MIAMI – While the sexually active in Cuba struggle to get to condoms with a reliable expiration date, health officials continue to juggle both international and national economic policies.
During a time when condoms were plentiful, the resourceful put the latex to use for fishing, as balloons for parties, to smuggle alcohol into night clubs and concerts and to play volleyball in parks.
Now the shortages in the island have gotten so bad, some Cubans were washing condoms and hanging them to dry for reuse. And to make matters worse, Cuban media has been reporting on discrepancies with expiration dates.
A writer for the Cuban newspaper Vanguardia raised the question that many Cubans are asking: "Are the unreliable supplies of condoms at pharmacies reliable?"
A Thursday El Nuevo Herald report sparked a conversation in social media and local radio programs in Spanish about the shortages. Some Venezuelans said they feared shortages could worsen for their families.
"No beer? No condoms? I read it in The Herald. And it's going to get like that in Caracas too," said Juan Carlos Verde, who moved from Venezuela to Miami a month ago. "Chavistas let's see how you are going to defend your revolution without condoms and AIDS."
Chinese condoms were in low supply because the Cuban government distributor claimed they didn't have enough employees to work on labeling the product's expiration, the Cuban newspaper Vanguardia reported earlier this month.
The Cuban official also told Vanguardia, there were condoms in warehouses because Cuban health officials and the Chinese manufacturer were discussing the life of the product.
Cuban health officials fear that the island's condom problem may lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, Cuban media reports.
Communist newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported last year that with shortages buyers were choosing to buy expired condoms in Villa Clara and Holguin. This year, the Vanguardia newspaper reported health officials said there was an increase of sexually transmitted diseases and abortions in Villa Clara that may be attributed to the shortage.
Although international organizations invest millions of dollars in programs to distribute condoms in the island to prevent the spread of AIDS and HIV, the U.S. embargo has had an effect on supply for years.
The condom shortage problem was also reported in 2007 after the U.S. put a stop to the supply of millions of "Vives" condoms that were part of a United Nations program.
"Vigor"and "Vigor Max" -- also part of a UN funded health program -- became the option, but it is nearly impossible to find the brand now. The most popular condoms in the island are the "Vive-la" from Korea, and the "Twinlotus" from China, Cafe Fuerte reports.
With Raul Castro in power, El Nuevo Herald's Juan Tamayo reported, Cuba's "highly inefficient Soviet economic model" is slowly moving "toward a more-productive system that mixes socialism with small doses of private enterprise."
But despite Castro's change of direction, El Nuevo Herald reports, Cubans continue to complain.