efe-epaBy Atahualpa Amerise Havana

People standing in long lines to buy food in Cuba has become so common that it has even become a joke.

"What is the animal with the longest tail in Cuba?" is the question. "The chicken," is the answer. Because in Spanish the word for tail (cola) is the same as for a line of people (cola), so those in that otherwise miserable predicament can laugh and say they're "in the tail of the chicken" when waiting in a long line to buy poultry.

Though jokes tend to ease the wait, there are also heated arguments and even fights over a place in line, of which people take videos and share them on social networks, making this pain a focus of attention in Cuban society and a symbol of the country's growing economic crisis.

"You used to go to the store to buy things. Now you have to stand in stupid lines till it kills you," complained Mirta, a retiree who expressed her indignation after the first hour of waiting at the doors of a supermarket in Havana's Miramar neighborhood.

"I've been in other countries where it's nothing like as hard as it is in Cuba," she added. "It's true that in socialism there are many good things but there are also bad things that the big shots don't see."

In the same long line of some 50 shoppers, two women accused each other of jumping the line, leading to loud bickering. "What's worst is that there's hardly any food, so people are like that, killing each other," said Miriela, another young woman waiting her turn.

In the tail of the chicken, there is one unbreakable rule: two packages per customer.

This restriction, imposed by the government on a number of basic products to avoid hoarding, can meet its match in Cuban guile, since many go to the supermarket with their children, nieces and nephews and even pay a CUC (equivalent of a dollar) to third parties to get the number of quotas they want of the desired white meat.

The aggravated shortage of products is an indication of the economic crisis that is beginning to hurt this country of 11.2 million inhabitants, whose diet depends between 60 and 70 percent on imports, as is the case with chicken meat.

To Cuba's endemic problems, such as the inefficiency of its centralized economic model and the accumulation of debt, have been recently added the toughening of the US embargo by the Donald Trump administration and the instability of the Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela, supplier of half the island's fuel requirements.

Flour, cooking oil, eggs, powdered milk and sausages have practically disappeared from the supermarkets since late last year.

In the case of chicken, there has been less of a shortage. So...why do so many people line up to buy this poultry meat?"

The answer is multiple and is also in the street. On the one hand, "pork is impossible," said Marisa, head of a family with four children and six grandchildren at home, who has seen the price of pork double in just a few months, while the affordable and always-in-demand sausages have disappeared from refrigerators all over the island.