When thinking of the black market (mercado negro), I immediately think of the drug trafficking, fire arm exchanges, pornography and prostitution. Looking at the definition of black market in the dictionary, "an illegal traffic or trade in officially controlled or scarce commodities," we do not see the terms atrocious or publicly unacceptable commodities, we see the words controlled in scarce. It is important to remember this when looking at Cubas black market. When looking at Cubas black market, we see an exchange of goods and services that are scarce in the community. However, the greatest scarcities in Cuba include meat, milk, eggs, toilet paper and items for babies. It doesn't sound like the scarcities we face does it?
After the revolution of Cuba many things became scarce. The post-revolutionary time, known as the "Special Period," began in 1989, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban economy lost nearly 80% of all imports and exports. This economic crisis left all cubans without forms of energy such as gasoline, petroleum and diesel. Food shortages spread country wide, medical supplies were scarce and building materials were nearly non existent. This transformed daily life, agriculture, medical attention and living conditions. All goods were scarce. Food was rationed according to the minimum requirements of the United Nations. Rations included things such as milk, eggs, sugar, chicken or fish, cooking oil, pasta and bread. However, with the shortage of food, many time the mount of food cubans received was 1/5 of the rations expected.
Due to the shortages of literally everything, and the immensely low wages of cuban workers, cubans were forced to trade and sell excess items to get necessities that the government could not provide. In order to subsidize wages and the lacking food rations, many cubans took to the black market to buy and sell goods. The black market can take on many forms including; a kid selling coffee door to door, a woman selling meat out of her car, skilled men and woman providing services for goods, making and selling cigars. It is very common for working men and woman to take small items such as a pound of rice or sugar, cigars, or other goods from their work place to sell on the black market. Because workers are paid so little (about $25) a month, they need to supplement their income in some fashion. Due to the realization that the black market is a necessity, many interactions are swept under the rug... However, some of the consequences can be drastic if caught such as hefty fines and extensive jail time.
Being asked to buy goods on the side of the street
Offers of cheaper taxi rides
Friends asked to go into a mans home to buy cigars
The host family we were staying with told us stories about the loss of chickens due to the hurricane. The greatest black market item at the time we were in Cuba was eggs. They explained that selling eggs could land you years in jail!!
Source to check out