Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It’s been a hectic few days back here in Blog Central, so we apologise for missing a very important anniversary this week: the 45th year of Fidel Castro’s ration card.

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.


Blogger Angel Garzón said...

I remember those days also, especially how disappointed at first, and how upset afterwards were the common reactions of mothers (back then men went to work and women stayed at home doing the most demanding, unappreciated and important job there is, that is raising the children the right way instead of depending on baby sitters whose best intentions can never replace the love and guidance of a mother) when they finally reached the counters after having waited in line for hours, and sometimes overnight, in order to be told "sorry, we are all out of _____."

I vividly remember, even though I was a child then, watching one specific speech by Kasstro on TV, where he promised in his over the top and megalomaniacal way that by the end of the decade the revolution's successes would be so abundant, that even milk would flow through pipes to every home, it was at that same discurso (speech) that Ernesto "Che" Guevara a.k.a. "The butcher of La Cabaña," approached the podium and asked Kasstro to allow him to speak, when he did, he stated that things were going to become so bad and life was going to be so difficult, that even toothpaste was going to seem like a treasure and that instead of milk flowing through pipes, even water would NOT be available every moment or every day, as had been the norm prior to the "Revolution," it was not long after that, that Che was sent to South America to export the revolution, to this day the insiders' rumor is that Kasstro did not forgive Che's affront and that he made certain that the C.I.A. and the Bolivian authorities were apprised as to Che's whereabouts, we all know how that ended, with Che pleading for his life like a yellow cowardly bastard that he always was.

I digressed a bit there, going back to the ration card (la libreta), one of my aunts was having a conversation with me in 1972 the week before we departed the communist hell hole, a younger cousin of mine asked why we were leaving Cuba, my aunt replied that we wanted to live in a country where we would be free to make our own decisions without being told what to do with every single aspect of our lives by the government (a risky decision, children were often questioned at school and by the block's CDRs as to the activities of their relatives,) and that additionally, we would be able to buy whatever we wanted after we got jobs, just as it used to be done before the revolution, my cousin asked about the need to take our libreta (ration book) with us, my aunt replied no such thing was needed in Cuba before Kasstro and we would not need it where we were going (Spain), my cousin refused to believe that such thing was possible and even called my aunt a liar, for which he got a beating and punishment by my aunt and his parents. Just another example of the indoctrination that takes place every moment of every day in totalitarian societies. I long for the day when our people can live like normal humans, as used to be the case before the revolution, without libretas and without tyrannical goons running their every day affairs.

5:17 pm  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

Castro promising that it would disappear in 12 months. Or maybe in 24 months but no more than that …
Yes what he said was right, in just 12 months, but he forgot to tell Cubans what year!

7:59 am  

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