Tag Archives: cuban black market

5 Bodegas & 8 Cafeterias Later…I’m Worried

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I recently shared with readers my top five reasons for the frayed Cuban psyche circa February 1, 2010. To recap, this psychic static is being caused by (in no particular order):

– the embargo
– bureaucracy
– economic hardship
– housing
– exhaustion

The domestic economy and crushing bureaucracy is a double whammy that’s hitting home, every Cuban home, including mine, and I’m worried.

The problem? Apparently, distribution of cigars for domestic consumption is in some kind of trouble. What kind of trouble, I can’t be sure, but that’s what the last bodeguero I talked to posited. How deep that trouble is, I can only guess and gossip (the technique used 24/7/365 by 11 million Cubans trying to figure out everything from when/if the ration book will be cut to the whereabouts of a beloved film star). But whatever the reason, it doesn’t look good for your cigar smoking Havana correspondent: after hoofing between five bodegas and eight cafeterias (see note 1) to procure the five cent cheroots I’ve been smoking for the past eight years – nada.

I’m getting a little desperate.

One of my last hopes is the funeral parlor. Every Cuban funeral parlor has a cafeteria attached where, heretofore without fail, I’ve been able to buy cigars from the upbeat (surprisingly) and underpaid (not surprisingly) staff. Getting my fix from the folks babysitting stiffs and their loved ones is only a little morbid when measured against my cigar-less disposition. Death is one thing, murder quite another.

If the funeral parlor doesn’t bear fruit, I’m afraid I’ll have to resort to my back channels (see note 2). Thankfully, since arriving those many years ago, I’ve opened several such channels. But these things take time – it’s not like picking up the phone and ordering a pizza/burrito/pad thai like where you are – and my stores are running dangerously low. True, my family and friends are always looking out for me, flipping me quite good cigars de vez en cuando, but I can’t count on ‘every once in a while’ when my stores are running dangerously low. Have I mentioned my stores, those that currently run dangerously low?

Of course, I could, in theory, resolve my stogie problems in hard currency – the dreaded CUC which circulates alongside the weak-like-an-ugly-man’s-chin Cuban peso. Unfortunately, our family economy won’t support another hard currency habit, I’m afraid (see note 3). Besides, I find the five cent cigars just as smokeable as their brand name counterparts, plus I appreciate the low level commitment of these ‘dirt sticks’ – 25 minutes and out. To be honest, I don’t like Cohibas much (see note 4). I mean, when they come my way, I’m grateful and enjoy their long, spicy smoke, but it’s not my famous cigar of choice (see note 5). In short, the time and money commitment required by really good Cuban cigars – what most people think of when someone says ‘Cuban cigars’ – isn’t practical for the modern Habanera like myself.

My bodeguero tells me he doesn’t know what’s up with February’s cigar delivery. Like so much here in Havana, it’s making me sweat.


1. The bodega is where all Cuban families (at the time of writing!) receive their monthly food and staples rations. It is also where you (yes you!) can buy 100% black tobacco Cuban cigarettes and tasty, smokeable Cuban cigars for $1 per 20, plus rot gut rum sold by the liter (bring your own empty for this service). Whatever gets you through the night and all that!

2. If I or you ever think, ‘she’s not THAT cubanizada,’ dig the subtext here (which is pretty much the Cuban economy in a nutshell): ‘state drops the ball on X good/service forcing otherwise upstanding citizen to resort to the black market’ (or as we sometimes say here: the ‘informal economy’ which is a wonderful euphemism).

3. My husband has a $2.50 cigarette habit. There’s no way I could tack on another $5 or so dollars a day.

4. The Robusto hoarded away in my drawer-cum-humidor that my father-in-law recently gifted me notwithstanding.

5. For those wondering how to make my day, do it with a Romeo y Julieta Churchill (or Monte Cristo #2).


Filed under Americans in cuba, cigars, Uncategorized