The Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba ration market to expectant mothers.
Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region.
Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called “module basket” that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC.
Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired many times and that was loaned to her by a relative.
Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more luck and says that “almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could stand.” Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or inherit part of the “basket” items from a sister or a cousin.
Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that “they have only brought the product twice” to the store where she works. In those cases “they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring and whose babies are turning a year old,” the others have had to wait until they are resupplied, she said.
When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a 10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first. “When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left without the mattress.”
The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that “it has come to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are still more than those who have left with the product.” The lady says that “the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips the quantities supplied.
Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that “when the mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them ahead of time.”
For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. “It is unfair to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things like that.
Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012 to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman.
David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency, sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have the “basket” ration book.
The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed and take turns standing in line in front of the store.
Translated by MLK