My government-approved trip began with a few nights' stay at the iconic Habana Libre hotel. At breakfast the first morning, I poured myself a cup of coffee but could not find milk on the buffet table or anywhere in the grand dining hall. I eventually realized a single waitress was making the rounds, pouring milk from a pitcher for guests who requested it. When she reached my table, I held out my cup. She smiled and poured out a scant teaspoon of milk. I looked up, thinking she was teasing me; but she'd already turned away and was moving on to another table. Cup in hand, I was about to slip out of my chair to follow her when my breakfast companion, a frequent traveler to Cuba, clamped a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t,” she whispered. “You don’t know what it cost her to pour you that much.” She explained that this woman, who appeared to be in her late twenties, likely did not have enough milk at home for her young children due to acute shortages in Cuba.
So when I read in the New York Times that the crush of tourists is "wiping out the stores" Cubans rely on to fill their pantries — not to mention their children's bellies — I can't help but recall this moment and other troubling moments from my own trip to Cuba. I won't visit Cuba again until there's enough food for tourists and for ordinary Cubans.