The Rations Booklet in Cuba

Jorge Milanes

HAVANA TIMES — When the Revolution triumphed in Cuba, a system to distribute products and food was implemented and regulated by the State to ensure that every Cuban had food, clothes and shoes, relying on the Rations Booklet.

Even though other countries in Socialist Europe had also implemented this system, it has existed in Cuba for the longest amount of time, for over 50 years.

Today, when a Cuban decides to do their monthly shopping of rationed products which they are entitled to thanks to this booklet, they need to know whether the little bit of rice, beans or sugar is their’s for the taking. These items are distributed according to the number of people in a family, their ages and any special dietary requirements because of illness. Finally, there’s also the issue of the packaging these items come in, although this isn’t as complicated.

Subsidized and regulated State distribution has become very insecure and complicated due to the fact that it is dispatched in bulk, while illegal activities take place, theft, speculation, bribes and cheating at the scales. 

A vicious cycle, which finally ends up hitting consumers’ pockets, affects their mental health in the long run, especially the elderly who are the most vulnerable. They have the time to wait in never-ending lines but many of them no longer have the skills they need to work out these weight conversions and remember how much of each product was assigned to them.

On the other hand, inspectors complicate this situation even further as they accept bribes from some corrupt sellers and ignore consumers’ complaints.

Problems with product weight, hygiene and conservation affect the subsidized products that don’t meet the population’s basic dietary needs.

When it comes to clothes and shoes, as well as other hardware tools and toys (which were, decades ago, also sold via the rations booklet), the stores where you could buy them have pretty much disappeared ever since the Special Period crisis came along in the early 1990s.

If this distribution mess was accepted right at the beginning, it has later become a dead-end crossroads due to the financial crisis that still persists today.

The Cuban people can buy a better quality range of products at other markets, as well as in hard-currency stores, agro-markets and from self-employed sellers, at prices which exceed the wages they receive from the State.

A lot has been said about removing the Rations Boolet, as a subsidized quota is still being allocated to people who no longer depend on it to survive, for one reason or another.

But, on the other hand, we must think about those who work for the State and depend on their CUP peso wages and the rations booklet, even though the quota they are allocated isn’t enough to cover all of their basic needs. 

One thought on “The Rations Booklet in Cuba

  • “the inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

    Winston Churchill

    The level of success of almost sixty (60) years of Fidel Castro’s “socialismo” can be assessed by this article.

    But, Jorge Milanes misses out one proviso when writing:

    “The Cuban people can buy a better quality range of products at other markets”

    That proviso being that they can do so only if receiving remittances from relatives or friends living in capitalist countries.

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