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Cuba Ends Food Guarantees, Steps Back from Socialist Ideal

New America Media, News Analysis, Louis E.V. Nevaer Posted: Oct 23, 2009

MERIDA, Mexico Cuba, in an abrupt about face, is set to abandon the food rationing program that has been the cornerstone of its Socialist revolution since 1962, when the United States imposed an economic embargo against the island nation.

In a rare signed editorial, Lazaro Barreda, the editor of Granma, the Communist Partys official newspaper, announced the end of the ration booklet, or Libreta, that has guaranteed an egalitarian distribution of food to the Cuban people.

The ration booklet was a necessity at one time, but it has become an impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take, Lazaro Barreda wrote, preparing the Cuban people for Raul Castros most radical departure from the Socialist ideals championed by his brother, Fidel.

The ration booklets constituted the fundamental social contract between the Communist government and the people: No matter what happened, the state would provide food for everyone.

As Cuba encountered economic setbacks, the gravest of which occurred in the 1990s when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered into a prolonged recession a lost decade the Cuban population became cynical of the program.

Throughout Latin America, where poverty and hunger remain challenges for governments of all ideological persuasions, Cubas government has been viewed as admirable for providing a minimum number of calories to each of its citizens.
Cubas Ration Booklet:
Every Cuban is entitled to the following food allowance each month:
3.5 kilos of rice (7.15 pounds)
2.5 kilos of sugar (5.5 pounds)
Half a kilo of beans (1.1 pounds)
230 grams of cooking oil (8.10 ounces)
10 eggs
460 grams of spaghetti pasta (16.22 ounces)
230 grams of soy bean past (8.10 ounces)
115 grams of coffee (4 ounces)
1 loaf of bread (125 grams) (daily) (4.4 ounces)

In addition, adults are entitled to 460 of poultry (16.22 ounces) if available, and children under the age of 7 are entitled to 1 liter (34 ounces) of milk a day, distributed at school.

Its not much, but for almost half a century this basic basket of subsistence all these products costs less than a euro [ or $1.45 USD] each was a symbol of the revolutions egalitarianism, Mauricio Vicent wrote in El Pais, Spains leading newspaper.

In the daily life of Cubans, however, the Libretas have become a running joke, and one that has re-introduced class differences in this supposed classless society. Cubans with access to dollars (from relatives abroad, through contact with foreign tourists in Cuba, or through illicit activities) have, for more than a decade, had access to all manner of foodstuffs from the dollar-stores. Cubans with no such luck have had to fend for themselves.

Since coming to power on Feb. 28, 2008, Raul Castro has had to balance the Cuba he inherited from his brother Fidel with the reality of an economy ravaged by the aftermath of three destructive hurricanes followed by a global financial meltdown.

In the face of the current crisis, the ration booklet has become too much of a farce for the government of Raul Castro to keep up, Vicent wrote in El Pais, concluding that the Cuban government could no longer distribute food among its 11 million people in any reasonable manner.

Under Raul Castro, the Cuban government has been purging the Fidelistas and replacing them with Raulistas. The most stunning example was the dismissal of Foreign Chancellor Felipe Perez Roque and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage. With most of Fidels protgs removed from power, Raul is now beginning to dismantle what he views as the most inefficient relics of Cubas Socialist principles.

Miami Cubans remain wary of any reform that does not include the opening of the political system and the reintroduction of capitalist reforms. In fact, the demise of the ration booklets was long rumored over the summer; a roundtable discussion was posted on YouTube that addressed the structural limits of the Socialist economic model that has hampered Raul Castros efforts to reform the Cuban economy.

Cuba is now confronting a critical cash flow precipitated by the consequences of devastating hurricanes that swept across the island in 2008, the global financial crisis and the consequences of a lingering dispute with the European Union, which, under the auspices of Spain, provided emergency food assistance to Cubans on humanitarian grounds.

Before the hurricanes, Cuba imported a little more than half the food it needed from aboard. Today, more than 80 percent of what Cubans eat comes from abroad and with foreign reserves dwindling, the Cuban government is out of cash and out of credit. It is this reality, more than ideology, that is forcing Raul Castro to take urgent measures, which will strike hardest the oldest and youngest Cubans who depend on the state distribution of foodstuffs for sustenance.

For Cubans, the majority of whom are under 47 and have lived their entire lives with the Libretas, the abrupt ending of the food ration booklets is seen as a refining and revolutionary moment, as if Americans were to wake up one morning to read that Social Security and food stamps have been abolished.

And the harsh reality that confronts most of humanity will dawn on Cubans first thing in the morning: Where will I get enough calories to get me through the day?

Related Articles:

Cuba Undertakes Reforms in Midst of Economic Crisis

New America Now: Cuba: Past & Future Tense

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