The streets of Havana are quiet again after the shouting and violence that accompanied the emigration of more than 115,000 Cubans to the United States in April, May and June. But it is an uncomfortable summer for the many thousands more who applied to leave but cannot because a U.S. Coast Guard blockade has virtually halted the sealift to Florida.
They have lost their jobs, been ostracized as "traitors" by their neighbors, and are receiving no welfare payments. On top of everything else, the weather is usually hot even for their tropical island.
FOR MOST CUBANS, however, July is the month of carnival, stretching over three lazy, hazy summer weekends. Along the Havana seafront, huge ornate carnival floats keep carpenters, electricians and painters busy. Beer tents have sprung up and large wooden stands are ready.
Current favorite among foreign residents' wives and children seems to be an immense silver-scaled dragon, but husbands seem certain to prefer the traditional floats carrying scantily clad dancing girls.
THERE IS A GRUMBLE to go with this year's carnival. For the past decade of communist rule. Cubans have had the right to buy some extra goods for the holidays under the rationing system, which guarantees that everybody gets some, at a reasonable price.
This year, Cubans complain, the extra items have gone on free sale at high prices, meaning first come, first served and lower-paid workers may not be able to afford any.
A woman standing in line said: "The prices are well above what I can afford, but my family has to eat, doesn't it?"
Some sample prices: four-pound can of olive oil $36, 12-ounce can of meat and potatoes $4.30, jar of jam, $3.90. A can of stuffed cabbage that cost $1.40 last year is now $3.60.
THINGS HAVE loosened up in one aspect: For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans are allowed to buy television sets over the counter on credit.
Until now, only workers chosen as being specially deserving could buy domestic electrical appliances on credit. This still applies to other items.
Three or four times a year, meetings are held in workplaces to decide who will get this right. The body of workers discussed it but management and union leaders have the final say.
The "merits of those who have asked to buy the items are discussed, such as not having been absent, taking part in voluntary work on Sundays, and joining in mass pro-Castro rallies and marches -- which partly explains the enthusiasm for these events.
The chosen few are given coupons to take to a shop and buy the item at a reduced price, either on credit or for cash. Other people may buy these goods, when available, at higher prices for cash only.
IT IS A BAD YEAR for smokers in the land of famous cigars. A fungus called blue mold decimated the crop. Cigar exports were suspended and cigarette tobacco imported from Spain.
Cubans can now only buy four cigars per month, their normal quota under the rations. They are cheap but only little ones are in the shops, a technician grumbled. These cost 14 cents each, while a big one, when available on rations, cost 21 cents.