Good-Bye Ration Book

Maria Matienzo Puerta

Cuban buying his rationed bread. Photo: Caridad
Cuban buying his rationed bread. Photo: Caridad

Farewells, break-ups and separations have always brought me grief, tears and mixed emotions, which I’ve often been unable to overcome.  This has happened to me not only with people, but also with objects and animals.

The losses have been so frequent that somehow I’ve gotten used to them: the necklaces I’ve forgotten and left somewhere, pets that died, friends who have left.

In short, things always come to its end.

But these days I’m bidding farewell to something truly unique.  I believe that in the history of all humanity, in the whole world, unless you’re Cuban you won’t know how to explain it, and from whose separation I don’t know if I’ll survive.

I speaking of my beloved “ration supply book.”

The truth is I don’t know if I should laugh out of anguish or cry with happiness.  It’s that I have no memories of my thirty years in which it hasn’t been an important part of my life.

When I was a little girl and was going to live for a while at my grandparents’ house, they made me make a “transitory change” in the book; twenty years later I got married and my mother-in-law demanded that I be put on her ration book; and now that I’m divorced, she is asking me -loudly- that I be taken off it.

I know, I know…I have to explain what the hell this thing is.

It’s known that on one hand the ration book has been what’s allowed millions of people to survive an eternal economic crisis. It’s been the lifeboat, not only to the elderly living from miserable pensions, but for everyone from professionals to those whose wages seldom make ends meet. On the other hand, it’s been like the stone tablets of Moses, for judging who lives better than others and why, for pointing with an accusing finger to those who receive foreigners’ money, or indicating who lives in better conditions.

For more than forty years it’s been almost a legal document.  If you are not in the ration book, you’re not entitled to anything; you can hardly inherit the house in which you were born.  If you’re not in the ration book, you are not “legal” anywhere.

In the beginning (before I was born), it supplied a balanced diet of protein and carbohydrates, as well as toiletries.  Over time it became a surrealist object in which appeared all those products that one could only could acquire if they had the other currency -hard foreign currency- to buy beef, fish, canned goods, detergent, soap, toilet paper…

I don’t really know what we’ll do when we begin to feel the loss of paternal State control, when we don’t have the place or the wherewith all to buy goods at subsidized prices, because the liberation from all that is provided through the “ration book” is turning out to be quite expensive, especially for those who depend on it.

Still I remain optimistic.  Just as we once had a ration book for clothes and toys (which disappeared without any prior explanation or discussion; they were simply eliminated from the book), and though the difference is great between those who do and don’t have hard currency, we’ve been able to forge ahead nonetheless.  These died a natural death; the opening of Cuba to the world in 1990s and the shortage of products sold in domestic currency were the deathblows.

This farewell could be the most painful of any other, not only because of the elimination of food assistance, but because I don’t know what additional changes they might announce.  The worst thing is that I don’t believe that things have been adequately prepared.  What’s left for me is only to suffer or enjoy as if this were the end of a long-running soap opera, one in which they kill the bad guy and the good guys live happily ever after.

3 thoughts on “Good-Bye Ration Book

  • I have bee a tourist in Varadero and taken day trips to Havanna for approx. 10 consecutive years. I have recommended Cuba to many of my friends and relatives for their vacations because of the friendly, appreciative people, no crime, a beautiful country, beautiful people. My brother returned back to Canada from Varadero yesterday stating that he doubted he would go again because of the unfriendliness, unappreciative and often rude people. I was totally surprised. The many gifts he distributed to the Cuban people were not welcomed. People wanted money. I sincerely hope this will not be the occurance when we arrive on Jan 31. My suitcases are packed overweight with gifts. We really never had any problems with beggers in Varadero but apparently this is no longer the case. In light of the above I ponder if the people want money in order to buy food because of the Ration Book dilema. Wages will have to be increased! Cubans already suffer with meager food allowances,

  • Maria and Julio, at leasat two of us live in Cuba so we know what the real story is..However this is the time now for Transformation..everyone wants to sit back and bash the adm and perhaps rightfully so.however for those of you younger than 55.. ITS THE EMBARGO” Now say what you will, prior to 1959 you could not get a toothbrush, food, shelter et/al unless you were a woman and were willing to sell herself? Cubans had no rights El lindo Mulato was a US sponsored terrorist who played footsy with the Miami mafia (lansky, Siegel,et/al and those living there now
    The sites below will give you an idea about why you have lost your ration book.. (The Miami mafia bought the US prez..Barak Obama) Read and research..get more info its is power..

  • The crude reality is that the Cuban state does not pay Cubans the corresponding salaries they should be pay in exchange for their work. It is appalling to think a person in Cuba must work for 3 days to pay for a simple tooth brush.
    It is shameful that products made in Cuba by workers that are paid in Cuban pesos are sell by the Cuban regime for hard currency. Making it impossible for those same workers that produce the products to buy them!

    It seems to me it is a new form of slavery or neo-slavery by the regime.

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