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In Cuba, families desperate over food shortages

From morning to evening, Diana Ruiz only thinks about what's happening. one thing: what she will be able to give to her eat à her six-year-old son. A situation that many mothers face. Cuba due to food shortages, made worse by power cuts.

“The first thing I say to myself when I get up is +what am I going to feed my son+ and when I go to bed it's +what -what I'm going to give him for breakfast+” this 31-year-old stay-at-home mother, four months pregnant, told AFP.

In her modest home in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood of Havana, Diana walks back and forth between a cupboard where some rice and pieces of bread are stored, and the refrigerator where there is a hamburger, two bottles water and fruit juice.

“That's all there is,” she says in despair, even though she also has to take care of her invalid father.< /p>

The lack of food, aggravated by the endless power cuts which have affected almost all of Cuba's 11 million people in recent weeks, forced hundreds of people to die on March 17 to protest in four cities across the country.

In Cuba, families desperate over food shortages

A woman with her son in a street plunged into darkness, during a power outage in Bauta, on March 18, 2024 in the province of Artemisa, Cuba © AFP – YAMIL LAGE

These demonstrations are the largest since July 11, 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country to demand more freedom and better living conditions.

On March 17, the demonstrations first affected Santiago de Cuba, the country's second city (510,000 inhabitants) where daily power cuts could reach a dozen hours in a row, damaging the few supplies stored in freezers. “Food and power,” chanted the demonstrators, including many women.

According to the human rights NGO Justicia 11J, based in Miami , at least 17 people were arrested, while Prisoners Defenders, headquartered in Spain, told AFP that it had counted 38 people arrested, six of whom were released.

< p>Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel admitted a few days later “an accumulation of long power cuts which greatly inconvenience the population”, and “breaks in the distribution” of subsidized food from the ration book — the famous “libreta” — which cause “food shortages”.

In Cuba, families desperate over food shortages

Cubans queue to buy food on March 27, 2024 in Cuba © AFP – YAMIL LAGE

In 2023, the authorities had already recognized that, due to a lack of foreign currency, they had difficulty importing products sold to the population at subsidized prices, which come 100% from abroad, while the agricultural production has fallen drastically (less 35% between 2019 and 2023).

In February, Havana requested assistance from the World Food Program (WFP) for the first time to ensure the supply of milk to children.

The authorities also recognized that they could only produce a third of the bread needed by the population, between delays in importing wheat and breakdowns at several mills in the country.

– “Social pact” –

Even if the capital suffers less from power cuts than the rest of the country, the lack of food remains a recurring problem.

In Cuba, families desperate over food shortages

Diana Ruiz takes off her son's school uniform, at their home in Havana, March 27, 2024 in Cuba © AFP – YAMIL LAGE

With the “libreta”, “we receive them intermittently, a little today, a little another day”, says Aracely Hernandez, 73, who lives in Bacuranao, on the outskirts of La Havana.

The retiree says she receives a pension of 1,500 pesos ($12.50) and that a kilo of chicken costs 600 pesos outside the rationing system. “You have to make enormous efforts (to have something) because everything is so expensive,” she laments.

Since 2021, the government has allowed small private businesses. Some sell food, but at exorbitant prices for most Cubans, while the country has experienced galloping inflation for three years – 70% in 2021, 39% in 2022, 30% in 2023, according to official figures, considered underestimated by several experts interviewed by AFP.

In Cuba, families desperate over food shortages

Diana Ruiz prepares a meal in her kitchen on March 27, 2024 in Havana, Cuba © AFP – YAMIL LAGE

For Arturo Lopez-Levy, associate researcher at the School of International Studies at the University of Denver, the strengthening of American sanctions against the island's communist government four years ago hampers efforts of the authorities to ensure supplies to the population.

But, with a centralized and predominantly state-owned economy, “the model is in crisis”, believes the researcher. “What is hidden behind the protests are fundamentally shortages and the breakdown of the social pact,” he emphasizes.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116