Cuban Hunting Grounds

This photo was taken on March, 06, 2020 at the Palco Mall Supermarket in Jaimanitas, a small town in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.

What have the products on these three photos in common?

These are products that require quite some efforts to get here in Cuba. I have been living here for more than two months now, have developed some local knowledge and know local people, the main asset if you want to go shopping in this country. How would you know for example it’s the Palco Mall Supermarket that has milk today?

With all great accomplishments like for example free education, free healthcare and almost free public transport, Cuba still has a visible allocation problem. 

While the centrally-planned economy may be the initial reason, the US embargo and consequently the fuel scarcity enhance the misallocation of food and other products. So hunting down a certain product is a common sport and may take hours and days, the blunt opposite of a one-stop-shop.

Pork bought from a private market in downtown Havana

1) Pork
The first photo shows a piece of pork that I was able to buy today on a local market in downtown Havana. It took me four hours, the help of my local friend Wendy and many failed attempts until I finally was successful. I had invited our French friends from Papillon II for dinner tonight and I was determined not to disappoint them. In many state-owned stores meat was either sold out or only available for Cubans, not for foreigners.

This made my day: Milk for sale in a Cuban supermarket

2) Milk
Milk, as other cow products, are scarce in Cuba. Once upon a time, cattle was Cuba’s No. 1 industry. When in the 1990s big parts of the socialist trade network collapsed, Cuba found itself in a life-threatening crisis. The older among you may remember these times where the Cuban people suffered from hunger. As a result, big quantities of livestock were slaughtered (illegally) and reduced to less than a third of its original size. 

In order to fight the black market the Cuban government established tough controls and severe punishment on illegal slaughter or sales of cow products. The doubtlessly good intentions turned into the opposite as these bureaucratic hurdles visibly have slowed down the recovery of livestock. As a result, full milk is only available to Cubans with children of five years and younger and skimmed milk is very seldom sold. When I finally got hold of 2 l of semi-skimmed milk and 4 l of skimmed milk, it made my day!

Eggs for sale – but only for card holders

3) Eggs
Eggs in state-owned stores are only available for card holders. These may be restaurant owners or again, families with small children. Only on private markets eggs are available for everyone. However, you have to know where and when they are being sold.