When Mariela Medina left Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, and settled in the city of Santiago de Cuba, she thought that things would look up for her. But she has ended up right where she started: without any money, and only one meal a day.
"At least in Las Tunas I had a shot at getting food, including fish, for my family," she says, questioning a decision that, though at first stabilized her marriage, now subjects her to "the dilemma of deciding whether to wash, buy clothes, or food." Abusive prices and shortages of food and other essential items are to blame.
"It's been out of the frying pan and into the fryer," she laments. "I don't see how to get out of this rut. My children have been eating okra and eggplant for two years."
Her husband, Rodolfo Santos, feels responsible for the boys eating "bread or pastries" every night.
"There are no options to vary the menu. And the salary's not enough. Macaroni, beans and blood sausage seems like luxuries when the greenest and stinkiest mincemeat in the world runs out," he says.
This dilemma is not unique to this couple. Thousands of families in the island's second largest province are suffering the consequences of inflation that, according to the authorities, is over three times that recorded in 2019.
The situation worsened with the failure of the "Ordering Task" and the monetary reform. The economy, Miguel Díaz-Canel has admitted, is going through one of its worst moments, "with demand much higher than the supply that the State can guarantee."
What has transpired in the last 10 months is crystal clear: the purchasing power of wages has continued to plummet, and people see their aspirations frustrated, and the Government cannot find a way to reverse the crisis.
Price speculation is taking a heavy toll on the humblest
"With chicken selling for 150 pesos per pound, pork for 190, beef for 250, rice for 90, tomato for 120 and a liter of oil for 300, no one can rest easy," said Caridad Suárez.
A box of Criollos cigars, which cost 200 pesos, is out of the question, as is a trip to the beach, which costs a family of six about 4,000 pesos round trip.
"No one can get by on minced soy, sweet potato broth, mashed bananas and corn bread," said Dania Valenzuela.
In the poorest neighborhoods, the Communist Party and the government are blamed for the lack of solutions to these problems. Scuffles break out in the crowds that form to buy cookies, cakes and croquettes.
"Those rostrums, overflowing with triumphalism and political posturing, do not guarantee breakfast, lunch and dinner. Only a few households can afford to serve them," criticized Roger Figueroa.
The abusive prices make his hair stand on end when it comes to meeting his children's nutritional needs. Lacking milk and protein, he gives his grandparents pork soup.
"Not even combining our salaries can my wife and I pay for a package of milk, for 400 pesos; but we can buy a leg of pork and make a soup that amounts to something," Figuero explained.
Other parents get by on "peas for lunch and cream of pumpkin for dinner," because their income does not allow them any more variety.
"Water with sugar, known as the 'revolutionary refreshment', is a lifesaver for families who can't afford groceries, and are reeling from the high cost of living," said Mirta Montesinos.
In San Pedrito, Marimón, Agüero, La Risueña and Los Pinos residents have to team up and chip in, as otherwise the soup "is basically boiled water."
Those who can survive on yogurt and a couple of cueruas (low-quality cookies), which have become mainstays to alleviate hunger in Santiago de Cuba, said Gladis Rivas, weary of long lines and hardship.
Although the island's second-largest city is surrounded by the sea, fish and shellfish continue to be unaffordable delicacies, largely because prices range between 500 and 2,000 pesos, depending on the species.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that the authorities sanction sport and underwater fishing with fines of up to 1,500 pesos. In fact, the government punishes any solutions that the people employ to meet their needs.
In a tour of the provincial capital, DIARIO DE CUBA confirmed that food vendors have also raised their prices .
Pizzas and spaghetti, which were once their top offerings, today cost from 200 to 500 pesos - although they list lower ones on their signs.
On top of all this is the lack of clean water, mainly in Palma Soriano, where people consume water from the Cauto River, knowing that tractors and animals are washed in it. In Santiago de Cuba the State invested more than 200 million dollars to ensure access to clean water, but the problem persists a decade later.
While hunger racks the people of Santiago, the press ignores these issues and fawns over the country's leaders, as in the last weekend of October when the government newspaper Sierra Maestra was practically dedicated to Lázaro Exposito, until then the first secretary of the Communist Party in Santiago de Cuba.
Of the 41 photos published, 38 were of the official, an unprecedented display in the territory's media, with paper devoting 12 articles, features, reports and interviews to lionizing Expósito.