fear of coronavirus and its mantra "stay at home" are emptying the Cuban streets, with one exception: shops. There the queues and crowds to get basic products like chicken or detergent grow despite measures of social distancing.

"I have not been lucky until now, I will see if I succeed this time," Maria Caridad, a 56-year-old housewife who stands in front of the door of a supermarket in the Miramar neighborhood, northwest of La, told Efe. Havana.

Her goal is to buy chicken. He already tried twice before this week, but "the queues were huge" and he had to return empty-handed because he needed to "tend the house." Today he expects better luck because there are only 25 people in line, a smaller sacrifice for the prize of getting white meat, more coveted even than pork for its relatively cheap price and its intermittent shortage on the market.

Chicken is also part of the ration booklet by which the State delivers subsidized food to the population, although the ration does not reach 500 grams per month.


The shortage of basic products - from chicken to vegetable oil, milk, detergent or the dishwasher - is not something new in Cuba, where store shelves are often half empty due to the endemic economic crises that the country is going through since the 90s.

The intensification of the US embargo In the past months, the crisis of its ally Venezuela and now that of the coronavirus have aggravated the shortage and caused the usual riots at the doors of the establishments to grow, instead of reducing, at a time when it is required to limit as much as possible social interactions.

But no one wants to be confined to home without first securing supplies in the face of an uncertain future.

"I'm not really lacking, but I don't want to be lacking later. Now they told me that there was no detergent, but I'm going to buy other things like yogurt," says Bertila, who invests in long lines in the sun, part of the free time left by his accounting job for a state company.

In this pandemic, the queues are the biggest headache for the Cuban authorities, which, moreover, have managed to raise awareness among a generally obedient population that no longer goes out on the street without a mask, usually keeps its distance and even resigns - with few exceptions - to the former imperatives greetings with kisses and hugs.

Thus, the queue in front of the supermarket where the coveted chicken arrived is supervised by up to five police officers to ensure that they all wear their "nasobuco", that they keep their distance as much as possible and, above all, that frustration over the long wait does not lead to physical conflict.


"Here the other day the miracle bows were not pulled, because the police were there," María Efe, a domestic employee in the Havana neighborhood of San Agustín, tells Efe, where, she says, the friction is permanent due to what she defines as " la coladera ", in reference to the inventiveness of Cubans to obtain the desired items without waiting in line for hours.

The protagonists of the "coladera" are none other than the "coleros". The modus operandi of these questionable entrepreneurs is as follows: identify a business that will receive a scarce product; go to the door the night before, alone or with family or associates; keep the shift to one or more people who do not want to spend the early hours in the open; And, when the opportunity to buy in the morning comes after the stoic wait, strain or give way to the previous ones, which will reward you with between one and two convertible pesos (dollars) per person.

Another variant of the trade, now discouraged by the police presence in the ranks, is that of fellow resellers, who monopolize the most demanded items and then market them "on the left" at higher prices.

Sometimes this generates disputes, especially when stocks run out and those who have spent half the morning queuing for the chicken to get to the now empty counter blame the "coworkers" for having misled other customers in line with impunity. .


With 27 deaths, less than a thousand positives and without showing exponential growth in infections, at the moment Cuba is keeping the coronavirus at bay, at least compared to other countries.

The Government has imposed the strictest measures -except for mandatory confinement- even suspending public or private transport services, which has made Havana one of the few cities in the world where buses and taxis no longer circulate. This, added to the closure of the largest capacity shopping malls, helps to avoid the excessive concentration of buyers in a series of specific enclaves.

With everything under control except the queues, and aware that these could be the only important focus of transmission, the authorities also urged to request the basic products on, a new e-commerce platform created in January that offers deliveries to home.

Far from alleviating the problem, the initiative generated new crowds, in this case in banks to open accounts and cards necessary for payment. To this is added that the website was out of service when the servers were saturated.

In this way, Cubans with internet access have massively joined groups on the WhatsApp and Telegram platforms where they share information on the availability of products in stores, and even on the estimated waiting time, categorized as #colita, #cola or #colota.

In these and other networks it has also been made clear that nothing escapes the Cuban "catch", since one of the most shared "memes" these days assures: "If I catch coronavirus I will say that I was infected in Europe. chicken tail! "

Atahualpa Amerise


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