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    Journalist Proposes Cuba Ditch Ration Books
    By PAUL HAVEN
    THE Associated Press
    Published: Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 1:22 a.m.

    HAVANA | Cuba may soon be saying adios to ration books.

    The system that allows islanders to buy food at deeply subsidized prices
    each month has long been one of the central building blocks of the
    country's socialist system, providing everyone from surgeons to
    street-sweepers the same allotment of basic foods like , and a
    bit of chicken.

    Now, state-run media are suggesting the "libreta" that Cubans have
    depended on since 1962 has outlived its usefulness and is hamstringing
    the government as it tries to reform the ever-struggling .

    "The ration booklet was a necessity at one time, but it has become an
    impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take," Lazaro
    Barredo Medina, editor of the Communist Party's Granma newspaper, wrote
    Friday in a full-page signed opinion.

    He said the government ought not do away with the rations by decree, but
    suggested readers should start to prepare for life without a system that
    people on this island both covet as a birthright and complain is
    woefully insufficient to meet even the most modest needs.

    The thick brown ration booklet offers 11.2 million Cubans a diet
    including rice, salt, legumes, potatoes, bread, eggs, sugar and some
    meat. Many complain it only provides 10 to 15 days of food and that
    quotas have gotten stingier over the years.

    The idea of such a transcendental change in the Cuban experience made
    Barredo's opinion piece the talk of the town, with strong opinions on
    both sides.

    "I was born and raised under the revolution, and I have no idea what
    would be available to buy on the free market," said a skeptical Silvia
    Alvarez, 50. "It seems to me that in these critical times … we ought
    to keep it at least for a while longer."

    Economist also had their doubts.

    Antonio Jorge, who once served as Cuba's vice finance minister and now
    is a professor emeritus at Florida International in Miami,
    said he "cannot imagine how this proposal could be implemented."

    "This is the bare minimum of food, of nutrition," Jorge said, especially
    for the half of the Cuban population that has no access to remittances –
    money sent from abroad, usually by relatives in the U.S. "How will they
    live? How will they fend for themselves?"

    Cuban President has said several times that the ration book
    costs too much and provides too little. Since taking over from his
    brother Fidel in February 2008, he has been critical of Cuba's
    paternalistic system, saying deep state subsidies don't give people an
    incentive to work.

    Barrera called his column "He's Paternalistic, You're Paternalistic, I'm
    Paternalistic," a swipe at the cradle-to-grave guarantees Cuba has
    always provided its citizens, and which now are losing favor.

    With the country's economy hit hard by the global credit crunch and
    three disastrous hurricanes last year, Raul Castro has been looking at
    ways to cut state costs while imploring his countrymen to produce more.

    While Cubans make low wages – about $20 a month – the state pays for or
    heavily subsidizes nearly everything, from to health care,
    to transportation. Even honeymoon suites and children's toys
    were doled out at sharp discounts in years past, though the government
    has phased out some of the most generous perks.

    Last month, the government announced plans to close almost-free
    cafeterias in state ministries and instead give employees a stipend to
    buy food.

    And Castro has suggested other big changes, like doing away with the
    nation's dual currency economy.

    This story appeared in print on page A9

    Journalist Proposes Cuba Ditch Ration Books | theledger.com | The Ledger
    | Lakeland, FL (10 October 2009)
    http://www.theledger.com/article/20091010/news/910105036

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