Sunday, February 11, 2007 – Page updated at 12:16 AM
In Cuba, where there's no smoke, there's fire
By The Associated Press
HAVANA — A chain of debts within the government supply system has caused
a cigarette shortage in Cuba's second-largest city, driving up the
black-market price of smokes, Cuban news media reported Saturday.
The shortage led "a few unscrupulous people" in the eastern city of
Santiago to sell Popular-brand cigarettes for the equivalent of 95 cents
a pack, nearly triple the normal price of 33 cents, according to the
Communist Party youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
The reports, first mentioned Friday by the government's Radio Rebelde,
follow official exhortations for Cuba's state-run press to do more
reporting on problems faced by Cuban citizens.
According to the newspaper, the government retail company in Santiago
owes about $430,000 to the government's regional cigarette wholesaler,
which in turn owes $95,000 to the government cigarette manufacturer.
The manufacturer stopped shipping cigarettes to the wholesaler after the
debt extended past 30 days.
Juventud Rebelde said that officials were working to solve the payment
problems and had begun to ease the shortage by bringing in cigarettes
from other areas.
It said the shortage had not affected supplies that are part of the
monthly government rations, which are nearly free though insufficient
for many smokers.
Despite providing the rations, Cuba's government has tried to discourage
smoking, banning it from public places in 2005.