The rationing book is a form of control, relegating people to paralyzing hours in line for the meager handouts as freighters loaded with goods for the tourist hotels pull into Havana harbor. According to this AP story, Cuban state-run media (which has a monopoly on expression) are suggesting that the rationing should come to an end. This seems to be part of Raul Castro’s lurching steps toward economic reform, but it is a example of how difficult it will be to implement changes in a fragmented way.
About half of the Cuban population don’t have relatives abroad sending them much needed foreign currency. They are therefore completely dependent on the state. With around $20 as an average monthly wage, impossible to live on, so they rely on the rationing book to make ends meet. Pensioners are especially vulnerable, since their income is only half that. The rations aren’t free, but are heavily subsidized, at about 20 times less than at a regular market.
The meager rations meet a family’s basic needs for 10-15 days. Sometimes however, the sign says “no hay” (There’s nothing) The scarcities are a combination of the embargo and the legacy of the inefficient system that was based on heavy subsidies from the eastern bloc. Abandoning the rationing book before people are free to run their own business and freely participate in a private labor market, is to condemn them to an even worse fate than the actual system.
The excellent B&W photos are from Roy Llera’s photoblog, please visit it.