“Where to find it?” “Whatever you want.” “What do you need?” These aren’t text message snippets. They’re internet social media groups. They help thousands in the island nation of Cuba to locate basic goods. But the services could make things worse for average citizens.
Grocery shopping in socialist Cuba can be difficult. Cooking oil vanishes from shelves. When it’s restocked, there’s no flour. One day there’s no butter, the next no cheese. People can spend hours vainly searching for common household goods.
Foraging for physical food in Cuba is difficult and constant. But God’s spiritual blessings don’t have to be earned day after day. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
Cubans have struggled to obtain basic supplies since the collapse of their supporter, the Soviet Union, decades ago. Last year, the situation worsened when U.S. President Donald Trump toughened sanctions (penalties to alter a nation’s behavior) against the island. Problems in Venezuela, a key provider of oil to Cuba, have also hurt the country. (See “Food Insecurity in Venezuela.”)
As a result, Cubans often face product rationing and long lines at shops. Therefore, many turned to a fairly new technology—social media—to find what they need. (See “Cuba Internet Gives Citizens Power.”)
Today, with chat groups like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, Cubans grapple in near real time with constant supply challenges. Savvy shoppers share tips about where to find dish detergent, chicken, fuel, and other scarce essentials.
Without these social media groups, people would “spend all day going around the city” looking for things they need, says graphic designer Claudia Santander.
For example, someone can ask about a certain product—toilet paper or milk powder or soap. Within minutes, another person on the chat might reply to say which store in Havana, the Cuban capital, is stocking it.
“I’ve been able to sort out” diaper and other purchases since joining several social media groups aimed at locating items, says Laura Vela, who has a young child.
Some of the groups have waiting lists for people who want to become members. WhatsApp limits group chat sizes to 256 people. Other platforms accept thousands.
Shopping through social media is easing life for some in Cuba. But for others, social media may actually make life harder. That’s because there’s another hurdle folks there must face: Internet service is costly—$5-$20 per month. And with average monthly salaries just $20-$50, many Cubans can’t afford to buy data or even a decent phone. But without phone access, one might find only empty shelves.