Feb. 17- La Libreta: Rationalizing the Rations
For a few months now, there have been rumors and discussions about the elimination of the libreta, the ration card that has been one of the guarantees of basic food necessities for everyone since the early years of the revolution. The television news even announced this measure might take place first in the province of Matanzas, as an experiment.
The reaction by Cubans has been schizophrenic. On the one hand, everyone I have talked to says that nobody can live on the food that is provided by the rations anyway, which amounts to a little oil, some rice, beans, sugar, eggs and other basic goods. “No da para nada” (it doesn’t amount to anything) is the typical response. However, when I ask people what would happen if the rations disappeared, they react quite strongly, saying that many people depend on the rations to survive, and that taking it away would lead them to starvation. Or, they say, if they take away our rations, they better raise our salaries enough so we can pay for food in CUC, the convertible currency, not the Cuban peso.
Providing adequate food supplies seems to be a basic function of a state. So far, the Cuban state has managed this through the libreta system, combined with some somewhat private enterprise agromercados where fruits and vegetables can be bought in Cuban pesos, and state supermarkets where imported and Cuban products like milk, pasta, and oil are sold in CUC. However, many, if not all, Cubans supplement these official channels for food. The black market in hard to find food items is thriving, with people selling eggs, tuna fish, cheese, and lobster door to door. I even bought some potatoes outside of an agromercado, which were hidden under a bush covered with a piece of cardboard. It felt more like a drug deal than buying a bag of potatoes.
When I asked one woman whether people could survive on the rations, she told me that you could survive for 7- 10 days. “You want to know how people live,” she asked? “Stealing from the state.” The bodega manager will get the truck driver to “lose” a sack of sugar, and then he will sell that on the black market. This informal economy is what supplements the monthly rations, allowing some to profit by selling and others to survive by buying stolen goods. Even though the ration system seems to have degenerated into an irrational and inefficient system of corruption and fraud, it is hard to imagine a Cuba without it, unless there are some more significant changes in the economy and how people are paid.
Here is a breakdown of what the “libreta de consumidores” provides each person each month. People still have to pay for the rations, but at highly subsidized prices (Cuban pesos). 1 CUC= 24 Cuban Pesos, and 1 USD = 20 Cuban pesos.
Total cost for one month of rations is about 31 Cuban pesos or 1.5 USD. While this are extremely subsidized prices, the minimum wage in Cuba is around 225 Cubans pesos per month, which is also what many pensioners receive, meaning that 14% of a monthly salary is spent on buying rations.
Rice- 7 lbs. at 21 cents per lb.
Sugar- 3 lbs white (15 c per lb.), 2 lbs dark (6 c per lb)
Salt- 1 packet of 2 lbs every 3 months (20 c per lb.)
Peas- 8 ounces (.6 c per lb)
Beans- 8 ounces (.6 c per lb)
Lentils- 8 ounces (.6 c per lb)
Coffee- 4 ounces (5 pesos)
Toothpaste- 1 tube, (.65 c)
Washing soap (.2 c)
Bathing soap (.16 c)
½ lb oil (.45 c)
Pasta- 1 packet (.9 c)
Eggs- 10 at .15 c and an additional 5 at .9 c
Chicken- 1 lb. (.7 c)
Fish- 8 ounces (.6 c)
Children up to 7 years old and old people on a special diet also receive:
Powdered milk- 1 kilo (2.5 pesos)