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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cuba’s Dual Purpose Newspapers

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES, August 14 — Every few months toilet paper becomes scarce in the Cuban capital, where people are accustomed to cutting up old newspapers to fill the gap. This deficit can last for weeks, until the centralized importation mechanism manages to make another purchase and the inflexible distribution chain supplies it to the stores.

Several news publications, starting with USA Today, have run stories on the current shortage. (

When toilet paper finally appears again, lines will form at shopping centers and other stores for consumers to stock up. Everybody knows the routine.

Why does this problem recur at least a few times a year?

While such information is not made known to the public, I believe it symbolizes the gaps between producers or importers, distributors, retailers and the bureaucrats signing the checks —virtually all State-owned companies and institutions.

The rigid specialization of each aspect of getting the product on store shelves means that if any rung in the ladder fails or somebody miscalculates, the public suffers the consequences, since the other rungs are not empowered to act on their own.

Likewise, when making purchases on such a large scale it’s easy to make a mistake on the quantities or the distribution. Since purchase plans often appear to be overly strict, any error is paid for by 11.2 million Cubans. If anyone takes the time to complain they can expect the US blockade to inevitably be the catch-all excuse for the situation.

And while Cuba’s newspapers do the job when the TP is out, they too are scarce and don’t come close to meeting the demand.

USA Today noted Friday that Cuba imports TP and produces its own, but doesn’t have the raw materials to make it at this moment. The government is short on cash, notes the newspaper, adding that during the current global economic crisis Cuba is spending more for imports and receiving less for its exports.


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