HAVANA TIMES — Every day I’m more and more surprised by the dilemma posed by the various approaches to product distribution in Cuba.
The rationing book refuses to disappear since no alternative has yet been developed to protect those who are the most disadvantaged.
In the state-run “bodegas” (small grocery stores), they continue selling a limited amount of basic foodstuffs, and Cuban families will send their emissaries with the trusty ration book to buy those items at prices little more than symbolic.
Some of these products (actually most) can also be purchased at un-subsidized rates from private vendors (resellers) as well as in state-run markets charging either in “national currency” or hard-currency CUCs.
There’s no guarantee that in a given month a product that appeared in the book will be identical to the one supplied the preceding one.
The most classic (and pathetic) example of this occurred a year ago with salt.
Each shipment of salt was from a different country (mainly from South America, though on one occasion they sold Spanish salt).
The irony of this case with salt is compounded by the obvious fact that Cuba — an island surrounded by salt water — was importing salt.
A few days ago I was surprised by another phenomenon: Using the ration book you can buy (at a token price) one package of spaghetti per household member, yet the package was almost identical to some of those sold in the hard currency CUC “shoppings” (grocery stores), since this is a Cuban product.
But there was one interesting difference: the weight of the bodega bought spaghetti is offered with the qualification of it being “+/-10 grams” of what’s indicated on the package.
In other words, this in-kind “tax” (spontaneous theft) that the agro-food chain is charging buyers to support each of its links has now become legal – at least that’s the interpretation that many people have drawn concerning the new “explicit guarantee” of “consumer rights.”
What about you? What do you think?