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    Cuba’s Ration Booklet: A Catalogue of Privations
    February 14, 2014
    Ernesto Perez Chang

    HAVANA TIMES — This is the basic consumer basket of the average Cuban:
    five eggs and some pounds of rice (the kind that “gets sticky”, not
    cooked) every month, enough sugar to turn a regular glass of water into
    an emergency breakfast, one kilogram of table salt (with crystals the
    size of Ping-Pong balls) once every who knows how many months. Placing
    these product quantities on the same plane as monthly needs entails a
    complicated mathematical operation.

    Often, ration stores dish out a few grams of ground-up tendons and fat
    mixed with soy flour, a bit of seasoning and chemical preservatives that
    no laboratory could identify. People eat this concoction without knowing
    what it is, exactly, but they have learned to swallow without asking too
    many questions. The formula may well be one of the country’s best-kept
    secrets and this business of eating blindly one of the most intelligent
    of consumer strategies.

    When the beans one buys aren’t eaten through by worms or weevils, they
    smell of fumigation chemicals. Often, they are so old and stale that
    there’s no way to turn them into something humans can eat.

    The cooking oil, with flies floating on the surface, is good, not for
    dressing, but for dirtying the bottle it comes in, and the only cheap
    bread a working-class person can afford has such a sharp taste and weird
    texture it sometimes ends up as pig fodder.

    If the ship everyone gawks at from behind the seaside wall happens to
    dock here, then people will get their one pound of chicken (meant to
    last them for thirty days). Sometimes, one manages to bribe a doctor
    into prescribing you a special diet and, after some difficult
    bureaucratic procedures, can get their hands on a little bit more food
    for a few months. Commonly, people develop complications as the years go
    by because of prolonged malnutrition – and getting the extra bit of food
    is like winning the lottery, such that the illness arrives as a blessing
    in disguise.

    The food ration booklet doesn’t put much more on our tables. Every year,
    the authorities take something out of them, such that the booklet never
    thickens, it only gets thinner. That’s what the incessant re-editions
    amount to. The product slots that manage to survive these regular
    trimmings end up as empty as the inside of our fridges, to say nothing
    of our bellies.

    Perhaps it is in order to justify its persistence in our lives that the
    document, a true catalogue of privations, is furnished with other
    control functions and has become an essential means of regulating and
    determining the course of our existences. It is of such vital importance
    in many low-income homes that, on the cover, they have gone as far as
    printing a disclaimer to the effect that the ration booklet is not “an
    official document.” All of us, however, know that it is, and we take it
    everywhere, next to our identification card. We even affix it to our
    passport when we travel abroad. The devil is in the details.

    The ration or “supplies” booklet (as it is officially referred to)
    deserves a place among the nation’s emblems – I don’t think anything
    represents our people and the history or privations it has endured more

    Only in certain privileged homes does the ration booklet disappear or,
    quite simply, is put to rest in a drawer or garbage bin. We are talking
    about the mansions in restricted areas or the realm of the gods of this
    island Olympus: the managers of large or small State companies,
    high-ranking military officers, government officials with effective
    powers, men and women who have known how to take advantage of the many
    and perverse control mechanisms or those who have simply discovered
    socialism is a big party where, if things aren’t going well for you,
    it’s simply because you were not invited.

    Source: Cuba’s Ration Booklet: A Catalogue of Privations – Havana –

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