Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s revolutionary government has been much criticized because, at the beginning of the 1960s, it established a supply booklet with which the population can acquire essential products every month.
The ill-intentioned press refers to it as a “ration booklet.” However, it has never been a question of rationing anything, but of guaranteeing that every citizen can access basic supplies at reasonably low, State subsidized prices which cannot be affected by the activities of hoarders and speculators.
Following every revolution, when the people begin to experience a rise in their quality of life and to consume more, speculators invariably appear who have the money to purchase large quantities of certain products, bring about artificial shortages and sell these at two or three times their normal market price. That was what the supply booklet sought to prevent.
We have the clear case of Venezuela, where the government has taken all of the steps it can to guarantee that the working population has access to essential products at low prices, and where speculators continue to buy these products in large quantities to bring about shortages or to sell these across the border, in Colombia.
In Cuba, conditions have changed and the supply booklet has gradually lost its original aim (while retaining one of the basic goals, that of ensuring that those with the lowest incomes have a basic supply of products at subsidized prices).
Even though a minority today is in actual need of those subsidized products, everyone is entitled to them. It would be preferable to prioritize the lowest income population or to raise its income level such that it is able to purchase these same subsidized products offered through the supply booklet at regular markets.
This is the situation in Cuba, where domestic trade is in the hands of a State which, in accordance with the economic situation at a given moment, guarantees a monthly supply of food products such that everyone receives what is essential, at subsidized prices, regardless of whether they purchase the other food products they need at regular markets later.
Venezuela is now experiencing what Cuba did at the beginning of the 1960s: store owners prompted shortages in order to raise prices to unacceptable levels. The situation is Venezuela is worse because smugglers have also entered the scene. These purchase products that the State sells the population at low prices, in order to re-sell them at three times their cost.
The Venezuelan government is implementing measures to protect the population and has announced the establishment of control mechanisms based on fingerprints to prevent, not only smuggling, but artificial shortages caused by the oligarchy, which blames the government for product shortages and uses these in its anti-government campaigns. These measures are already being implemented and the opposition declares it is alarmed by the controls the government is establishing, controls which are aimed at protecting underprivileged sectors from speculators and smugglers.
Neither the control mechanisms announced in Venezuela nor Cuba’s supply booklet seek to ration anything. They are rather aimed at guaranteeing access to food products at fair or subsidized prices, as the case may be, in order to defend society’s most vulnerable sectors.