The Future of a Monumental Institution (II)

Dmitri Prieto

Neighborhood store where rationed products are sold. Photo: Caridad

In this second part of the diary post I’m not so much interested in discussing the fate of the ration book (a theme that is nonetheless fascinating), but that of the destiny of the Food Distribution Control Offices (OFICODA).

If the ration book disappears, those offices will also vanish.  The state has already begun trying to reassign them the function of “consumer rights protection” (though perhaps many people will find it new to learn that consumers in Cuba do indeed have rights. Even on TV demands for the due respect for these offices is being promoted).  But that option still hasn’t “stuck,” and the basic function of OFICODA continues being the registration of residents.

I mentioned England in the Second World War, and what came to my mind was an historical analogy. At that time the British had a developed a network of consumer cooperatives. These, the product of the autonomous initiative of workers, expanded across the country to become part of the landscape. When the Nazis attacked, the British state decided to use this already existing infrastructure of the cooperatives to organize the supply of rations.

In Cuba, OFICODA is an initiative that came from the state itself, and its offices also became part of the landscape.  It is what I would describe as a monumental institution; I say this because I do not fail to recognize the enormous amount of accumulated work involved in registering the entire population of a country – despite the dysfunction, misery and corruption that has also accumulated.  However, I believe that the best thing that can happen to OFICODA is to turn it into the basis of a future retail trade cooperative in Cuba.

That solution, in my humble opinion, would maintain fairness while instituting the democratic leadership of citizens in the self-management of such cooperatives.

In any event, this would be much more bearable than any approach involving privatization or leasing, which would return the state-owned bodegas to private grocers.  I have nothing against grocers, but when rationing is eliminated, I would prefer that —instead of a network of private markets— that there would remain (as a memory of the present a system of consumer cooperatives) a system in which the grocers would participate in the distribution of products along the rest of the residents.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on “The Future of a Monumental Institution (II)

  • Interesting idea. I also think that if the bodegas are transferred into private hands it will also solidify the corruption that already exists. I agree, that collectivism makes the most sense. You will maintain worker control and hopefully build democratic grassroots decision making on how food is distributed. Rather than mandating rations to each individual…individuals will have the freedom to choose what and where they buy and those involved in the collective will be able to decide how food is distributed among the stores fairly and equally.

    Also, if there is an emergency and there needs to be a temporary return to rationing, the network will remain in place and well organized to distribute food fairly. The biggest thing I worry about is if the bodegas become privatized and the ration book is eliminated that the division between the rich (those with access to CUC) and the poor will spiral out of control. Collectivizing OFICODA seems to be a natural solution.

  • Dmitri
    Here in this country there is a Social Security network that helps the poor. The provide money for families that are verifiable poor and that they can only expend in purchasing food items at market prices.
    So the state provides money to a sort of credit card and then they are able to use it on any market as a normal credit card. But it can not be use for anything other than food.
    After the elimination the rationing book there will be still many that will not be able to afford the market prices. I think of the elderly and the disable and many others that can not subsist without the help from the state.
    Maybe that should be the role of the OFICODA. Insuring that the help from the state goes to those that are really needy. The biggest problem right now is that the majority of Cubans fall into this category!
    Unless the regime take steps to let people work on their own and create their own business then I see no way out of this poverty.

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