In Cuba -- where sudden shortages of everyday products are as commonplace as Fidel columns bashing the oligarchy -- condoms have always been a reliable stand-in for everything from kids' birthday balloons to bootleg beach balls. Even during the worst of times, the government kept dirt-cheap, Chinese-made rubbers on shelves around the nation.
But this month, condoms have suddenly become as hard to find in Havana as a George W. Bush T-shirt. The run on prophylactics, along with ongoing potato and beer shortfalls, is casting doubt on the Castro regime's claims that a slowly privatizing economy will make empty store shelves a problem of the past.
Here's what Cuban writer Miriam Celaya has to say on her blog, Sin Evasion (translated to English):
Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call "the national sport." Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on these already-expired products to "update" them and be able to sell them. There is testimony that in some of Cuba's interior provinces, this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done "because the dates on the containers were wrong."
Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it's part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba... What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.
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Condoms don''t represent the only shortage hitting the island. Ceyala also writes that toilet paper and potatoes have recently been difficult to find, while another report says beer has been in short supply.