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Cuba Blames Chinese-Made Condoms for Shortage

Miami — First, potatoes disappeared from Cuban markets. They are back, but police are struggling to keep throngs of frantic buyers in check. And now there are shortages of beer and condoms, with some shops charging up to $1.30 for each prophylactic.

A Communist Party newspaper, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.

CECMED, a state agency that tests medicines and medical items, ruled in 2012 that the “Moment” condoms bought from China had the wrong expiration date and ordered that they be repackaged showing they are good until 2014, the newspaper reported.

But ENSUME, the state-run wholesaler that supplies EMCOMED, which in turn supplies condoms to state pharmacies, restaurants and camping grounds, simply has not been able to repackage them quickly enough, Vanguardia added.

ENSUME director Juan Carlos Gonzalez said his enterprise has more than 1 million condoms in its warehouses, but workers can repackage only 1,440 strips of three per day, when consumers in one province alone requires about 5,000 per day.

The newspaper wondered why ENSUME waited from 2012 until now to repackage the condoms, but apparently got no answer from Gonzalez.

“There will have to be an internal analysis of the matter to resolve” the issue, she wrote.

Celaya wrote earlier this month in her blog Sin Evasion (“Without Evasion”) that the chronic shortages on the island seemed to be more frequent and affecting more products, including some that are usually widely available at steep, hard-currency prices.

Toilet paper is now in short supply, she wrote, while toothpaste and toothbrushes and soap have been taking turns disappearing from shelves and forcing a “perennial peregrination after articles that in any part of the civilized world are common.”

One independent journalist reported this week that the Cuban-brewed Bucanero and Cristal brands of beer had suffered “a sudden disappearance” from shelves, and another wrote that some doctors are using toilet paper in place of hard-to-find medical gauze.

Other Havana residents in recent months have reported rolling shortages of deodorant, eggs, cooking oil, floor-cleaning rags and many medicines.

As for the return of potatoes, Celaya wrote, “police in Centro Habana (municipality) are practically on a war footing taking care of the brawls produced within the huge crowds that aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.”

Havana blogger Francisco Castro wrote on April 11 that while potatoes are back on the shelves, the huge crowds waiting in line to buy them reminded him of the massive “anti-imperialist” marches that former ruler Fidel Castro used to organize in Havana.