The infamous libreta was introduced formally in 1963 as a way of ensuring every Cuban got their fair share of food every month at a time when the shelves at the local bodega were invariably empty.
At least that was the theory.
In any case, the libreta was supposed to be a temporary measure, with Castro promising that it would disappear in 12 months. Or maybe in 24 months but no more than that …
Now that Cuba had discarded capitalism and was moving at lighting speed towards Socialism, the Maximo Lider told us, there would be plenty of food for all.
Even the name given by the regime to the ration card – Libreta de Abastecimiento - was reassuring, implying not rationing but abundance.
When I was growing up, the libreta ruled my family’s life as it ruled the lives of the vast majority of Cubans, who had to queue for hours on end to receive their monthly rations. And not just food. There was also a separate ration card for clothing, which covered every imaginable item, from shoes and shirts to underwear.
Well, 45 years later, the ration card is still there, providing ordinary Cubans with a basket of “basic” foodstuffs that is meant to last a whole 30 days but in reality, last barely a week.
For the other three weeks of the month, Cubans have to find alternative ways to feed themselves, which is tough, especially if like the vast majority of workers, you are paid in Cuban pesos by the State and have no access to hard cash.
Which may explain why there were no grand celebrations in Havana to mark the 45th birthday of the ration card.