Cuba's +/- Spaghetti
May 19, 2012
HAVANA TIMES — Every day I'm more and more surprised by the dilemma
posed by the various approaches to product distribution in Cuba.
The rationing book refuses to disappear since no alternative has yet
been developed to protect those who are the most disadvantaged.
In the state-run "bodegas" (small grocery stores), they continue selling
a limited amount of basic foodstuffs, and Cuban families will send their
emissaries with the trusty ration book to buy those items at prices
little more than symbolic.
Some of these products (actually most) can also be purchased at
un-subsidized rates from private vendors (resellers) as well as in
state-run markets charging either in "national currency" or
There's no guarantee that in a given month a product that appeared in
the book will be identical to the one supplied the preceding one.
The most classic (and pathetic) example of this occurred a year ago with
Each shipment of salt was from a different country (mainly from South
America, though on one occasion they sold Spanish salt).
The irony of this case with salt is compounded by the obvious fact that
Cuba — an island surrounded by salt water — was importing salt.
A few days ago I was surprised by another phenomenon: Using the ration
book you can buy (at a token price) one package of spaghetti per
household member, yet the package was almost identical to some of those
sold in the hard currency CUC "shoppings" (grocery stores), since this
is a Cuban product.
But there was one interesting difference: the weight of the bodega
bought spaghetti is offered with the qualification of it being "+/-10
grams" of what's indicated on the package.
In other words, this in-kind "tax" (spontaneous theft) that the
agro-food chain is charging buyers to support each of its links has now
become legal – at least that's the interpretation that many people have
drawn concerning the new "explicit guarantee" of "consumer rights."
What about you? What do you think?