No free lunch in belt-tightening Cuba
July 14, 2010
CUBA is preparing to abolish ration books and free lunches for workers
in a shift away from the communist policies that have shaped the country
for more than half a century.
President Raul Castro, 79, is ushering in market changes designed to
help Cuba through an economic crisis.
The ration book has long been a feature of daily life, introduced
shortly after Fidel Castro and his rebel army swept to power. But now
Cubans are to lose their monthly stipend of food and living supplies as
the government cuts costs.
People are already dealing with lower monthly allowances of salt, while
peas and potatoes have disappeared from subsidised shops.
In the early days of communist rule, the rationing system offered decent
quantities of a wide range of items, from tinned beef to Russian-made
clothes. But provisions have diminished to a point where the monthly
allowance of food and other essentials barely lasts a week. Also, the
people complain the food is of poor quality.
The move is seen as yet another signal that the President is abandoning
cornerstones of communist life. Earlier this month, the state shut down
thousands of workers' cafeterias, forcing employees to provide their own
And hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons have been
handed over to employees as the start of a long-expected privatisation
drive. Previous measures have included giving unproductive land to
private farmers and allowing contractors, such as taxi drivers, to run
their own business.
Zoraida Fernandez, who has a family of six in Havana, is resigned to the
fact that rationing will not be around much longer. ''At first it will
be difficult for people who live off the ration book, old people who
live alone. But, in the long run, they have to get rid of the ration
book because it's no use any more,'' she said.