Coronavirus: Cuban Grocery Offers Food Ration Perks to Blood Donors

A poster of Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel is seen in a market in Havana, on September 13, 2018. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Cuba’s state news agency advertised the creation of groceries exclusively for people who donate blood to the regime, the Cuban-American site Babalú Blog reported Monday.

The announcement of blood-donor-only stores in eastern Santiago de Cuba occurred just days before the island nation debuted stores selling products only in foreign currency, with prices in U.S. dollars. Unlike most of the grocery stores on the island, consumers at these stores do not have to adhere to communist rations and can buy all that they can afford — the catch being that most Cubans do not have access to foreign currency, much less enough of it to pay the exorbitant prices at the new stores.

The Castro regime’s gross mismanagement of the nation’s agriculture for the past 60 years, beginning with the seizure of private estates from experienced farmers and handing of them over to Fidel Castro’s socialist cronies, has left most residents destitute and scrambling to find protein sources.

One local news outlet described the national quest for chicken meat an “obsession” that has yielded little results in the past year. Other increasingly rare goods are eggs, cooking oil, bread, any wheat products, and sanitary goods like soap, toothpaste, and detergent — the latter especially important during a pandemic that requires improved hygiene to combat.

The Communist Party insists that food shortages are the product of the ongoing and loosely enforced U.S. embargo on Cuba — leaving many to wonder how it managed to fully stock the new foreign currency stores immediately with no changes to American policy.

Those who do not have access to U.S. dollars, according to the state-run Cuban News Agency (ACN), can pay in blood.

Babalú Blog translated a report from the independent news site ADN Cuba revealing that a chain of stores in Santiago had opened their doors only to certified blood donors, presumably as a way to restock blood banks given their increased need during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The stores offered significant perks compared to general stores, including permission to enter without having to stand in line for hours and permission to buy anything in the store without the ration notebook.

“Three Mercados Ideales stores in Santiago de Cuba are open for the sale of consumer goods to voluntary blood donors as part of an initiative by the Provincial Defense Council and the Phase-2, post-COVID-19 recovery program in the city,” the state news agency revealed.

An estimated 13,000 Cuban citizens nationwide are eligible to shop in these stores. Cuba’s population is about 11 million.

The manager of one of the stores said that, for less than 200 pesos (about $7.50), blood donors can buy “cakes, saltines, puddings, instant drink mixes, bottled desserts, marmalade, cooking wine, syrup.” Blood donors also gain access to rare products like yogurt and cheese, but not the most coveted foods: meats.

Cuba’s healthcare system, often praised by leftists in the free world, has for decades suffered significant shortages of medicine, medical technology, and adequate medical education for practitioners. Cuba spends most of its efforts on educating doctors to sell abroad as slaves in a scheme international human rights groups have decried as human trafficking. At home, most Cuban citizens have minimal access to adequate health care, a situation presumably exacerbated by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

Cubans are also more exposed to disease by chronic water shortages, which make showering and washing hands difficult. Residents of one impoverished Havana neighborhood protested in an online video that they had running water in their neighborhood only once every two weeks.

Add to this situation the fact that Cubans are forced to stand near each other, with minimal social distancing, in ration lines to buy food. Not standing in line for hours can result in forfeiting access to rice or stale bread and starving. To supplement what little the government provides, regime officials have advised eating banana peels and ostrich meat, which is not available in Cuba.

The communist regime blames the lack of access to food on the Trump administration, claiming that the United States not trading with Cuba prevents the regime from doing business with any other country. Cuban officials have also claimed that the people enjoy food rations, suggesting the policy of hoarding food away from the general population is in place by demand.

Cubans on the island have, for decades, received substantial aid from family abroad, money that ultimately goes to the regime through purchases on the island, high processing fees, and other schemes. President Donald Trump moved last month to limit profits from remittances by banning American companies from doing business with a Communist Party corporation that handled much of the money. A U.S. State Department spokesman explicitly stated the policy was meant to limit communist profits from remittances.

Cuba appears to have put together its foreign currency stores, debuting on Monday, explicitly to drive demand for remittances, heightening the guilt for Cuban-American loved ones. Photos of the new stores show them clean, fully stocked, and carrying rare items like meat and shampoo — a stark contrast to the dilapidated, filthy grocery stores most Cubans must patronize.

The independent Cuban outlet 14 y Medio reported extensive lines in front of the new stores Monday and Tuesday, with many desperate Cubans asking if they could find chicken or cooking oil within. Cubans were shocked to find that rations still existed within the fully stocked stores — “just because it is a foreign currency store doesn’t mean things aren’t limited,” one security guard said — and not an ounce of chicken. Products, particularly cooking oil, went fast, though many were too expensive to buy at all. A bottle of white asparagus, for example, went for $68, according to 14 y medio.

Many of the products that disappeared rapidly resurfaced on the black market online, moments after the stores opened. Diario de Cuba reported that it took less than 24 hours for online black market sites to feature shampoo, electric razors, and other non-food products.

Diario de Cuba quoted one Havana resident who expressed shock not just in the poor management of the stores, but in what it means for the average Cuban to see products that had disappeared from shelves for years suddenly resurface overnight.

“For me the most impressive thing is that many of these things were sold in [Cuban pesos] and started disappearing little by little throughout the years,” the man, identified as Juan David, said. “It’s as if they had them hidden.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.