Jorge Milanes Despaigne

bodegaHAVANA TIMES — “What are they selling today?” asks the old woman as she hurriedly gets in line at the butcher’s. “The soy mincemeat and hot dogs,” someone replies.

The butcher, who’s overheard the conversation, says in a loud tone of voice: “You don’t get any hot dogs, only the mincemeat.”

The old woman winces – many of us don’t like that soy mincemeat.

I take a look at my ration booklet to see if I’m entitled to buy the so-called “dogs”, but no, I was wrong. When I look at the blackboard, I see that it says: “For children only”

The basic food products consumed by Cuban families are subsidized by the State and includes other rationed products such as five pounds of rice (plus two additional pounds, for a total of seven, per person, per month), beans (ten ounces), salt (a package every three months), coffee (eleven ounces), white sugar (three pounds), brown sugar (one pound), spaghetti (one package per person every two or three months), oil (half a pound), and five eggs per person).

The State established this mechanism for distributing food products in the early sixties to guarantee equitable access to most food products by Cuban families (with the exception of bread, yogurt and others that were already regulated).

In 1972, we relied on the aid of COMECON (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), made up of socialist bloc countries, which made a whole range of subsidized food products available to the population. These included: beef, chicken, processed cold meats, wheat flour, chocolate, condensed milk, Quaker oats, cookies, malted milk, preserves, juices and soft drinks. For New Year’s, we got a special allotment that included grapes, apples, pears, peaches, prunes, wine, nougat, peanuts, hazelnuts, beer, rum and other products.

“What good times those!”

They were indeed marvelous times, but they had a multifarious psychological effect on many Cubans, for whom the dichotomy “I am entitled to” / “I am not entitled to” defines the balance of a great many daily practices.

We have to try and eliminate this from people’s minds through a slow process (to prevent stress-related heart attacks), particularly in the old, who have even become accustomed to standing in line, for they are the ones who suffer the repercussions of our “reforms” the most.


Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

2 thoughts on “Entitlement: On Cuban Mass Psychology

  • There are some of those who contribute to these coliumns who would deny that the people of Cuba receive food rations. This despite the wekly postings descrbing what rations for the month are being distributed to which district that week.
    “Equitable access” is a euphenism for limiting amounts per capita.
    For fifty five long weary years, the Castro family regime has depended upon being subsidized by other socialist states. When such support ceased, the country sank into even stricter food controls (special period). The promotion of tourism collecting hard currency from visitors from capitalist countries and then the Chavez coup in Venezuela provided mor subsidy to sustain the economically incompetent regime. This too is now threatened as Nicholas Maduro guides Venezuela into the second highest rate onf inflation in the world and the regime sees it’s bank rolling amigo under threat.
    So the regime is turning to China which supplies buses for tourism, cars for car hire to tourists all on credit and has become the next intended target for the Castro family regime’s well worn begging bowl.
    China throughout its history has only ever considered China. That ever increasing debt of Cuba will eventually be called in. Cuba being unable to pay, will then have to sacrifice control of its own affairs to China. The idea that Putin’s Russia will come to their aid is but a humorous concept when Russia’s declining GDP is examined.
    The reality is that socialism is a failed idea. But don’t cry for the Castro family regime which has wealth that far exceeds anything that Batista ever dreamed of. Their future is assured by the ever expanding family piggy bank.

  • The owner of the casa particular where I stay when my wife and I visit Havana is by Cuban standards considered well-off. In addition to the good income that she earns from the casa particular, she also spends half the year in Sweden and Spain earning and saving money working as a waitress and housekeeper/nanny. As a result of her economic good fortune she doesn’t need to buy any of her food from the bodega using her ‘libreta’ or ration book. She can afford to buy her rice, sugar, coffee, and cooking oil from the divisa or CUC stores. She allows an elderly neighbor to use her allotment. When I visit Havana, I love to drink the soy milk that is only sold in the bodegas. When I ask the casa owner to buy it for me, she frowns and says “I don’t buy anything from the bodega anymore!” I get the sense that she and many other Cubans with the financial means to shop at the dollar stores have come to stigmatize the bodegas. So on top of the long lines in the sun, the poor quality of the food, the frequent shortages and limited selections, there is also a social stigma attached to shopping with the ration book at the bodegas. In other words, what Castro put in place to promote equality in access to food has morphed to become a social demarcation of the economic inequality that exists in Cuba.

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