Food rationing in Cuba is marking its 50th anniversary but the world’s longest running system of its kind is on its way out as part of government reforms.
The “libreta” as it is known began operating in July 1963 as a temporary measure to counter US sanctions.
The ration books guarantee basic supplies to everyone, in theory. In practice there are shortages, Cubans are forced to shop elsewhere and the system is very costly for the state: 25 billion pesos a year, the equivalent of around three quarters of a billion euros.
The rations cover the likes of rice, bread and cooking oil – as well as small quantities of eggs, beans, and chicken or fish. But other items such as potatoes, soap and toothpaste have been moved to regular state-run markets.
The system was introduced under Fidel Castro, but his brother and successor President Raul Castro wants to do away with the ration books.
Some find the move illogical. Even now the system makes some nostalgic for Cuba’s revolution and its charismatic former leader.
“I like Fidel. I am very fond of Fidel. It’s all good because if we didn’t have a ration book some would eat and others wouldn’t, isn’t that so? Some say they are going to get rid of it but I don’t believe that,” said pensioner Berena Rodriguez.
“They had the chance to do away with it (rationing) when everything was available and cheap, but they didn’t. Now that nothing is available or cheap, how are they going to get rid of it?” wondered another pensioner in Havana, Hilda Fajardo.
There is a Cuban saying that nobody can live on ration books, yet many cannot live without them. There are fears that abolition will hit the poorest.
President Castro and Congress want to introduce targeted welfare instead, to support poorer Cubans.