In Cuba, Condoms Can Also Catch Fish, Fix Your Car and Make Wine

Latex condoms are finding a plethora of new uses in Cuba, ranging from hairband substitutes to a quick fix for tire punctures, as the island nation adapts to a shortage of goods.

U.S. sanctions on the communist island mean Cuba's shops and markets can often be short on some basic products, leading locals to find ways around the dearth. The phenomenon of invento Cubano, wherein locals try to replace items in short supply with whatever is available, has found a new universal product—condoms.

Provided cheaply, thanks to government subsidies and imports from Asia, the contraceptives have become the solution for many industries, including cosmetics, fishing and wine production. "We can't allow clients to leave upset that we couldn't do something because we lacked the tools, so instead we look for alternatives," Sandra Hernandez, a stylist at a hairdresser in Havana, told Reuters.

A box of three latex condoms costs just a single Cuban peso, which is around 4 cents. Mechanics have mastered the technique of plugging tire punctures with them by applying force and pressure to a stretched out latex condom. Fishermen have also found a use for the inflated contraceptives—as fishing floats.

"The aim is to catch the bigger fish," Angel Luis Nunez, a fisherman who casts inflated condoms to baited hooks off Havana's seafront, said. Many like him are not permitted to sail off in a boat and cast their nets and hooks into deeper waters, where bigger fish live, due to the government's strict policies aimed at curbing illegal emigration by sea.

Another innovative use for the latex rubbers is in the production of homemade wine. Orestes Estevez uses condoms as caps for bottles of grape juice in his Havana home. As the drink begins to ferment, it releases gasses, which inflate the condom while the sugar turns into bitter alcohol. Once the process is complete, the phallic cap deflates, and the wine is ready for Estevez to sell in his garage.

Orestes Estevez checks a condom used in the production of wine in his makeshift winery in Havana, on May 16. Cubans have found new uses for available products to make up for the lack of many basic goods. Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

"It really increases the alcohol percentage and improves the process of fermentation as well as that of clarification," he said.

"They see the condom as a tool to use for other things that they really weren't made for," Alexander Grinan, a healthcare activist, told Deutsche Welle. He joked that it could be worth restating the original purpose of a condom. "This isn't for fishing, it is used to protect your life and the lives of other people."