La Puntilla, a foreign market with no products and with high prices

Anonymous workers, shelves where old products are recycled and broken floors in many places, La Puntilla Shopping Center, in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar, shows the condition of the shops sell goods in freely convertible currencies (MLC) in Cuba. The business opened two years ago, selling food and cleaning products, is made up of shortages and high prices.

This small line on a Saturday morning outside what is a restaurant in the town of Playa. The proximity of the sea and the beauty of a coast where the river Almendares flows now contrasts with the deterioration of the building. How until a few years ago shows a heavy business, with illegal sellers outside the place, taxi drivers hunting for customers who leave with bags Filled and the restaurant with tables full of customers, now like a monster.

“Come, come in everyone,” said the guard to a few people who were waiting to enter the main floor of the building. A small group makes its way through the supermarket, where the employee dozes with his hands over the counter where pizzas, hamburgers and fried chicken quarters used to be served. Even though the sun is shining outside, the area is blind, there is no light.

Entering the market, some customers who already know the place have started in the competition of a few carts that are in a corner. Those who do not have enough have to decide to carry things in their hands because they are not allowed to use their bags and there are no small baskets to put the things. But few people complain about this difficulty because they know that they will be small, only a few things that fit in their hand.

In front of them, the shelves, without a signal, keep rows of the same products. In one area, the bag containing more than one kilogram of gelatin is piled, while in another area it is repeated but with instant creams in a format created more for the restaurant. for a house. “Is there no tomato puree?” a few of the customers asked anxiously. “He hasn’t been in for a while,” replied an employee who didn’t stop to say the sentence.

“Is there no tomato puree?” a few of the customers asked anxiously. “He hasn’t been in for a while,” the employee replied

In the grocery store, the disappointed face of another employee was repeated, leaning out of the glass cup that only contained a few pieces of butter in the lot and a package of bacon which seems to have been in the same place for weeks. The rest of the freezers are empty except for a few tubes of “mechanically ground turkey” that no one dares to take.

The entrance to the drinking area was partially blocked with two large cardboard boxes and thin steel bars on the floor that prevented shopping carts from passing through. “Yesterday three men came here and stole a few bottles,” said an employee when customers complained about problems with them and bottles of rum, vodka or wine. The star product that everyone is looking for to reduce the temperature of this September is evident by its absence. “We haven’t had beer for months,” said the employee, and the couple opted for the Rioja that will make them break a sweat this summer.

In addition to the lack of products in the grocery store, there are no types of pasta for sale, or canned goods and, when it comes to fish, there are only a few tuna options . The drinks, malts and most of the spices that are often used in Cuban recipes are also missing. If someone arrives looking for vegetable oil, they should consider a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that exceeds 15 MLC.

Cakes and cookies, whether savory or sweet, have not been seen for weeks in La Puntilla, where many dairy products have disappeared. The question about cheese or yogurt provokes a pout of surprise from the employees who just shake their heads. Rice, beans and flour have given way to bags of green split peas and canned lentils. The price of both legumes scare away the curiosity that comes from.

In less than ten minutes the whole place is covered, there are no surprises or frustrations because the expectations when entering are low. Although the stores in MLC were initially advertised as markets for “high-end” products, they fell short of a small market in Central America. Compared to the local deficit in Cuban pesos, they may seem to have a supply, but the mirage will last until the time passes.

The question about cheese or yogurt provokes a pout of surprise from the employees who just shake their heads. Rice, beans and flour have given way to bags of green split peas and canned lentils.

In silence, like someone who benefits from the law and knows it, customers can pay at La Puntilla checkout. They are not yet sure that they will be able to leave with purchases in their hands because of the disruption in the connection between the magnetic card reader and the active Cuban banking system. Frustrated with everyone in there waiting until they arrived before the employee.

“We don’t have jabitasonly this “, warns the woman and shows some small nylon bags that just fit in the storage hat. Finally, the few who bought a pack of disposable diapers for babies , a cap of sardines in a spicy sauce (although they make it clear that the pub’ doesn’t like spicy but it’s the only one there) and the laundry room, manage to pay for the goods sold with pieces Visa card from a foreign bank.

The employee takes the time to tell the others in the box that there is a change and they need to wait for the change “to get the box.” They went to the door, hoping to get rid of the delay, but when they were about to leave, a voice shouted to them with anxiety: “Mom, where is the certificate? You must tell me!” An employee tells the customer to see his bill and as he reads it he writes out loud what they have in their hands. “Now, you can leave now,” he reminded them as he ended the search.

Outside the store, the invisible room welcomes them and the woman is tempted to go up to the second floor to look at furniture and household items, also selling hard money. But the escalator does not work and with the things they carry in their hands they will not be able to enter the place. They decided to leave La Puntilla and the sea breeze hit their faces as soon as they started down the stairs. On the street there was only one man standing trying to sell some blankets to clean the floor for 400 pesos. Behind them, the employee closed the door of the store again, waiting for the next group to be allowed to enter.

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